Chicago may allow more granny flats amid affordability crisis

The Urban Land Institute is working with Alderman Harry Osterman to draft an ordinance that would loosen zoning restrictions around accessory dwelling units

Alderman Harry Osterman (48th) and a coach house in Dunning (Credit: Zillow)
Alderman Harry Osterman, chairman of the Committee on Housing and Real Estate; and a coach house in Dunning (Credit: Zillow)

Chicago doesn’t love accessory dwelling units, but it may need them to help combat the city’s growing affordable housing problem.

ADUs — also called coach houses or granny flats — are living spaces that are separate from the main living space in the home, and there are an estimated 2,400 in Chicago. Still, city zoning officials strongly dislike them, and have previously prevented further construction of the units.

But with the city facing a crisis of affordability, the Urban Land Institute is looking into whether expanding the number of ADUs could be one of the solutions, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

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The group has a task force dedicated to studying ADUs and hopes to draft an ordinance for Alderman Harry Osterman later this month, the Sun-Times reported. Osterman is chairman of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate.

In California — which has its own massive affordable housing crisis — Gov. Gavin Newsom in October bestowed a level of legitimacy on ADUs, when he signed a bill that cuts the red tape on converting garages and freestanding backyard homes. Proponents say it not only provides an affordable living space for the renter, but it also generates additional income for the homeowner.

Chicago, meanwhile, doesn’t track the number of ADUs, but the Urban Land Institute keeps its own records. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot may be more amenable. As part of a report her transition team. released just before she took office in May, it said the city should “consider allowing tiny homes and coach houses in zoning changes.”

If the city were to change zoning laws to allow more ADUs, the numbers could climb dramatically, advocates said. In Los Angeles, thousands of permit applications were submitted for ADUs after the governor’s October move. [Sun-Times] — Jacqueline Flynn

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