Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

Chicago’s planning department continues to roll out new Requests For Proposals for redeveloping city-owned land in the INVEST South/West areas. On Monday, City Hall planners dropped four new RFPs for lots with a mixture of city-owned and private property in New City, Bronzeville, South Chicago, and North Lawndale. The North Lawndale RFP is the second —the previous one came in October.

The deadlines for the initial three — Auburn Gresham, Austin, and Englewood — have passed, and this current group brings the total to eight. At least four more RFPs are forthcoming, for Greater Roseland, Humboldt Park (two, Chicago Ave and North Ave), and South Shore.

I’m going to highlight the two North Lawndale RFPs because I live in the same community area, three blocks from one of the sites, and I flew my hot air balloon over both sites to capture the “before” view.

Left: 3400 W Ogden Ave is a group of Chicago-owned parcels with a single privately-owned property in the middle that the city intends to acquire during the RFP process. Right: 4300 W Roosevelt Rd has two lots that total nearly 21 acres of vacant and “complicated” lots.

I think the RFPs are a good change for the planning department. The staff are doing a lot of diligent legwork for future developers and existing community organizers and putting them on more or less the same level when it comes to information symmetry in the pre-development stage.

The RFPs show that the city is focused on pushing for sales of the significant vacant lots. A “wait and see” approach — that doesn’t allow for community self-determination or place-based investing — had been customary. Another big difference is that the city has acknowledged funding gaps for redevelopment and is explicitly planning to provide some subsidies.

4300 W Roosevelt Road

This property is…how should I say it…complicated.

The huge vacant lot is bounded by Roosevelt, Kildare, 5th Avenue, and Kostner. The site’s past as an illegal dump was brought up recently in a podcast called “The City” (season 1), co-produced in 2018 by esteemed local reporter, Robin Amer. The podcast’s official website has been offline for a few days, but this article Robin wrote in USA Today, which co-produced the podcast, sets up the premise.

Before that, you may have seen the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) propose in 2014 building the Obama Presidential Library there.

The site is nearly 21 acres, is owned by the City of Chicago, and is bisected by an elevated railroad line (owned by CSX) that connects to the former Sears distribution center less than two miles east.

The RFP summarizes the history thusly:

This site of a former Copenhagen snuff plant has a long history as a vacant property. After clearance of the land, the site sat vacant for years and was an illegal dump. Most recently, [24th Ward] Alderman Scott Jr.’s office has received numerous development proposals for the site. A private entity had a redevelopment agreement on the site but did not complete new development and the RDA has since expired.
Left: This undated photo shows the Copenhagen Snuff factory that was formerly on the site; dumped tires and other debris are in the foreground. Hat tip Michael Medina. Right: Screenshot of a 3D model of the dumping ground, created for The City podcast.

One of the many benefits of the city preparing an RFP this way — replete with history, showing nearby assets and amenities, and explaining public and private investments — is how it starts every respondent with an equal amount of information. Another benefit is how it identifies “community priorities”, based on engagement work that the Chicago Department of Planning & Development (DPD) has already been involved in.

For the 4300 W Roosevelt Rd RFP, DPD identified these community priorities:

  • Opportunities for training and employment of low and moderate income residents. Proposals that prioritize hiring from specific local ZIP codes will get weighted higher.
  • Community wealth building (a common INVEST South/West priority): Proposals “that include local property or business ownership that reflects the community (co-ops, partnerships, alternative equity models) shall receive additional weighting”.

Additionally, DPD has set forth some development goals, including:

  • “Create an industrial space or mix of uses that transition well at this site, which serves as a gateway between a residential community and the rest of the industrial district to the west.” (The RFP specifies any development here should be industrial.)
  • “Create new development that produces opportunities for local wealth creation, by either the participation of Black/local businesses in development and construction and/or local business tenants and property ownership.”

Responses to the RFP are due December 24, 2020. One of the qualifications I noticed was that respondents need to describe their experience redeveloping contaminated sites. Page 20 describes some of the past remediation efforts on the brownfield, and requirements for the next development.

3400 W Ogden Ave

The vacant parcels along Ogden Ave between Homan Ave and Trumbull Ave are all owned by the city, except for one, in the middle, where there’s a cement floor. An abandoned building there was demolished in 2016.

The lot has been vacant since before 1998, except for a single-story car repair shop that was demolished in 2016. Aerial photo by Cook County; inset photo by B.G.

Just like the rest of the RFPs, designers have created renderings that show what could be on the lots in the future. In this one, a “preferred development concept” has been drawn by Studio Gang that “is representative of the community’s vision, based on DPD’s outreach efforts, and a market analysis of the potential for new development on the corridor”.

Studio Gang depicted a six-story building on the offered parcel, while across the street, a five-story building takes over the police station’s overflow parking lot. The “images are intended to capture the site’s potential and inspire creative proposals”, not to suggest a proposal that fits neatly within what’s drawn. The design concept shows the space of the service drives being put to better use for people, as landscaping and plazas.

The parking lot isn’t part of the RFP but it is the site of a future affordable housing development with ground floor retail (more details have not been announced). Two blocks west of here, the Pink Line stops at Central Park Ave and Ogden Ave.

Each RFP also comes with a sample pro forma. This one suggests a mixed-use building with 50 dwelling units of mixed-income housing supported by Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). But, it also shows a funding gap of nearly $10 million.

Like Chicago Cityscape’s Incentives Checker feature, the RFP follows up with a list of geographically-available incentives:

  • Opportunity Zone (OZ), New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC), and Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), which attract investors looking to lower their tax liabilities.
  • Enterprise Zone, which can reduce taxes paid for utilities and construction materials as long as an agreed upon number of jobs are created.
  • Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which are grants to spur economic development, business expansions, and mixed-use construction projects.
To inspire creative proposals, each RFP has renderings that elicit a “preferred development concept” representing a community vision based on the planning department’s outreach and engagement.

Finally, I appreciate that the RFP highlights the insanity of Ogden Ave’s width along this blog: eight travel lanes, and service drives in each direction, each with a travel lane and a parking lane, for a total of 12 lanes. Ogden Ave here has about 30 percent less car traffic than Ashland Ave through West Town (per a 2018 count) and twice the lanes.


Chicago readies two North Lawndale sites for sale and redevelopment was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Last week, Mayor Lightfoot acknowledged the one-year anniversary of her primary economic development initiative, called INVEST South/West. The program will direct hundreds of millions of already budgeted (or soon to be budgeted) infrastructure funds to 10 areas, offers one public RFP per area to develop city-owned land, and directs energy and attention to attract private investment.

The event took place at a new office building being constructed by Habitat Co. as part of a partnership between Mt. Sinai Hospital, Cinespace, and the Chicago Housing Authority. The development, called Ogden Commons, is in an Opportunity Zone and on CHA-owned land (site of the former Ogden Courts homes).

Planning department Commissioner Maurice Cox, speaking at last week’s event (10/26/20).

Where the INVEST South/West areas are

Given the geographic nature of the program, it should be somewhat easy to track outcomes, especially compared to neighborhoods and streets that are outside but similar to the ones in the INVEST South/West program.

Map of the 12 priority corridors.

I believe that every place is worth developing and I want to see the planning department succeed, so I’ve added all of the INVEST South/West areas as a type of “Place” in the Chicago Cityscape maps database.

And, because of a member’s request, I’ve also added the priority corridors as a separate type of “Place”. Each corridor can be viewed separately; for the two INVEST South/West areas that have two corridors, Humboldt Park and Greater Roseland, those can be viewed as a combined place.

Look at some maps, if you’re ready:

The purpose of INVEST South/West

The 10 areas include 13 community areas. Greater Englewood includes Englewood and West Englewood, and Greater Roseland includes Roseland, Pullman, and West Pullman. Within the 10 areas are 12 “priority corridors”, which represent primary commercial and retail streets in the areas.

From where I sit (in my home office, of course), this is doing business a bit differently than previous varieties of Chicago’s planning department, and I’m excited to watch how the current and future policies and investments pan out.

I’m encouraged by INVEST South/West because of the focused and coordinated nature of the initiative. Place-based investments work, according to a study of the focused initiatives in Pullman, largely led by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI).

Also in her acknowledgement, Mayor Lightfoot announced that 10 teams of local non-profit organizations that will serve as paid “corridor managers” (watch video).

In a press release, Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar said, “Each manager will work with elected officials, local stakeholders, potential corridor investors and the Department of Planning and Development’s regional planning staff to provide unprecedented responsiveness and implementation resources for local needs.”

The map above shows the building permits issued to building owners and businesses, in 2020, within both priority corridors of the “Greater Roseland” INVEST South/West area.

What can you — a planner, a Chamber of Commerce executive, or a corridor manager — do with these maps?

Ask us for a coaching call and we can share how other community and economic development leaders are using this data. You can also sign up for a free 7-day trial (no credit card need).

I’ll list a few of the ideas we’ve talked over with some of our members:

  • Track building permits — if you’re really interested in understanding the potential impact of the INVEST S/W attention in an area, you can filter for building permits issued since a certain time
  • See proposed projects — this is information we summarize based on zoning changes that developers and property owners apply for
  • Instantly see which elected officials (city, county, state, and federal) represent which part of which area and corridor
  • Find development & financial incentives that are geographically based and overlapping an area or corridor
  • Map of land owned by City of Chicago and Cook County Land Bank Authority
  • Coming soon: Lending snapshot. This will show residential mortgage data and commercial lending data. Curious about this? Tell us.

Mapping investments in INVEST South/West areas was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


One of Chicago Cityscape’s members is a service provider for property owners and was trying to see building permit trends and if the novel coronavirus pandemic was affecting building permits in the city. They emailed me after looking at the year-over-year building permits spreadsheet in their custom sales area (which is drawn as a Personal Place). Knowing the trend is key to their forecasting and business development efforts.

The short answer of COVID-19’s impact on building permits, based purely on the rate of building permits issued, is it’s hard to tell. That’s because the rate of issuing building permits for new construction in Chicago declined by 1.5 percent from 2017 to 2018, by 10.4 percent from 2018 to 2019, and we don’t have enough information to know if would have continued through 2020. (So far, though, the decline is 44.7 percent from 2019 to 2020.)

A complete rehab of the apartment building at 1926 W Harrison St — now known as Atrio — is underway (left, before the highway), and Gateway Chicago (foreground) received building permits this year for two major buildings to follow the construction of the two visible 1-story buildings.

One impact with issuing permits happened on the supply side this year — at the Department of Buildings — when staff had to switch to working from home, and the department had to modify procedures. Additionally, inspections and violation citations fell drastically in March and April, with a particularly notable fall right after Governor Pritzker’s shelter in place order took effect on Saturday, March 21, 2020.

On the demand side — those applying for building permits — the rate has fallen, but there isn’t enough information in the Chicago Cityscape datasets to understand how much of this is due to a “natural” decline versus a COVID-related decline.

Chart showing new construction and demolition permits issued, and projects proposed to City Council, in Chicago from January 1, 2017, to October 12, 2020. The dashed lines are 3-month moving averages. (Scroll to the end to see a bonus chart.)

Another data point to look at is Proposed Projects. Every month, property owners and developers submit zoning change applications to City Council when a property’s zoning classification doesn’t match the applicant’s proposed design and use.

The number of Proposed Projects has also gone down. Obviously, 2020 isn’t complete, but the number of projects that would need to be proposed in November and December of this year to meet 2019’s level would mean a 71 percent increase over the number of Proposed Projects introduced between January and October this year.

The same Cityscape member also uses Proposed Projects, to generate leads, gather contact info and jumpstart their sales process. Contact us if you want access to this.

The number of Proposed Projects increased by 0.8 percent from 2017 to 2018, and then decreased by 14 percent from 2018 to 2019, and decreased by 41.5 percent from 2019 to 2020 (January 2020 to October 2020). See the gray lines in the chart above.

Not all zoning change applications are for new construction or significant, market-making projects. Sometimes it’s a zoning change to make an existing nonconforming use or building a conforming one. Other times it’s to allow an additional dwelling unit, in the basement, a zoning change type which the delayed ADU ordinance would make unnecessary.

How much of a role do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed development in 2020? How much do you think it will change in 2021?

Regardless of the cause, fewer projects are being proposed, making it more competitive for service providers to sell into these opportunities. If you want to see how Cityscape members connect with business opportunities early in the development process, we’ll show you on a short coaching call.

Bonus chart shows residential unit permitting activity in Chicago, Cook County, and the six collar counties (Kane, Kendall, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, and Will). The data comes from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development which collects the information from municipalities directly.

HUD’s data here is counted in number of dwelling units permitted. The vast majority of dwelling units permitted in Chicago (86 percent) are in buildings with 5+ units.

Is COVID-19 affecting Chicago building permits? 😟 was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Commentary: “My parents live with me and my children, and I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion prevents me”

I asked some people who want the city to let them build a backyard home or other accessory dwelling unit to speak at the Chicago zoning committee meeting on Tuesday, 9/8/20, even though the ADU ordinance was not on the agenda. I said last week that it was unlikely that the ADU ordinance, which was introduced in May 2020, would be heard at the committee meeting. A revision ordinance is expected, but it hasn’t been introduced yet.

Carmin Ballou has already talked to three architects, including Monica Chadha, about the design feasibility of building a backyard home. However, the proposed ordinance would require that Carmin obtain a “special use” from the Zoning Board of Appeals, a costly and uncertain endeavor, because the ordinance treats RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts differently, and her house happens to be in an RS-2 zoning district — excluded in the proposed ordinance along with over 162,000 other properties. Carmin permitted me to reprint her speech to the committee.

Hi, my name is Carmin Ballou and I’m here to speak in favor of the passage of an ADU ordinance, but in particular to request that RS-1 and RS-2 houses be included in that ordinance. I want to thank many of you present today for working on this issue, but as a 47th Ward resident, I also want to thank Matt Martin for his advocacy on it.

Left: Carmin Ballou contacted Civic Projects, one of the design firms on the Chicago Cityscape ADU Service Providers list; Civic Projects created this feasibility diagram depicting how a backyard home would fit on Carmin’s property. Right: Carmin’s backyard and existing garage. The proposed ordinance would require owners whose properties are in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts (the case with Carmin’s house) to obtain a “special use”.

Our multi-generational household has been following the ordinance closely because first, we support the expansion of affordable housing in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood has grown increasingly expensive and puts access to the quality neighborhood school and the safety the neighborhood provides out of reach for many. We support the addition of affordable housing units in many forms, but particularly today through the introduction of an ADU ordinance to expand access to affordable units.

Second, because we are interested in the option for our family of three generations. My parents moved from Nebraska three years ago and while they initially explored getting their own unit, we value our time and like living in close proximity to each other, including sharing meals to assisting with piano lessons to playing numerous board games. We want to stay together. We value the experience that multi-generational living provides, but an ADU would provide more privacy and independence to my parents than they currently have.

However, as the proposed ordinance stands, we will not be able to build a garage apartment. Whether intentional or a fluke of historical zoning, a few streets including ours are zoned RS-2 and so would be excluded while other newer construction around us has been zoned RS-3. I’m speaking today to give you one example of why that exclusion would be a mistake. We live in a 100-year-old house and are committed to keeping its historical look. But around us, bungalow after bungalow has been torn down and replaced by large footprint houses. By excluding RS-2, this continues to encourage the demolition of the smaller home to be replaced with a larger square footage unit. By building a garage apartment instead, we keep the historical look of our house, but simply expand our footprint off the alley.

And these twin goals of expanding affordable housing and encouraging multi-generational living were goals that we supported before the outbreak of COVID. But now we’ve gone from two people (my parents) home during the day with freedom and quiet, we now have two working parents, a 3rd grader and a 7th grader enrolled in CPS’ remote learning and two helpful grandparents, all home fighting for space and quiet. While I realize it is a privilege to be able to explore this option, requiring a special use permit — with its additional cost and hassle without a guarantee of approval — will likely put that option out of reach. Please pass the ADU ordinance quickly, but please consider the inclusion of RS-1 and RS-2 units in it.

Thank you


Commentary: I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion would prevent me from building one was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Update: The proposed Pedestrian Street was adopted on October 7, 2020, and our map has been updated.

32nd Ward Alder Waguespack has proposed classifying the segment of Lincoln Avenue between Diversey and Belmont as a “Pedestrian Street”. This change would close a gap: Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Fullerton, save for the proposed section and two tiny sections near Montrose, has already been classified as a P-Street.

See a map of existing Pedestrian Streets.

This zoning designation has several design and land use standards to maintain the pedestrian-orientation of a block by requiring transparent storefronts and limiting and banning car-oriented uses. It also reduces the minimum car parking that property owners need to provide to 0 spaces, and allows some a little bit more multi-unit housing.

Properties on P-Streets may also gain access to the city’s Transit-Served Location benefits they may not otherwise get because they’re too far from an eligible transit service. A Transit-Served Location (TSL) includes properties that are within 1,320 feet of an eligible transit service and properties on P-Streets that are within 2,640 feet of an eligible transit service; properties in both groups must be in B, C, D, and M zoning districts.

Eligible transit services in Chicago comprise all CTA and Metra stations (measured to their nearest entrance), and listed CTA bus corridors (measured to the road centerline).

The Transit-Served Location benefits in the Chicago Zoning Code are only available to Lincoln Avenue properties (between Diversey and Belmont) that are in the orange and blue (about 68). Once the P-Street is adopted, the benefits will be extended to all of the other properties (about 91).

Currently, there are about 159 properties — that aren’t condos — along the proposed P-Street that are in one of the TSL-eligible zoning districts, and only 68 of them are considered a TSL because of their proximity to the Ashland Avenue bus corridor. When the P-Street is adopted, presumably in September, an additional 91 properties will be able to take advantage of the no-parking and more-homes standards of the Chicago zoning code.

I believe that it’s highly unlikely many of those buildings will suddenly be replaced with new buildings that are designed for the TSL standards, and it’s more likely that owners of the existing buildings will find ways to add more apartments because the limiting factor of having to provide those apartments with parking spaces will have been eliminated.

P-Streets exist only on the North Side, and in Pilsen, West Town, and Chinatown. Hyde Park and South Chicago each have one. It’s up to individual alders to ask the city’s planning department to initiate a study and ascertain their recommendation to designate certain blocks. The one in this article is the only one proposed this year.

Ordinance O2020–3947, introduced on 7/22/20, adopted 10/7/20.


Filling a zoned “Pedestrian Street” gap will bring TOD benefits to more blocks was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


I’m going to give an update on the Chicago accessory dwelling unit ordinance, and show three new ADUs at various stages of development, from conceptual (Focus and bKL), to “waiting for re-legalization” (Granny Flats Chicago), to built-and-rented this year (Monica and Rob).

“Accessory dwelling units” are smaller apartments that have different built forms and coincide with a larger, primary house — which has one or more units — on the same lot. They can be inside, attached to, or separate from this house, and most forms of it are banned through a hodgepodge of zoning rules that regulate the number of buildings and units on a lot.

City Hall will likely propose revisions in September covering, in part, how many ADUs will be allowed during an initial period. Despite what I think will be a setback in the rules, I remain positive that re-legalizing ADUs in Chicago is a key policy that the Department of Housing wants to adopt in the city and it will be passed in some form this year.

1. Built-and-rented: Two new basement units

Monica Chadha, principal of the Civic Projects design firm, and her husband, Rob Chambers, built two basement units in an existing six-flat they own — and even though the ADU ordinance isn’t effective, it would have helped their project. The vintage building is on South Prairie Avenue in Bronzeville.

Left to right: The hot water pipes for the radiators in the upstairs apartments will provide a lot of the new basement units’ heat, which is supplemented by thin-profile space heaters mounted on the walls; Monica explains the finishes they chose that increased the price over the original estimate; floor plans show the complicated wall layout in the units, that still allows for a roomy kitchen and one-bedroom.

Since the property has the RM-5 zoning district applied (which allows for the building’s size and density), and it wasn’t downzoned, no zoning change was necessary to increase the unit count from six to eight.

Monica and Rob said they’re looking at ADUs to “increase both revenue and value in buildings in the communities we work with. The addition of legal basement units is a great way to build equity for small building owners and owner occupied buildings.” In the proposed ordinance, owners of six-flats would be able to add two apartments without the need for a zoning change.

They had originally budgeted $90,000 for the two units, but the final budget was $110,000, because they eventually chose higher-quality finishes, stainless steel appliances, granite kitchen countertops, and ceramic tile in the showers. Rob said, “Increasing the quality of the apartments has paid off in quick leasing. Also higher quality materials will require less maintenance and last longer.

Monica and Rob acted as the general contractor, meaning they managed the hiring of construction workers and subcontractors. They said they could better control work quality and “reduce costs”. Monica, being an architect, performed the architectural services for the conversion project. She said, “Civic Projects Architecture did get paid a small fee for providing architectural services. While this did not reflect a full fee, clients should anticipate seven percent of cost of construction with a fee not less than $5,000. A project with more interior finishes and custom work would run closer to ten percent.”

Having the ADU ordinance in place when they started the conversion would have been helpful by eliminating their parking requirement. This being Chicago, every new apartment is required to have an on-site parking space, unless it’s in a mixed-use zoning district and near a CTA or Metra station or an eligible bus corridor. The city’s Transit-Served Location rule doesn’t apply to residential zoning districts, though. Somehow Monica and Rob had to find space for two parking spots.

If the TSL rule did apply here, the parking requirement would be waived, since the building is well within the allowed distance to the 43rd Green Line station. There was enough room in the back to create two parking spaces, but Monica and Rob had to create an agreement with the CTA to allow those drivers to drive under the tracks and park in the rear of the lot. The Green Line is an alley ‘L’ and runs behind dozens of buildings on South Prairie Avenue, just west of the alley.

Finally, I asked if they had advice for other owners of old and larger multi-unit apartment buildings like theirs in Chicago:

The process for larger buildings would be similar. Many of the larger walk-up multifamily buildings built in the teens and twenties were built with a raised basement. The challenge is finding spaces with appropriate exiting and ample daylight and ventilation. Six-flats work well because they tend to be long and narrow.
To start the process building owners should do a zoning check of their property and understand what the permitted uses are. This can be done by asking an architect or other services to spend a couple of hours reviewing the project. Owners should also ask the professional to check exiting and light and ventilation. This could be a time and cost saving endeavor to avoid non-compliant code build outs. If there are existing illegal units in a building, owners should work with a design professional to render these legal.

New tenants have signed leases, but not yet moved in.

2. The conceptual backyard homes

I was surprised and excited to see architects at Focus Construction & Development and bKL Architecture get together to design prototype backyard homes for a costing exercise. Neither of those firms were ones I expected to discuss ADUs, but Vic Howell (Focus) sent me their report that analyzes the viability of backyard homes to be built and rented affordably and serve as the offsite component of a development’s ARO obligations.

The study concluded that a two-story backyard home could be constructed for $192,000, and that prefabricating it could lower that cost. They also recommended increasing the proposed ADU ordinance’s 700 s.f. floor area limit for backyard homes (interior ADUs would be limited by the existing building’s size, and the property’s zoning district FAR standard).

The Focus-bKL design and construction team recommended increasing the hypothetical and proposed limit of 700 s.f. for backyard homes because to accommodate a two-bedroom offsite ARO unit the unit would have to be at least 750 s.f. large, according to the ARO standards.

The Focus and bKL team designed these conceptual backyard homes as part of their construction feasibility study.

I’ll remind readers that the floor area limit is relative to the lot size, and 700 s.f. is only achievable for lots with single-unit houses that are at least 33' wide or 166' deep. A property with a multi-unit house could have slightly smaller dimensions and allow for a 700 s.f. backyard home. The standard lot size is 25' wide and 125' deep. Use the zoning worksheet the Booth Hansen architecture firm created to estimate the maximum size of a backyard home on your residentially-zoned lot.

Tim Anderson and Bhavin Pardiwala (Focus), and Tom Kerwin, Danielle Tillman, Daniela Sesma (bKL) also worked on the study.

3. Backyard homes waiting for re-legalization

David Schwartz and David Wallach co-founded Granny Flats Chicago to sell and build off-the-shelf backyard homes once the ADU legislation is adopted and effective. The company has three designs, and two pre-orders (since we talked three weeks ago). Companies like this exist all over California, Oregon, and Washington, three states that allow ADUs statewide.

The smallest model — called The Nanna — has 460 s.f. of floor area, a 12' ceiling height, and uses a sleeping loft to maximize floor space in a short building that includes a garage. Schwartz said, “I think we can deliver them for $150,000, including the foundation and appliances.” That price doesn’t include the utility connections, which Schwartz estimated to cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

The “Granny Flats” are planned to be quick to build and have good insulation by using a panel insulated wall system from Wally Walls, based in Kenosha. Laszlo Simovic Architects, one of the most prolific residential architecture firms in Chicago based on the number of permits issued, designed the backyard homes.

The most exciting thing Schwartz told me about their company’s intention is that they are talking to lenders to create a financing product for homeowners to fund a Granny Flat. In the ULI Chicago task force for ADU policy, we recognized that funding and finance would be a huge hurdle, and that existing loan products (like a construction loan or a HELOC) may be insufficient. Schwartz said it’s possible that a lender could make a 10-year interest-only loan that’s based on an appraisal that considers the post-construction property value. An interest-only loan has much lower monthly payments, but requires repayment of the principal in one lump sum — presumably the rental income would be saved up to pay off the principal after a few years of renting.

What kind of ADU do you want to build? Peruse Chicago Cityscape’s ADU resources or contact us with your questions. Double check the Chicago Cityscape map of ADU supporters — it hasn’t changed since the hearings in July — and email your alder if the ward isn’t shown in green.

P.S. We created a new Property Finder map for brokers and developers to find Chicago properties that are eligible to add ADUs.


Get a look at new basement ADUs in Bronzeville + 2 other projects was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Last Wednesday, August 19, all eight modules of Chicago’s first modular house were assembled, one at a time. The front door and roof were installed before sunset, making the house secure and waterproof.

I told you about the modular single-unit house in April, soon after it was permitted. Kinexx Modular Construction, founded by Paul Tebben and Josh Braun, are building it for The Resurrection Project, an organization that builds affordable housing, at 4856 S Ada St in Back of the Yards.

I arrived to the construction site at around 9:30 AM and left an hour later. In that time, workers adjusted the position of the second module, lifted and placed the third module, and delivered the fourth module. The main process of lifting and placing the third module took less than 10 minutes. All eight modules and the roof were installed by 6 PM.

Modular house assembly photos. Clockwise from top-left: The second/rear module is being adjusted to fit with the first; the third module awaits lifting; the awaiting fourth module has a staircase; the third module has been placed and needs final adjustments.

Watch the two minute delivery and installation video, which has been condensed and sped up about 2.5x. To remind you, this “starter house” has the following dimensions and characteristics:

  • Floor area of 1,450 square feet
  • 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms
  • 17' wide (the standard Chicago lot is 25', and a setbacks usually allow for a 20' wide house)
  • 42' deep (the standard Chicago lot is 125' deep)
  • 9' ceiling height
  • 24' tall
https://medium.com/media/14ebb4a4eb745738042bad18f368acd2/href

On Thursday, the following day, an electrician and ComEd engineer connected the house’s electricity to the grid, and the house was energized on Friday. When I talked to Braun and Tebben on Friday, they said that the water and sewage should be hooked up that day. Starting today, the metal and vinyl siding will be added, which should take a week. The AC and heating will also be hooked up this week.

Left: A rendering of the modular “starter home”. Right: The structure after assembling all eight modules on Wednesday, August 19, 2020.

Then, a final coat of interior paint needs to be added, and flooring and some tile needs to be installed. I asked why the flooring and tile weren’t installed in the factory, like many other interior finishes.

Tebben said, “This was our first house [by Kinexx], and we wanted to make sure transporting it was safe and didn’t have cracking issues, so we were overly cautious.” Some parts were already tiled, though, and none of them cracked during transport, Tebben said. Braun added, “Lots of people had different opinions, so we picked a happy medium and finished some tile as an experiment prior to transport. There also wasn’t a single piece of drywall that cracked.”

Sometime this week a Chicago Department of Buildings inspector will come for a “final rough inspection” (this isn’t a typical inspection phase). This time in September, the Kinexx founders said, the house will be ready for an occupancy inspection.

How much did it cost? They wouldn’t give me specifics, but said that final costs are really close to the estimated costs for the first house. Braun said, “We had an anticipated price and we hit it, and now we’re more confident that we can deliver this house for someone else for $240,000.”

That price doesn’t include a multi-building discount, but it includes a foundation slab, utility hookup, roof, and siding. It doesn’t include site-specific remediation, landscaping, and fencing.


The modular “starter house” in Back of the Yards was assembled was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


One of the architects on our Accessory Dwelling Units service providers list emailed to explain that he had a client, a woman in her 60s, who wanted to build two ADUs. The architect wanted to know what kind of ADU she would be allowed to build, and if she could build both an interior apartment and a backyard home.

Scroll to the end if you just want to know the ADU ordinance’s status.

Sharon owns a single-unit house in Lakeview, and her property is zoned RS-3; she wants to (1) build a small interior apartment for herself to live in, (2) rent out the main part of the house to earn money, and then (3) use the money later on to pay for the construction of a backyard home, where she would live permanently. It conceptually would look like the drawing below.

A conceptual drawing showing the desired use of adding an apartment inside the single-unit house, and then later adding a backyard home (“future coach house”). Image by Silvestro Design Operations.

That’s a great idea, and it’s a use case we’ve promoted in the past. The AARP and Habitat for Humanity both recognize the need for senior citizens to be able to age in place and downsize, so that they can spend less money on housing during retirement and stay in their neighborhoods.

Sharon thinks ADUs are great for other reasons, she wrote:

“A lot of us who bought houses when it was affordable to live in Lakeview, but not Lincoln Park or Gold Coast, are being priced out by escalating taxes that show no sign of reversing. The ADU ordinance gives us an opportunity to stay in our neighborhood. It increases foot traffic in the alleys [see Rebel Garages]. Provides for greater density of population near public transportation. More people, more support for restuarants and local businesses. More people, greater tax base. What is not to like about this?”

Can Sharon build two ADUs on her property?

Let’s review Chicago’s proposed ADU ordinance to see if Sharon, and her architect, James Silvestro, might be able accomplish her goal.

The short answer is yes, but it’s not a simple conclusion.

The house is in an RS-3 zoning district, one of the zoning districts that would allow ADUs “as of right”, so that’s good for Sharon’s plan. As the proposed ordinance stands now, however, property owners in two zoning districts — RS-1 and RS-2 — would have to obtain a “special use” permit by applying to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

There are 162,500 single-unit houses and 6,036 two-to-six flats in RS-1/2 zoning districts across dozens of communities on the South, West, and Northwest Sides, and I think it is a bad policy to require that those owners spend additional time and money to obtain permission. Many people are in the same situation as Sharon, or will soon be in the same position, where downsizing or earning rental income is necessary to live where they are, and cover maintenance costs and property taxes.

The next step in the review is determining the house’s age. The proposed ordinance would allow interior apartments (a.k.a. an “attached ADU”) in houses that are 20 years or older. Sharon’s house was built in 1998.

Sharon wants to have an interior apartment and a backyard home. The proposed ordinance would allow one or the other, not both ADU types.

I can think of two possible zoning strategies to achieve Sharon’s goals.

A. Build the interior apartment now, deconvert it later

Under the proposed ADU ordinance, Sharon would be able to get a permit to build an interior apartment (small or large) as soon as the ordinance becomes effective. If the design carves out space in the existing footprint and exterior walls, then there won’t be a conflict with the zoning rules.

If the design expands the footprint or moves exterior walls, then the architect will need to conduct a zoning assessment to determine how much, if any, the house could be enlarged. When Sharon earns enough rental income to start building a backyard home, the apartment can be deconverted and “returned” to the main part of the house.

While building an interior apartment and then deconverting it later is an option, I’d rather that the proposed ordinance allow both on the same site, especially in the situation that the proposed ordinance offers where a property is allowed two or more interior ADUs. However, option “A” may be the only way forward when option “B” wouldn’t apply.

B. Use an obscure part of the RS-3 zoning code to build both

The RS-3 zoning district allows single-unit houses as of right, but it also allows two-flats with a condition that’s difficult to find amongst the city’s housing stock. We wrote about this option in 2017: the Chicago Zoning Ordinance allows a two-flat on a lot size of 3,000 s.f. or larger in an RS-3 zoning district if 60 percent or more of the buildings on the same block and the same side of the block have two or more units. (See 17–2–0303-B.)

Using our Property Finder map in Address Snapshot, one can easily count the number of units in each building on a block. I counted the ones on Sharon’s block and about 76 percent of the buildings have two or more units. The lot size is just over the minimum, at 3,025 s.f.

With option B, Sharon would be able build an interior apartment (a second flat and not an ADU) immediately with a permit, and then a backyard home when the ADU ordinance is adopted by City Council.

What’s the status with the ordinance?

The proposed ordinance’s earliest adoption date is September 9, 2020, and I predict that there will be some changes in it. Read articles on WTTW, The Daily Line, and Crain’s Chicago Business to better understand why the adoption timeline has been extended.

Some alders do not want this passed. You can see who on our map. If Sharon’s reason for wanting to build a backyard home resonates with you, or you would like to be able to build one for a different reason, please email your alder. I am now getting inquiries several times a week from families, and developers, who are preparing themselves for the time when they can improve how they live. They want to know how the ordinance might support their plan, like Sharon’s, and what the hold up is.

Are you considering adding an ADU to your property? Get to know the proposed rules (which are subject to change prior to adoption) and find an ADU service provider.


Ask Cityscape: Could I build two ADUs at my house? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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.


Plus: Analysis on how many properties might be excluded

Mark your calendar! City Council is moving ahead with the ordinance to legalize small houses and accessory dwelling units proposed in May. A subject matter hearing will be held over Zoom and livestreamed on Friday, July 10, 2020, at 10 AM. The hearing is a joint committee meeting of the committees on zoning and housing. A second joint committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at 2 PM. No agendas have been posted.

It’s possible that the ordinance, which would allow a coach house or an additional dwelling unit to be built in most houses and apartments in “R” zoning districts, could be approved at the second joint meeting and approved by the full City Council at their regularly scheduled meeting on the following day, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

As it stands, the proposed ADU ordinance would exclude over 162,500 single-family homeowners across Chicago in 43 wards from benefiting from the proposed law. Additionally, the owners of about 6,036 two-to-six flats who would be excluded. (Owners of larger apartment buildings would also be excluded, but I didn’t measure this.) These owners who want to build a basement unit or coach house to accommodate changes in their family or desire an income generating apartment would have to obtain special permission from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A small backyard house like this prototyped designed by architects at Booth Hansen would provide a ground-floor accessible dwelling unit, but it wouldn’t be allowed without special permission at over 162,500 properties in Chicago.

The current proposal gives the benefit of an ADU only to those residential property owners who happen to have purchased a home in the right zoning district.

Those who own properties in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts would have to apply for and hopefully receive the necessary “special use” permit, at the risk of spending thousands of dollars for a zoning attorney and potentially subjecting design decisions to neighbor sentiment.

Look up your address to learn what zoning district it’s in

Where ADUs would require special permission

Homeowners and apartment building owners may find themselves in one of these excluded zoning districts through no fault of their own.

57 of Chicago’s 77 community areas have excluded single-family homeowners, and the top five below represent 30.3 percent of the single-family properties that the proposed ordinance would exclude.

The populations across these community areas are diverse, racially and by income. The number of single-family homeowners in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts are most prevalent in these community areas (top 5 shown):

  1. Ashburn: 11,791 excluded single-family properties — Median household income is $66,560 — 86.2% percent of residents are Black, Hispanic, or Latinx (demographics)
  2. Norwood Park: 10,431 excluded single-family properties — Median household income is $74,069 — 81.5% percent of residents are white (demographics)
  3. Dunning: 10,134 excluded single-family properties — Median household income is $65,948 — 35.5% percent of residents are people of color (demographics)
  4. Garfield Ridge: 9,833 excluded single-family properties — Median household income is $68,212 — 55.3% of residents are people of color (demographics)
  5. Washington Heights: 7,122 excluded single-family properties — Median household income is $44,707 — 95.8% of residents are Black (demographics)

Switching gears from neighborhoods to political districts, 13 of Chicago’s 50 wards each have over 5,000 single-family homeowners who are excluded in the proposal, for an aggregate of 128,426 owners —that’s 80 percent of excluded single-family homeowners across Chicago. They are, ordered by the wards with the most excluded single-family homeowners:

  • 19th Ward, Alder Matt O’Shea — 16,057 single-family homeowners would have to obtain special permission. On the other hand, about 978 single-family homeowners would have the right to build an ADU without special permission.
  • 41st Ward, Alder Anthony Napolitano — 13,886 single-family homeowners would have to obtain special permission. On the other hand, about 4,247 single-family homeowners would have the right to build an ADU without special permission.
  • 18th Ward, Alder Derrick Curtis
  • 13th Ward, Alder Marty Qunn
  • 38th Ward, Alder Nicholas Sposato
  • 34th Ward, Alder Carrie M. Austin
  • 23rd Ward, Alder Silvana Tabares
  • 21st Ward, Alder Howard B. Brookins, Jr.
  • 9th Ward, Alder Anthony Beale
  • 8th Ward, Alder Michelle Harris
  • 39th Ward, Alder Samantha Nugent
  • 45th Ward, Alder Jim Gardiner
  • 10th Ward, Alder Susan Sadlowski-Garza
Orange areas on the map indicate RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts. Property owners in these areas would have to obtain special permission to build a basement unit or coach house. While the majority of these areas are geographically on the “outer” part of Chicago, they are not homogenous. Plus, affordable and accessible housing is needed everywhere in Chicago. The map is from Chicago Cityscape’s Site Selector.

Modifying the ordinance

An equal ADU policy would apply in all residential zoning districts; an equitable ADU policy, would, at a minimum, ensure that people who have a house in the correct zoning district can also access the benefits the policy will allow, despite process, social, and political barriers. This might mean creating public funding sources to fund or co-fund the construction of ADUs in certain areas or based on income.

For example, a program in Santa Cruz, California, funds the construction of an ADU on the property of an existing low-income senior homeowner to provide additional income or allow them to age in place and stay in their community. An backyard house can give these homeowners an opportunity to have a smaller and accessible place to live while they rent out the main house.

At the very least, an equitable housing policy requires equitable lending — in other cities, most homeowner-funded ADUs are funded by borrowing using the equity in the home, like a HELOC. That’s not possible everywhere, as WBEZ and City Bureau showed last month demonstrated that some banks in Chicago barely lend in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

I believe that Chicago’s housing and planning departments would rather that the benefit of ADUs apply equally, across all residential zoning districts, but it’s ultimately up to City Council to change up the proposal.


Chicago’s ADU ordinance gets a hearing date was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


'1909' is a free, weekly newsletter with neighborhood development news, events, and original analysis.

Subscribe to '1909'

Subscribe

* indicates required
Your work
Interests
Non-Profit

Powered by MailChimp


Other ways to stay updated

About '1909'

'1909' brings you Chicago neighborhood development news and events every week.

1909 was the year that Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the Plan of Chicago that forever changed the cityscape. The cityscape changes everyday and we track how and where on Chicago Cityscape.


Other ways to stay updated

Are you a reporter?

We give Chicago-based reporters who write about land use, zoning, housing, property development, and urban planning a free Pro membership and ask that you attribute and link to Chicago Cityscape when data presented on our website has helped you enhance a story.

Request a free membership

'1909' options

Read previous issues of '1909'

Sign up with the alternative form

Subscribe with RSS

Change your preferences

If you're already subscribed you can change your preferences including name, email, and interests, using the link at the bottom of every issue

Submit your events

Send us your news and event suggestions to be considered for inclusion in '1909'.

Fill out my online form.
Use Wufoo templates to make your own HTML forms.