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Coach Houses Now Legal Again In Some Chicago Pilot Zones

Patch logo Patch 5/6/2021 Eileen O'Gorman
a car parked on the side of a building: A coach house previously listed for sale in Lincoln Park. © Tim Moran/Patch A coach house previously listed for sale in Lincoln Park.

CHICAGO — A new ordinance makes it possible for property owners in the city to legally construct coach houses, convert attics and remodel basements into apartment units.

In 1957, zoning requirements banned the construction of coach houses, buildings sometimes called granny flats or in-law suites, decreasing additional housing units in many low-income neighborhoods. The structures were once common in Chicago, and still exist in the city today though operating illegally and oftentimes not up to building code.

In December, the Chicago City Council made coach houses and apartment units in basements and attics legal again through the Affordable Dwelling Units Ordinance. The ordinance took effect May 1 and is being introduced slowly into five "pilot areas."

Spreading across the north, northwest, west, south and southeast areas of Chicago, the city will conduct a three-year evaluation in the pilot zones and then decide if the ordinance should be implemented citywide.

Common complaints against the alternative style of units include issues with overcrowded parking and possibly raising prices on multigenerational families who already live in coach houses.

A study conducted by DePaul University found attic or basement units are ideal for families that need to have their grandparents, parents and children under one roof. The study also cited that many people who live in additional dwelling units already pay affordable housing prices or slightly less.

The ordinance requires property builders construct one affordable housing unit for every two coach house or additional dwelling unit. While this would increase additional income for landlords, the process will require multiple levels of review from the Chicago Department of Housing, an Illinois-licensed architect or engineer and training courses.

The Urban Land Institute Chicago and the American Institute of Architect of Chicago are offering three free virtual training sessions in May. One on coaches houses, one on converted basements and attics and another on how to bring already-built units up to the new code.

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