Chicago may soon allow in-law flats, coach houses for first time since 1957

Chicago may soon allow in-law flats, coach houses for first time since 1957

Chicago introduces an ordinance to remove restrictions on accessory dwelling units, paving the way to encourage entrepreneurship and further combat the city’s affordable housing crisis

On May 20, the Chicago City Council introduced a new ordinance that would overturn 1950’s era restrictions on accessory dwelling units, giving local homeowners extra income or a place for an elderly relative.

More commonly known as coach houses, in-law flats or casitas, the living units are one solution to the city’s affordable housing shortage, according to a report by real estate experts and urban planners with the Urban Land Institute. The institute also said the units can revitalize neighborhoods by bringing in young or elderly residents, and by generating extra income from existing properties.

Chicago has about 2,400 of the units that existed before the 1957 ban, but the new ordinance would make it easier to get a permit and build one on a person’s property as either a basement apartment, an addition to a main building or a freestanding structure on the back of a lot.

Coach houses and other accessory dwelling units were banned when Chicago was more concerned about uniformity than with solving the affordable housing crisis, said Joseph Schweiterman, a professor of public policy at DePaul University. He said they might relieve rental price pressures, but regulations and issues such as neighborhood parking will present a challenge.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot supports the units in neighborhoods willing to accept them and as long as the character of Chicago’s 77 historic neighborhoods is not harmed. The ordinance is currently assigned to committees on zoning and real estate.

Chicago’s typically burdensome zoning laws have often been cited as a factor in the city’s declining housing market. Besides adding to the affordable housing stock, the units give entrepreneurial homeowners the freedom to turn their property into a second income stream, help older homeowners afford to stay in their homes or provide money for property upgrades.

Chicago’s complicated zoning laws will continue to stifle the housing market and aggravate population declines, but legislation such as the accessory dwelling unit ordinance can help reverse those trends.

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