Push to allow granny flats citywide sets stage for political battle

ADU expansion aimed at addressing affordable housing shortage

Chicago Pushes for Additional Dwelling Units

From left: Mayor Brandon Johnson and Alderman Marty Quinn (Getty, Marty & Angie)

A political battle is brewing as Mayor Brandon Johnson considers allowing single-family homeowners to convert attics, basements and garages into rentable “granny flats” throughout the city. 

The initiative, backed by acting zoning committee Chair Bennett Lawson, aims to address Chicago’s 120,000-unit affordable housing shortage by expanding an additional dwelling units pilot program beyond its five designated areas, the Chicago Sun-Times reported

Alderman Marty Quinn, representing a Southwest Side ward dominated by single-family homes, expressed cautious opposition to the ordinance. While not entirely against the concept, Quinn has concerns about increased parking, traffic, garbage, noise and safety issues. He referenced a fatal fire in an illegal attic apartment near Midway Airport five years ago to emphasize the risks.

“My fear is there would be a one-size-fits-all approach that would potentially cut out an alderman’s viewpoint,” Quinn told the outlet. “You want to take the pulse of the residents of the block that this could have an adverse impact on. My constituents always need a front-row seat, and my fear is, they would have a nose-bleed seat.” 

Quinn advocated for a requirement that single-family homeowners obtain a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, ensuring local aldermanic input. 

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The mayor’s office declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations to expand the pilot program. However, Johnson’s “Cut the Tape” report, which outlines plans to streamline Chicago’s development approval process, included the potential citywide expansion of additional dwelling units. The report also suggested exploring universal affordability preferences to increase housing without triggering planned developments, so long as new units remain affordable.

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Lawson’s proposed ordinance, pending before the zoning committee, would allow accessory dwelling units by right in most districts, except for some areas zoned for single-family homes. In those areas, a special-use permit would be required. 

Lawson noted that the pilot program, particularly in his north lakefront ward, has added a manageable number of ADUs without significantly altering neighborhood dynamics. He urged colleagues to support the expansion, advocating for a pro-density approach while noting that many existing units are currently illegal and would benefit from the initiative. 

— Quinn Donoghue 

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