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Here’s what ADU supporters told City Council at the first hearing

Published on Jul. 16, 2020 by Steven Vance

Updated on Jul. 20, 2020

This is what two ADU supporters told City Council at the first hearing

Chicago City Council held a joint Zoning + Housing committee meeting on Friday, July 10, 2020, to discuss the proposed accessory dwelling units ordinance. The outcome was disappointing. Alder Osterman (48th Ward), chair of the housing committee, said he wouldn’t call for a vote this month.

A second joint meeting that was set to be held on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, was canceled on Friday, July 17. Since City Council doesn’t meet in August, the earliest the ADU ordinance could be approved is September 9, 2020.

The hearing was good, though, because I got to hear from alders and Chicagoans that I hadn’t heard from before. (Check the map to see if your alder is a supporter.)

I am reprinting the prepared statements of two of the public speakers. Both speakers participated the ULI task force that developed recommendations for a policy that would reduce barriers to construction of new ADUs.

Because the joint committee hearing was held virtually on Zoom, it’s easier to attend and document the visuals presented in the meeting. Three slides show a limited summary of the ordinance (left, center) and a drawing by Booth Hansen architects (right).

Diane Limas, Communities United

Links were added to Diane’s statement for this article

My name is Diane Limas, and I am a volunteer leader for Communities United, a grassroots community organization that organizes in Albany Park, West Ridge, Austin, Belmont Cragin, and Roseland.

Chicago’s housing crisis is short at least 120,000 affordable rental units, including tens of thousands that need to be either fully accessible to accommodate persons in wheelchairs or livable for people with modest mobility difficulties.

It is estimated that 175,000 affordable basement units could be added to Chicago’s affordable housing stock. That’s what makes this ordinance all the more disheartening…knowing that we could create affordable housing for families at the very low end of the AMI [area median income]…instead we have a weak ordinance without affordability, accessibility, anti-displacement, and racial equity measures.

Many of Chicago’s renters most vulnerable to housing instability and homelessness currently live in the basement units of our 2 to 4-flat buildings and pay well below the 60% AMI.

In this ordinance, there are no measures in place to ensure that families are not displaced or ensure that after conversion, these units remain affordable for families that are currently occupying these basement units.

This ordinance as written, excludes RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts. This is inequitable as it would require any homeowner that lives in these zoning districts to hire a lawyer and apply for a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The owners of these properties will have to take on additional debt if they wanted to build an ADU with no guarantee of approval.

We are talking about neighborhoods like Ashburn, Chatham, Roseland and Morgan Park that have half of their parcels in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts.

This ordinance also excludes all residential buildings in B, C, and D districts. This means thousands of single-family houses, our 2 to 4-flats, and other residential buildings are excluded from creating an ADU.

These zoning restrictions contribute to the lack of equity and inclusion that this ordinance seriously lacks.

This ordinance, as written, will create some units of housing for those who already have the capital to invest in unit upgrades or standalone units…which means that the wealthy homeowners will benefit most, while creating very few affordable units.

This ordinance is an example of City Council creating a law that is carved out to benefit the wealthy and barriers are put in place to prevent people of color from accessing those benefits.

That is why this city will remain one of the most segregated cities in the country.

Jon Womack, Northwest Side Building Coalition

My name is Jon Womack and I’m a housing provider on the West and Northwest sides of Chicago, mostly in North Austin and Belmont Cragin. I’m also a member of the Neighborhood Building Owner Alliance and I represent an affiliate group called the Northwest Side Building Coalition.

As everyone here knows, Chicago faces many challenges in terms of housing. We need more affordable housing and we need to better support those impacted by rapid gentrification in a few neighborhoods. Fortunately, unlike many other cities around the country, we have a housing stock that allows us to create more than 100,000 basement units that are naturally affordable.

Most of the buildings I manage are 4-12 units in size and, while I do not have any experience with ground-up development or creating new basement units, I see an immediate opportunity to create 6-10 basement units for 10-15 people to live in.

I share this because I want you to understand there are many more people like me all across the City. We want to be part of the solution, we want to provide more housing. But we also operate on tight margins and need support to get these projects off the ground.

Over the last year, the Urban Land Institute convened a wide range of experts to focus on a single objective: how to create as many ADUs as possible. The report states that less restrictions equate to more ADUs. The inverse is also true. The conversation we’re having should be about removing or minimizing restrictions and obstacles, and how to incentivize and support those with 2-4 flats, as well as those with small and medium-sized multi-family buildings across all of Chicago.

If the intention of the ADU ordinance is also to create the most ADUs and make a significant impact on the housing crises we face, then I believe it falls short, based on its current state, because it places burdens on the very people trying to provide that housing.

Many changes are needed to make this ordinance better — here are a few:

  1. Lower or remove the registration fee of $500 per affordable ADU, or at least have it be paid after the ADU has been built
  2. Reduce or remove long term requirements, such as the 30-year deed restriction that ties the hands of the housing provider and discourages them investing in ADUs and taking on all the risk. If it must stay, it should only apply AFTER the ADU has been built, not as Step 1, before you know for sure if the project will move forward.
  3. Reduce or remove the requirement that 50% of the ADUs created be rented at 60% of the AMI for 30 years — basement units are naturally affordable and rent for less than a 1st or 2nd floor apartment.
  4. Reduce or remove the requirement that buildings 20 years or older be out of scope
  5. Define the metrics that will be tracked and how they will be reported, so we can all measure the success of this ordinance and use that data to inform future policy decisions.

There is no reason for us to “wait and see what happens” with this mediocre ordinance. Let’s learn from other cities like Seattle and Portland. We know now that a less restrictive policy will produce more ADUs in Years 1 and 2, and be a great weapon in battling our housing crises.

A successful ADU policy must focus on incentives and support, not restrictions and obstacles.


Here’s what ADU supporters told City Council at the first hearing 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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