Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Biking on the Bloomingdale Trail last spring I spotted a “modern” coach house on Talman Avenue: It was new construction on the same lot as a new construction townhouse.
That didn’t make sense because coach houses are illegal in Chicago*. The city’s current zoning code was adopted in 2004 at which point existing coach houses were considered legal, nonconforming uses. It bans new coach houses, but the ban probably started before then.
Update: This post may change as I receive new information from others who have dealt with the Chicago zoning code. To summarize, coach houses are not a banned building type (although they’re definitely banned in R districts), but were banned through many different changes to the zoning code. It’s clear, though, that existing coach houses are at risk because the zoning code inhibits their occupancy and use.
I noticed they were new construction, but I wasn’t sure how new they were really were. The building permit was issued in 2001 which said “ERECT A ‘NON-PAYING GUEST HOUSE’ ABOVE A 2-CAR PRIVATE MASONRY GARAGES AS PER PLANS”. (It’s not on Chicago Cityscape because we only have building permits from 2006 to now.)
A coach house is a typical kind of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Chicago that were built at the rear of lots. In the majority of cases, a principal use like a single-family house or 2-4 flat was built in the front of the lot. In rare cases, a coach house is the only building on the lot as a house up front was never built.
That zoning code recognized that an accessory structure could be built as a “non-paying guest house” that wasn’t allowed to have a kitchen. The code said that the house would be for guests of the occupants of the principal structure and “not for permanent occupancy by others as housekeeping units”.
This language wasn't carried into the 2004 zoning code. In addition to banning new coach houses and non-paying guest houses, existing ones cannot be expanded and there’s a rule that can cause their disuse. Maintenance and repairs to keep a coach house in “sound condition” are the only allowed kind of construction.
Matt Nardella, principal architect at Moss Design, said that coach houses are not an approved rear yard encroachment (garages, tool sheds, and required parking are approved). Outside of residential-only districts (meaning B and C districts), a coach house could still be built, he said, as long as the density of your zoning lot is high enough to allow for it, and that it’s not taller than 15'.
Nardella suggested that coach houses aren’t allowed because they block light into people’s backyards, and we should update the zoning code to eliminate the front yard requirement in residential-only districts to make larger rear yards and then have coach houses approved for rear yard encroachment.
I would add that these units shouldn’t count against the density limitations. So, a single-family residential district (RS-3 is the most common) essentially becomes a two-family residential district. (Also, zoning is full of super complicated rules about everything: currently, no allowed building in the required rear yard can occupy more than 60 percent of that rear yard, but a car garage can, up to 480 square feet.)
The current zoning code has this to say about coach houses (I’m paraphrasing) given their nonconforming status: If the coach house is unoccupied by a renter or family member for longer than a year, it can never be occupied or rented again.
If it’s demolished, it can’t be rebuilt If it’s accidentally destroyed, however, it can be rebuilt as it was — do it quickly, though, as it must be done within 18 months.
Got zoning questions and need to hire an expert? Contact MAP Strategies
Bring them back
What’s great about coach houses and ADUs (including basement units), and why we should legalize existing ones and allow for the construction of new ones, is:
- They restore** population density in a neighborhood without affecting “neighborhood character” because coach houses and basement units can’t be seen from the street (this is one sense of “neighborhood character”, which is the way new buildings are often larger and look different)
- They create an additional income stream for the property owner
- They provide more affordable housing; existing coach houses are cheaper to rent because they’re older; this would stem the continuing loss of existing affordable housing in the region; if Chicago allowed prefabricated housing, new construction costs could be a lot cheaper
In California, ADUs are legal statewide and last year several bills were passed that made it cheaper and easier to obtain a permit (for example, a sewer utility can no longer charge a fee for hooking up an ADU). They’re legal in dozens of other cities in the country. Evanston City Council is considering allowing coach houses to increase affordable housing options although it’s still in committee.
*I don’t know exactly when new coach houses became illegal; I researched older zoning codes at the Municipal Reference Library in the Harold Washington Library Center and found the same “non-paying guest house with no kitchen” language in the 1957 zoning code
**Many neighborhoods in Chicago have thousands of fewer residents now than at their peak.
Thank you Tim Barton, a zoning specialist who contributed to the 2004 zoning code rewrite, for helping me understand zoning rules in Chicago and lending me the 2002 zoning code book.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This is our biggest expansion into the suburbs
Adding information for suburban communities has been a constant request in our four year existence (happy birthday us this month). Many of the developers who use Chicago Cityscape are active in municipalities outside of Chicago. While Chicago is where most development occurs in the region, there is plenty of building going on in the suburbs.
We thrive on requests from our users, and heard “Do you have data and maps for Evanston?” the most. As of this writing we have the zoning maps for five additional municipalities:
- Evanston (we also have building permits and Ward maps)
- Naperville (we also have building permits)
- Oak Park
Anytime you look up an address in one of those places we’ll give you the current zoning code. Where available, we’ll show you the zoning description (the individual municipalities provide these descriptions).
The main map on your Address Snapshot lookup will also have a zoning map for properties in those municipalities (read more about this below).
Evanston TOD status
In the same site change, we’ve added a check for Transit-Oriented Development status in Evanston. The city adopted “TOD areas”, which are fixed groups of parcels near the several Metra and CTA stations in Evanston.
Look up any address in Evanston and we’ll tell you if it is in the TOD area, and give you a summary of the development incentives there.
The TOD areas are part of Evanston’s “Inclusionary Housing Ordinance” (IHO), adopted in late 2015, that works similarly to Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). It has a lower trigger threshold: In Evanston’s TOD areas, any development with 5 or more units, with or without a zoning change, must comply. Chicago’s ARO is most frequently triggered by the property owner getting a zoning change; it only applies to developments with 10 or more units.
Zoning map style update
We’ve also updated how the zoning map looks by adding two new categories:
- Single-family only (although every zoning code has some exceptions to allow schools and other institutional uses)
- Commercial only (in Chicago, every B and C district allows housing, and it’s M districts that are commercial only; in other municipalities there are distinct “O” and “C” districts for office and commercial, only)
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
The federal reserve bank of St. Louis has an interactive economic data portal called FRED.
The chart above shows the quarterly average of new construction housing units (excluding public housing) in “Chicagoland”. I switched it from monthly unit count to the quarterly average to lessen the number of peaks shown in the graph. The data is not seasonally adjusted, and it doesn’t look like FRED can automatically adjust the data for seasonality.
The actual region measured is the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is an enormous area covering the City of Chicago, all of its suburbs, and then some exurbs like DeKalb, Illinois, and what I would tenuously call suburbs in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana.
Housing production in Chicagoland is below half the peak in 2005 was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Monday, April 09, 2018
The shrinkage slowed, however, from 2015 to 2016
The Chicago Cityscape mission statement has included the phrase “We emphasize development near transit of affordable housing” on our About page since 2015. (By the way, we turned four years old this month.)
We frequently post on social media the individual building permits which indicate the loss of small apartment buildings (mostly 2- and 3-flats) through deconversions to single-family houses, and teardowns (demolitions frequently replaced by single-family houses).
We’ve also shared maps and analysis showing where the Chicago zoning map bans those same small apartment buildings. For example, significant portions of the walkable area around CTA ‘L’ stations (up to 51 percent, depending on the line and station) ban apartment buildings.
The Institute of Housing Studies released its “State of Rental Housing in Cook County” report for 2018 last week. It analyzes data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2016.
Despite a slight increase in the number of rental units in two-to-four unit buildings [in Cook County] between 2015 and 2016, the overall number and share of total rental units in two-to-four unit buildings remains significantly below historic levels.
Between 2013 and 2016, the number of rental units in two-to-four unit buildings [in Cook County] dropped by 6,832 units or 2.4 percent and is the only building type to see declines in units during this period.
IHS is sure to note the “importance of two-to-four unit buildings to Cook County’s stock of affordable rental housing” in a 2012 report. At the time, a majority of apartment units in low- and moderate-income areas of Cook County were in 2-4 unit buildings. Many of these buildings were “destabilized” by being part of a foreclosure filing.
We cannot track current or real-time permitted construction and demolition projects by the unit count, in Chicago, because the city doesn’t post these numbers on its data portal, where we obtain building permit data.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, on the other hand, posts new construction permits by grouped unit count on a slightly delayed monthly basis, for all municipalities. However, it has too few groupings to track buildings that have 6 units, which is another common apartment building size in Chicago. It also doesn’t track demolished units.
The number of 2-4 flat buildings in Cook County is at an historic low was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Friday, April 06, 2018
Turn them on and off, or view them all at once
Chicago Cityscape can keep you informed of construction and violation activity by email or without email by glancing at the new notifications dashboard.
The website can notify you if a contractor you’re monitoring pulls a new Chicago building permit, if a building you’re watching gets a new building violation, or if a Place you’re tracking has either a new building permits or new violations.
With our refreshed My Notifications dashboard on your My Account page, you can easily unsubscribe from notifications, pause emails for particular notifications without having to unsubscribe, and see, at a glance, if new building permits were pulled or building violations were issued.
Thursday, April 05, 2018
When we launched our Flood Guidance feature in January, it excluded advice for properties in DuPage and Will Counties. We didn’t want to, because that’s where 929,000 and 689,000 people live, respectively, but the flood maps weren’t finalized for those counties.
Flood maps in the two counties are still not finalized, actually, but we didn’t want to wait any longer. The flood maps were completed last summer and entered a “preliminary” status.
We’ve gone ahead and added the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) for every property and address lookup in DuPage and Will Counties, so there’s no gap in our suburban expansion.
Flood Guidance is viewable to our users with a Cityscape Permits membership (ideal for contractors and homebuyers) and Cityscape Pro membership (ideal for developers and other real estate professionals).
You can view the status of other flood maps in Illinois on a University of Illinois website aptly named Illinois Flood Maps.
Flood Guidance expanded to DuPage and Will Counties was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Thursday, April 05, 2018
Depending on your point of view, Woodlawn may be gentrifying or may not be gentrifying. Despite a statement to the contrary, one can take a to take a look around east Woodlawn and see that new housing and retailers are indeed coming to the neighborhood after years of neglect.
The rate of new construction and demolition permits issued annually is increasing. The greatest number of building permits in Woodlawn since 2006 was seen in 2017, higher even than the pre-recession amount. Additionally, the most expensive single-family house was sold this year, and an even more expensive one — not even built — is now for sale.
One of the issues that scare long-time residents is not the addition of amenities — the need for local, quality retail has long been on our wishlist — but the ensuing higher rents and property taxes that accompany those amenities; in short, gentrification. The primary concern for Woodlawn residents I talked to in order to write this is if they are pushed out of this neighborhood, a Black neighborhood, where will people move next?
Where displaced residents might have to go is the point of view that decision makers, including President Obama himself, are working so hard to gloss over. Seeing that Chicago is one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in America, those fears are certainly well-founded.
You don’t have to live in Woodlawn to be aware that positive changes such as retail, employment, reduced crime and improving local schools needs to happen. At this point the Obama Presidential Center seems to be the catalyst for that change. I have yet to meet anyone who is against a Woodlawn revitalization. On the other hand I have met folks, specifically some of my neighbors, who are concerned that this positive change does not and will not include them.
Last week, the news of rising rents for the tenants of Jackson Park Terrace Apartments, an affordable housing complex directly across the street from the Obama Center, was reported. Almost simultaneously, a Community Benefits Agreement protest outside of Alderman Willie Cochran’s office occurred.
According to a speaker at the rally, effective April 1st, rents are supposed to rise $100-$200 a month after verbal assurances were made that an increase was not in the offing. This news has made nervous Woodlawn renters even more concerned about their long term future in the neighborhood as well as how their concerns are being woven into the Obama Presidential Center’s vision of community.
Take a moment and view the lens of change and gentrification through the eyes of a Black or Brown person, who make up over 90 percent of Woodlawn’s population.
If a renting family is pushed out of Woodlawn, where do they go? If they have a voucher, the task of renting in a low-crime neighborhood that accepts vouchers is a challenge. If they are market rate renters, their rental experiences may not fare any better. Rental discrimination is still very much alive in Chicagoland and there is a growing affordability gap between household incomes vs. the number of homes out there people can afford.
If you’re a homeowner, like I am, your options slightly increase but ultimately those options are still limited. The Obama Presidential Center and the influx of new residents seeking housing will more than likely make my property values rise. If I choose to sell, I’ll probably turn a profit.
Yet a major factor weighing on any of my future choices is will I be able to get a fair mortgage? Mortgage qualification encompasses a number of factors, but all things being equal, Black and Brown people have a much more difficult time securing mortgages, and when they do it is usually at a much higher cost. Add that to the fact that some Chicago neighborhoods where economic or racial diversity is not a priority are still not very welcoming.
To recap: If you’re a Black or Brown person and you’re forced to leave your rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the likelihood of facing entrenched discrimination on several fronts is a real and distinct possibility. The fact that the fears of the most vulnerable to this displacement are being minimized and ignored should give everyone pause.
The current situation sends a signal that despite all of the lip service being paid to the idea that the Obama Presidential Center will be a beacon of inclusiveness and inspiration, its reality is far more insular and tone deaf.
Fear of gentrification in Woodlawn: Why it matters in the Obama center discussion was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Trump’s 2019 budget would slash funding to build, maintain, and upgrade affordable housing in Chicagoland
Updated March 22, 2018: Congressional leaders yesterday decided to ignore all of these budget recommendations and actually increase funding for some of the programs that Trump wanted to eliminate. Read more about this from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Their spending bill must still be voted on by the House and Senate.
The excellent planners and researchers at CMAP, the Chicago region’s official planning organization, have analyzed the proposed federal budget for 2019. President Trump is proposing to reduce affordable housing construction and maintenance.
There are important and drastic changes for several of our customers, including village planners, economic development analysts, affordable housing developers, housing authority staff, and property developers who specialize in using tax credits and grants to build.
In a nutshell, CMAP wrote in a policy update last week,
Resources to support housing choice for low- and moderate-income residents would decrease, as would funds that communities use to improve disinvested areas. Decreased funding could limit regional efforts to address land conservation, water resource management, and climate resiliency goals. Cuts would also limit workforce development, economic innovation programs, and data collection employed for a wide range of planning purposes.
Trump’s budget would eliminate these programs:
- Choice Neighborhoods
Grants to plan and build upgrades for public and HUD-assisted housing
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
Illinois received $105 million in grants in fiscal year 2017 — funds affordable housing, and grants to retain local businesses
- Home Investment Partnerships (HOME)
Illinois received $25 million in grants in FY17 — funds affordable housing
- Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity (SHOP) program
HUD: “SHOP awards grant funds to eligible national and regional non-profit organizations and consortia to purchase home sites and develop or improve the infrastructure for affordable non-luxury housing for low-income persons”
- Public Housing Capital Fund
Funding for housing authorities to build and modernize public housing
- Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund
Loans and grants for new construction of housing and retail in distressed communities; there are at least three major CDFIs that would be affected: Community Investment Corporation (CIC), Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS)
- The budget would also reduce the amount of rental assistance.
These cuts are on top of the concern that Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) has a lower value, given that Congress and Trump reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. These tax credits are sold by affordable housing developers to help fund the project. The Los Angeles Times described how LIHTC works:
Government agencies award the credits to developers, which then sell them to big banks and other investors along with an equity share in their projects. The investors pay not only for the direct credit but also for the right to deduct depreciation and certain expenses as owners.
But with a lower federal tax rate, those owners now don’t benefit as much from the write-offs and thus they aren’t willing to pay developers as much in order to keep rents low.
For a national overview of the impacts of the budget cuts, look at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The impacts in Chicagoland would be damaging, and it’s likely that fewer organizations and companies would be able to obtain financing to construct new or renovate existing affordable housing in the region. CMAP staff wrote:
“GO TO 2040 [the official regional plan in Chicagoland] and subsequent CMAP work highlight the importance of providing housing options for low-income residents, particularly in areas with access to jobs, services, and transit; the reductions to HOME and CDBG would limit opportunities to provide affordable housing in communities with access to these amenities.”
- I’ve helped organize an all-women panel to talk about gentrification and displacement issues, focusing on public amenity investments and how affordable housing gets built. March 22, 6 PM, at the Currency Exchange Café in Washington Park (next to the Garfield Green Line station). There will be free food. Co-sponsored by ChiHackNight (of which Chicago Cityscape is a sponsor) and City Tech Collaborative.
- “Using anonymized credit and debit card transaction data from Chase bank, the bank’s study found that a Chicago South Side resident on average traveled over four miles away from their home to make a purchase, while residents of the North Side of Chicago on average traveled less than two miles.” (Next City)
- The City of Chicago is planning a permaculture landscape on Fifth Avenue in East Garfield Park, paid for by $500,000 in Open Space Impact Fees (something developers pay when they built multi-family housing without enough on-site open space) and $500,000 from the Water Reclamation District. Details are slim: I gather from the press release that it will exist across several, scattered city-owned parcels.
Trump’s 2019 budget would slash funding to build, maintain, and upgrade affordable housing in… was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Now you can easily see if a building in Chicago is “orange” or “red” rated by looking at our map of the city’s Historic Resources Survey. The survey, completed in 1995, ranked 17,371 buildings on their architectural and historical significance. Orange and red-rated buildings are mildly affected by a delay rule that prevents their demolition for 90 days after an application for a demolition permit is applied and provisionally granted.
There are two ways to find out:
- Look up an address and then click the “Load historic resources” button
- View the full map of Chicago, where you can filter by Place and rating
Buildings are “mildly affected” because many of them end up being demolished before the 90-day period is complete. The rule was enacted in 2003 so the owner, residents, and other property developers can potentially find an alternative solution to demolition.
One thing we don’t know right now is how many hundreds of the 9,269 orange and red-rated buildings on the map have since been demolished. We have a pretty good data set on our Demolitions Tracker (which goes back to 2006) to start marking many of them, but we may need our readers’ help.
St. Boniface, on the other hand, is being restored.
Is your building on Chicago’s historic resources map? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Wednesday, March 07, 2018
Unable to attend the Obama Foundation meeting at McCormick Place last Tuesday, I eagerly awaited news of the meeting during my commute home. I was genuinely surprised to hear President Obama dismissing fears of gentrification. While the President is correct — gentrification hasn’t truly taken hold in Woodlawn yet — that doesn’t mean that it won’t.
More importantly, it doesn’t mean that the gentrification process or one very close to it, isn’t happening now.
As I noted in a Twitter thread, his comment about displacement due to gentrification would be something that “Malia’s kids might have to worry about” isn’t rooted in the same reality that I see outside of my door every day.
I only have to step out on my back porch to see the Jackson Park Condo project that has been given a new lease on life by a different developer. When ground was broken initially, it was right before the real estate collapse in 2007-2008. One day, construction just stopped and the partially finished buildings sat vacant for almost ten years. Last year, construction on the buildings started again and the least expensive unit is priced at $249,000.
Around the corner on Marquette Road, brand-new single family homes are popping up. Approximately two blocks north of that site on Dorchester & 64th two single-family homes have been built since December 2016.
Then there’s the little matter of new amenities that have popped up or are being planned for the neighborhood in the next few years — the new adult trauma center at the University of Chicago, the Squash Center and the first new grocery store built in Woodlawn in recent memory.
Aside from the new market rate condos and single family homes springing up in east Woodlawn, the neighborhood is also experiencing new residents in far greater numbers and the new arrivals, be they homeowners or renters, are being noticed.
I will concede that the President is right — I don’t think that I have to worry about hordes of north siders moving to Woodlawn in the near future, but I can confirm that students and young professionals from Hyde Park are moving to Woodlawn because of rapidly escalating rents.
How do I know? Talking to some of the new neighbors on how they came to choose Woodlawn, they consistently cite the lower cost of rents and the neighborhood’s proximity to the University of Chicago as their reason for relocating. According to the stories I’ve heard, if rents continue to climb in Hyde Park, moving a few blocks south of the traditional Midway Plaisance Hyde Park/Woodlawn border will become a financial necessity.
It doesn’t take a magician to figure out what happens next.
So to recap, in my little stretch of east Woodlawn there is a building boom, higher end (at least for our neighborhood) condos & single-family homes for sale, new transplants priced out of more expensive neighborhoods and newly built or planned amenities.
All of this before the Obama Presidential Center breaks ground.
I don’t think Woodlawn is going to be gentrified overnight, or anytime soon. Yet to suggest that gentrification isn’t happening in Woodlawn or won’t be exacerbated by the proximity of the OPC is incorrect. Nothing in Chicago neighborhood development or city planning happens by chance.
To gloss over or ignore the topic does a disservice to the legitimate concerns of my neighbors who are fearful that there is no room for them amidst all of this change.
Yes, Mr. President, gentrification is happening in Woodlawn 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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