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Ask your alder to support ADUs

Published on Mar. 17, 2020 by Steven Vance

Updated on Mar. 19, 2020

I was hoping that the ADU ordinance would be introduced to Chicago City Council during their regular meeting on March 18, but due to the coronavirus and the need to restrict gatherings to maintain public health, the meeting has been postponed.

MAP: The latest map of alders known to have expressed support for ADUs. Thank you to those who helped me beta test the sample letter and get responses from three alders who weren’t already on the map.

There is still work that can be done, and I need your help. I’m tracking aldermanic support for an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance and I’m only aware of 11 supporters. Let’s get our alders excited for a potential April introduction so ADUs can be re-legalized this year and construction can start sooner.

Can you look at the current list & map and if your alder isn’t listed send them a short email?

Here’s a sample letter to advocate for basement & backyard homes

Replace the text in the [brackets]. Optionally BCC [email protected]

Dear Alder [your alder’s last name],

I live in the [your ward number] Ward at [your address]. I’ve become aware, from the news, that Mayor Lightfoot intends to propose an ordinance to re-legalize accessory dwelling units and coach houses in Chicago. These “ADUs” come in the form of garden apartments, attic units, and backyard houses, create unsubsidized attainable housing and more income for homeowners. I think allowing more of these traditional small apartments is essential to providing new affordable housing options and stimulate economic development in our ward’s struggling business districts.

[Choose 1–2 of the reasons they should support ADUs and edit and personalize it to your situation and ideas. Don’t have a situation of your own? Read the personal stories that our readers submitted last year.

[1. Aging in place]

One aspect of ADUs that I think is really special is how it creates a downsizing opportunity for the senior citizen homeowners in our community to move into a ground-level coach house (so they don’t have to climb stairs) and rent out the front house and augment their fixed income. They don’t have to leave the neighborhood, they don’t have to live in a senior housing building, they can “age in place”.

[2. Affordable housing]

New basement units and backyard homes are likely to increase the supply of affordable housing, especially in high-opportunity areas, and can act as a stepping stone for new residents to live in before they move to a larger apartment or buy a property of their own.

[3. More income for homeowners]

By renting out an ADU, a homeowner can generate additional income to pay for overdue maintenance or higher property taxes.

[4. Provide more jobs]

If people are allowed to build ADUs, then they’re going to have to hire architects and tradespeople to build them, creating new job opportunities. Design and contracting work typically pays a living wage, and because this will be a new industry in Chicago there is a lot of room for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

[5. Preserving neighborhood density]

Many Chicago neighborhoods have lost population and housing options. If we can’t maintain an appropriate density of people and places to live, it’s hard to support local businesses. Allowing ADUs can bring new residents in and keep existing residents and boost local businesses.

Will you support the ordinance when it’s introduced?


[your name]

Thank you for sending your letter! Even alders who already support ADUs would benefit from hearing how important it would be to re-legalize this housing type. And, if you know how to get in touch, it would be good if you could reach out to community groups that organize around affordable housing. That includes Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Communities United, housing providers like LUCHA and Bickerdike, One Northside, RAGE, LSNA, Garfield Park Community Council, South Side Together Organizing for Power, and the North Lawndale Community Coordinate Council (NLCCC).

Ask your alder to support ADUs 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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