Coach houses and granny flats could soon be allowed citywide

Coach houses and granny flats could soon be allowed citywide

  • By Justin Laurence
  • 06/13/24

Expanding the city’s granny flat program could fuel the production of affordable housing without the need for subsidies, according to the backers of a proposal that could be approved in July.

Chicago effectively banned accessory dwelling units in 1957 when the city added regulations to the zoning code restricting density and adding minimum parking requirements, but advocates have been pushing to legalize them as a way to increase naturally occurring affordable housing, especially in areas where single-family zoning restricts the amount of available land to build new residential units.

Under a proposal discussed in the City Council’s Zoning Committee today, ADUs would be permitted citywide with few restrictions. The ordinance was not voted on, but the lead sponsor, Ald. Bennett Lawson, 44th, who currently chairs the committee, is pushing for approval in July.

A limited pilot program was approved in 2020 to allow accessory dwelling units, including coach houses and units added in basements or attics, in five zones across the city. Since the pilot was created, the Department of Housing has issued 553 pre-approvals for ADUs, resulting in 215 building permits, potentially creating 250 new residential units. 

That vast majority of those permits, 205, have come in two of the pilot zones on the city’s North and Northwest sides. 

The most common permits were for a single unit being added in existing six- to eight-unit buildings in middle income areas of the city, according to city data provided to the committee. Since the pilot went into effect in 2021, 59 new coach houses have been built. The city estimates that thousands of additional coach houses that were illegally built since 1957 would have a pathway to coming into compliance under the proposal.

Matt Stern, the city’s interim Department of Housing policy director, said “ADUs tend to be more naturally affordable without a subsidy than housing in any community where an ADU is located."

"We don't see ADUs as a panacea to our housing shortage, but we do see it as a critical part of that mix," Stern said. "What we're seeing is a very gentle increase in density across neighborhoods that are impacted, one or two units here or there.”

Lawson’s ordinance would allow ADUs to be built across the entire city and expands the number of zoning districts that would allow them without requiring a zoning change by permitting them in residential properties that are currently located in business and commercial zoning districts.

When two or more residential units are added through the ordinance, every other unit must be made affordable and limited to those earning 60% of the area median income.

The ordinance creates two categories of accessory dwelling units: detached coach houses and conversion units added in built-out basements and attics. Under the pilot, only a detached coach house or the conversion unit are allowed to homeowners, but both would be available through Lawson’s ordinance.

The current 700-square-foot cap on coach houses would also be lifted, allowing larger units to be built on larger lots.

The city would also be permitted to waive parking requirements for the extra units without the need for a zoning change or aldermanic approval. The city’s zoning administrator, Patrick Murphey, told the committee the removal of parking minimums could spur the development of ADA-compliant ground-floor coach houses.

An existing prohibition on using ADUs for short-term rentals, like Airbnb, would remain in effect. 

The committee generally spoke favorably of the proposal, pointing toward approval when it comes up for a vote. 

Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, said the ordinance would be the “first tool for combatting deconversion” units where multiunit buildings have been redeveloped into single family homes. 

Others were more critical but did not voice opposition to the ordinance.

Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, called for a “companion program” to the zoning changes that would incentivize the construction of ADUs on the city’s South and West sides, including a loan or subsidy fund. 

After the meeting, Lawson told reporters he has the support to see the measure approved and will call it for a committee vote at one of two Zoning Committee meetings scheduled before the July City Council meeting.

"I think it's an opportunity for everybody to look at density in a positive way," Lawson said. "Look at adding that stability for families that need multigenerational living and to help pay the taxes.”

Justin Laurence
By Justin Laurence

Justin Laurence is a reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business covering politics and policy from City Hall to Springfield. Prior to joining Crain's in 2022 he covered city politics, development and cannabis as a freelance reporter.

Source: Chicago Business 

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