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New Chicago Affordable Housing Ordinance Means Greater Costs for Developers

The Chicago City Council recently passed an amendment to the existing Affordable Requirements Ordinance (the 2015 ARO), which will increase the cost to develop most affordable housing projects in Chicago.  With the passage of the 2015 ARO, developers must now provide on-site or off-site affordable housing in addition to the in lieu fees which makes it impossible for developers to circumvent the purpose of the affordable housing requirements mandated by the ordinance.  In addition, the 2015 ARO significantly increases the in lieu fees that developers must pay in order to satisfy the requirements of the ordinance.    

The Affordable Requirements Ordinance was enacted in 2003 and revised in 2007 to expand access to housing for low-income and moderate-income households and to preserve the long-term affordability of such housing in the Chicago.  Housing is considered “affordable” if the sales price or rent for the housing unit does not total more than a certain percentage of a family’s household income.  To qualify for affordable housing, the household must make at or below a certain percentage of an area’s median income as established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Before the 2015 ARO, developers could pay an “in lieu fee” in the amount of $100,000.00 for every affordable unit they elected not to include in their projects to completely satisfy the affordable housing requirements.  

You can click here for a complete summary of the 2015 ARO.  It is a quick reference guide for anyone considering the development of residential projects in Chicago.

Application

The 2015 ARO applies to residential projects that contain ten (10) or more residential units and satisfy one of the following requirements: 

  • The project receives a zoning change that permits a higher floor area ratio, changes the use from non-residential to residential or permits residential uses on ground floors where that use was not previously allowed;

  • The project includes land that was purchased from the City of Chicago;

  • The project received financial assistance from the City of Chicago; or

  • The project is part of a planned development in a downtown zoning district.

Minimum Percentages of Affordable Housing

While there are certain exemptions, the 2015 ARO creates minimum percentages for affordable units in projects as follows:

  • Rezoning - In the case of a rezoned property, the developer is required to designate 10% of the units in the project as affordable housing (or 20% if the developer receives financial assistance from the City of Chicago).  Financial assistance from the City of Chicago includes grants, direct or indirect loans or allocation of tax credits to the development.

  • City Land Sales - Where the City of Chicago sells property to a developer and such property is subsequently developed for residential purposes or is incorporated into a residential housing project site in order to satisfy City of Chicago Municipal Code requirements, the developer must designate no less than 10% of the units in the project as affordable housing (or 20% if the developer receives financial assistance from the City of Chicago).   

  • Existing Buildings | Zoning Change - Where there is an existing building that contains housing units at the time of an approved zoning change or an existing building that contains a mixed-use occupancy with use being residential at the time of an approved zoning change, only the additional housing units permitted under the rezoning are subject to the affordable housing requirements of the ordinance.  However, in the event the developer has received financial assistance from the City of Chicago, then the entire building is subject to the affordable housing requirements of the ordinance.

Additional Considerations for Affordable Housing Units by Project Location

Compliance with the ordinance will depend on the area where the project is located:  

1.  Low-Moderate Income Areas 

  • For low-moderate income areas (designated by the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development), a developer must provide at least 25% of the required affordable units on-site.  

  • For the remaining 75% of the required affordable housing units, the developer has the option of satisfying the requirements of the ordinance by (a) establishing additional on-site affordable housing units; (b) paying an in lieu fee in the amount of $50,000.00 per unit; or (c) any combination of (a) and (b).

2.  Higher Income Areas 

  • In higher income areas (those areas that are not designated as low-moderate income areas), the developer must provide at least 25% of the required affordable units on-site or off-site.  

  • For the remaining 75% of the required affordable housing units, the developer has the option of satisfying the requirements of the ordinance by (a) establishing additional on-site or off-site affordable units; (b) paying an in lieu fee in the amount of $125,000.00 per unit; or (c) any combination of (a) and (b).  

  • All off-site units must be located within a two (2) mile radius of the residential housing project at issue and in the same or a higher income area or in a district zoned “D” (downtown district) under the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance.

3.  Rental Units in Downtown Districts

  • In downtown districts and planned developments in a downtown district (zoned “D”), a developer of rental units must provide at least 25% of the required affordable rental units on-site or off-site.  

  • For the remaining 75% of the required affordable housing units, the developer has the option of satisfying the requirements of the ordinance by (a) establishing additional on-site or off-site affordable units; (b) paying an in lieu fee; or (c) any combination of (a) and (b).  

  • The in lieu fee is $140,000.00 per unit through and including the first anniversary of the publication date of the ordinance in the Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council of the City of Chicago.  The in lieu fee is increased to $175,000.00 thereafter.  

  • All off-site units must be located within a two (2) mile radius of the residential housing project at issue and in the same or a higher income area or in a district zoned “D” (downtown district) under the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance.

4.  Owner-Occupied Units in Downtown Districts 

  • In downtown districts and planned developments in a downtown district (zoned “D”), a developer of owner-occupied units (i.e., condominiums) may establish affordable housing in the following ways: (a) establishing affordable owner-occupied units as part of the residential housing project; (b) establishing off-site affordable owner-occupied units; (c) paying an in lieu fee; or (d) any combination of (a), (b) and/or (c).

  • The in lieu fees are the same as rental units in downtown districts; however, in the event the developer elects not to provide a minimum of 25% of the required affordable owner-occupied units either on-site or off-site, the in lieu fee shall be increased to $160,000.00 per unit through and including the first anniversary of the publication date and $225,000.00 per unit thereafter.  

  • Off-site affordable owner-occupied units may be located anywhere in the City of Chicago, subject to the Department of Planning and Development’s approval.

In summary, the 2015 ARO has significantly increased a developer’s cost to develop residential units in the City of Chicago.  It also mandates that affordable housing units be built even if it is off-site.  It remains to be seen if these new laws will in fact inhibit developers from constructing residential projects in the City of Chicago.  To learn more about 2015 ARO and its implications for your business, contact a member of the Much Shelist Real Estate practice group. 

© 2020 Much Shelist, P.C.National Law Review, Volume V, Number 141

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About this Author

Harold S. Dembo, Much Shelist Law Firm, Real Estate Attorney
Principal

An experienced transactional attorney with a primary focus on real estate, Harold S. Dembo serves as Co-Chair of the Real Estate group. His practice emphasizes the representation of lenders, builders, entrepreneurs, investors and other parties engaged in the development and management of a wide range of industrial, commercial, residential and mixed-use projects.

312-521-2684