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110 property owners have told City Hall they intend to build an ADU

Published on May. 11, 2021 by Steven Vance

Chicago’s ADU ordinance went into effect on May 1, 2021, and the Chicago Department of Housing launched intake form the following Monday (May 3). As well as a new website. A full week has gone by so I asked DOH how many property owners have, so far, submitted the form.

Via Chicago, one of tens of ADU service providers listed in our directory, created this rendering of a backyard house for a potential client. Read the description of this project below.

The intake form is a required step before submitting a building permit application to the Chicago Department of Buildings, and it’s there for two main reasons: To verify the eligibility of the property, and for DOH to remind the applicant about the affordable requirements. It has no closing date, so there is no rush.

110 applications have been submitted from Monday, May 3, to this morning, representing at least 123 units. Here’s the breakdown of how many additional dwelling units owners are proposing, and where:

  • The majority of applications are for interior apartments (70 of 110, 64 percent). That means property owners have proposed 40 backyard houses in one week.
  • Six applications for interior apartments are for two apartments, and two applications are for three or more interior apartments. All eight applicants will have to rent 50 percent of those apartments at an affordable rate, which will be set by the housing department each year. A building must have five existing units before it can propose two or more interior apartments.

There are five pilot areas where new ADUs are allowed (click on the link to see a map of each pilot area):

  1. Northwest area (47 applications were submitted, 3 of which have at least one affordable unit)
  2. North area (43, 2 of which have at least one affordable unit)
  3. South (14, 3 of which have at least one affordable unit)
  4. West (5)
  5. Southeast (1)

Alder Ramirez-Rosa is probably excited about that, since nearly 80 percent of the 35th Ward is in the Northwest pilot area and he had wanted the entirety of his ward to be eligible for an ADU; presumably most of the 47 applications are in the 35th Ward.

Part of the ADU ordinance are two more provisions to increase the number of affordable ADUs in Chicago: one is a grant program to get new interior apartments built, and legalize existing ones through whatever modifications need to be made to make them compliant with the building code; the second is setting aside some of the Low Income Housing Trust Fund vouchers (which are separate from CHA vouchers, and used only for households with very low incomes) to be spent on rent at ADUs rather than other apartment types.

The Department of Housing gave me this statement about the grant program:

“The Department of Housing is working to make sure that the ADU policy is equitably benefiting every community in a pilot zone. DOH will provide financial support for low and moderate-income homeowners making up to 80% AMI to build new ADUs in each of the 5 pilot areas. These grants will help qualified applicants cover the cost to prepare drawings and a scope of work for a building permit, and to complete the construction of an ADU project.
More information will be available when applications open in June 2021. DOH will continue to monitor application data and adjust outreach accordingly to achieve the most equitable results.”

Upcoming ADU events

Need to learn more about building an ADU in Chicago? The Departments of Housing and Buildings are hosting six webinars in May and June, con un webinar en español el lunes 24 de mayo, de 6:30 a 7:30 p.m. (inscribirse).

Via Chicago’s backyard house design

Cristina Gallo, architect and owner of Via Chicago Architects × Diseñadores, wrote to me:

With “Switch” we focused on how to create an accessible, ground floor ADU, which is very difficult under the constraints of the current ADU ordinance. Two of the most common motivations for homeowners wanting to build an ADU are “aging in place” and “multi-generational living,” commonly referred to as a “granny flat” for elderly parents.
But these living situations are challenging when the apartment is located up a full flight of stairs, over a garage. We were able to accomplish this by starting with a lot that has a smaller-than-usual principal home, and we elected not to build a garage. Providing two at-grade, uncovered parking spots eliminates that from our footprint calculations (limited to 60% of the required rear setback area) and lets us build a comfortable one-bedroom, 460 s.f. apartment in front of the parking spaces while still providing plenty of rear yard open space.

Editor’s note: I have pointed out many times that the ordinance, as adopted, discourages accessible backyard houses (which essentially requires an at-grade structure) on standard-width lots by not allowing a reduction in existing required parking. A previous version of the ordinance would have allowed a parking space to be removed for some properties, freeing up space to have a parking space and an at-grade backyard house side-by-side.


110 property owners have told City Hall they intend to build an ADU was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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