As we approach the end of the Spring season of the City Open Workshop, we gathered in the UIC Great Cities Institute on April 24 for a refresher and overview on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU).
This workshop was led by Steven Vance, Skyler Larrimore and Eli Lechter, who first started out by presenting our primer on ADUs – what they are, their costs and benefits, as well as their regulations in Chicago, compared to other cities in America. Afterwards, the group was split up into breakout groups to discuss four aspects to ADUs, reconvening at the end of the workshop to share the fruits of our discussion:
Season Theme: Accessory Dwelling Units – Community Exchange and Feedback
Workshop Method: Option Stations - Data+Policy, Advocacy+Education, Design, Finance
Steve Vance is founder of Chicago Cityscape, a website platform featuring data on urban developments around Chicago, and presented the ADU primer:
An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is any unit built on the rear end of a parcel of land, which can include a coach house and is usually found to have a garage in it. All forms of ADUs are currently banned in the city of Chicago, through zoning and building codes. However, there are many benefits to re-legalizing them that including increasing number of units of affordable housing, and more options for properties that support multi-generational living, especially in communities where familial proximity is an integral part of their culture. Economically, they also could increase income for owners, and serve to close the housing affordability gap. Small, local businesses, architects and contractors can also be boosted through an increase in smaller scale development projects such as ADUs.
ADUs had been initially banned because of the fear of overcrowding in Chicago, as the population of the city soared during the mid-20th Century. While this is not a contemporary issue, there are some concerns to re-legalizing ADUs that are worth considering, for example, developers might use ADUs as a loophole to increase property sale prices for areas that are already facing gentrification, using a higher projected occupant capacity. There is also the social stigma that living in an ADU signifies a lower socio-economic bracket. There is also yet to be a future proposal for legislation on ADUs, in the case of them being successfully petitioned.
After this overview, we broke up into smaller groups with individual leaders, to discuss the various aspects concerning the possibility of redeveloping the accessory dwelling unit.
EDUCATION + ADVOCACY
The station on Zines was facilitated by Paola Aguirre, guided by the workshop led by Vitaly Vladimirov during workshop #3. Zines are a grassroots tool to increase accessibility of information to promote favour in re-legalizing ADUs, and explain technical jargon used in the professional world.
We were encouraged to think about titles that attract people’s attention - highlighting ADU benefits that align with individual and community interests, which could be provided if they choose to support ADUs. As for content, the use of case studies is highly encouraged, to rethink current ADU laws, rather than recycling old permits. One example includes LA Mas’ The Backyard Homes Project, an architectural design company that specializes in consulting and work on coach houses.
DATA + POLICY
Facilitated by Steve Vance, this breakout group was held in the style of a discussion, that expanded upon the one that began in the ADU Primer.
ADUs address gaps in housing affordability, and the recently-introduced lane houses in Vancouver had been well-received. With so many equitable benefits for the city, we wondered if there was any active resistance to ADUs, that might prevent them from becoming legalized. We talked about possible resistance in RS-1 and RS-2 neighborhoods, which are typologies of Residential, SIngle-Unit Districts, with detached, single-family homes. The legalization of ADUs might push up prices for surrounding vacant lots, especially for the South Side, because they would advertize it for a higher square footage than there actually is, but rent prices would still have to stay the same relative to the neighborhood. With the lack of lot uniformity, another complication arises in how to regulate each lot in terms of what type of ADU will be safe to build on a lot, with or without an existing front-end building. There might also be future regulations on tenant screening as well as limits on the uses for ADUs, which might be a concern.
An elephant in the room is also the fact that affordable housing does exist in Chicago, but people are reluctant to live in those neighborhoods - therefore, ADUs might only be built in more affluent places, or just in neighborhoods where there are communities that prefer to live with family.
There are, of course, positive case studies of ADUs in other cities, such as Los Angeles, where foundation/philanthropy groups would pay for building services in ADUs, as long as the owner of the unit rents to a tenant with a housing voucher for at least five years. This can cover up to $25,000 worth of services, and helps ensure affordable housing needs are fulfilled.
In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel and the City Council had also adopted the idea to legalize ADUs in the five year plan, released at the end of December 2018.
Elle facilitated the design station on behalf of Bob Corporaal (CleverFranke) and Jonathan Fair (UIC Architecture) through the ADU empathy mapping and design exercise.
Participants worked with a scenario in which a resident of Avondale wanted to build a coach house behind their home and use it as an artist-in-residence space as well as a cafe for the community.
Members of this group were asked to approach this design exercise of an ADU considering only one stakeholder perspective – either government, property owner or one community group in proximity to the project site. Participants also engaged in completing an empathy map of motivations, fears and obstacles for each group of stakeholders.
Facilitated by Navi Sandhu, leader of workshop #5, one concern that was brought up was the possibility that ADUs would not be allowed to be constructed before the main, front-end structure, since garages are considered to be ADUs. A possible solution could be garlows, where people could live temporarily while saving money to build an actual house out in front of the lot.
One suggestion for affordability is to use bundle funds to pay for a group of ADU construction or renovation, to exercise economies of scale, as it would be expensive to pay for them individually.
Special thanks to Steven Vance for presenting his research and resources for ADUs. Make sure to check out this petition to re-legalize coach and rear houses and newly legalize ADUs in Chicago.
VALERIE WONG is a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Architecture.