Blog Statement: Urban Environmentalists Illinois and partners urge Chicago Mayor to prioritize abundant housing

Housing, transit, and safe streets advocates urge the Johnson administration to nominate a new Zoning Chair who will tackle common-sense reforms to make it easier to build affordable housing and create a more sustainable city

Nov. 16, 2023

Chicago homes with bicycle

With the impending vacancy of Chicago City Council’s Zoning Committee Chair, advocates are reflecting on one of the most critical issues facing Chicago: we are not building enough housing for our city’s long-term residents, new arrivals, and future neighbors alike, as the impacts of climate change drive more people to make Chicago their home.

Advocates around the city are using this pivotal moment to call for the Mayor to appoint a new Zoning Chair who will continue to build upon the success of the Connected Communities Ordinance and tackle common-sense zoning reforms that will make it easier to build housing for all Chicagoans, all while we address the ongoing climate crisis and create good-paying union construction jobs.

We urge Mayor Brandon Johnson to nominate a Chair who will use the Zoning Committee as a powerful body to create the abundant housing options that Chicagoans need and deserve.

The Mayor’s next Zoning Chair should prioritize the following goals, which are aligned with the 2023 Mayoral Transition Report:

  1. Streamline Zoning Regulations: Reforming zoning regulations can cut through red tape, lower building costs, and accelerate transit-oriented development in areas where people want to live. It can empower property owners while fostering sustainable growth. Measures like fast-tracking permitting and by-right approvals of housing proposals that meet the city’s rules & regulations (or a future checklist of objective criteria) will be key to providing more affordable housing. This is especially critical if we are to ensure that affordable housing developments do not face added costs or long timelines to completion - a priority as we look to house our most vulnerable residents and the new migrants whom our city has welcomed.
  2. Legalize Three-Flats and Accessory Dwelling Units City-Wide: Classic Chicago three-flats are some of our city’s most iconic, attractive, and affordable housing options, but current zoning rules prohibit them from being built in many areas of the city. Accessory Dwelling Units are a low-cost, sustainable housing option that also provide income for existing homeowners. ADUs already have majority support on the City Council. These changes will not only expand housing options and lower rents, but also will grow the customer base of local businesses and revitalize our neighborhoods to create more inclusive and diverse communities.
  3. Support Equitable Development Near Transit: Adding housing near public transit naturally supports our robust public transportation system. When we eliminate parking requirements and build more housing near bus and train stops, we also help reduce congestion, commuting costs, and carbon pollution, all while making housing more affordable. This is how we support the creation of healthy, walkable, and bike-friendly communities across Chicago, especially on the South and West sides, which have seen too little transit-oriented development.

Chicago has long been a welcoming destination for people across the country and around the world. However, the current housing crisis is driven in part by our outdated land use policies. And not only do the current policies make housing unaffordable, but they have left us segregated and unequal. Legacy zoning has left lower-income renters with limited opportunities to live on the predominantly-white North side, and have protected (and in many cases encouraged) polluting industrial uses in the middle of black and brown neighborhoods on the South and West sides. To remain a growing and flourishing city, we need a Zoning Chair who is dedicated to building the abundant and affordable housing that residents across Chicago, old and new, need to thrive in this city.

The Zoning Chair’s decisions will play a pivotal role in determining the future of our city. By embracing abundant housing, and in turn improving access to active transportation options, we can create a more vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable Chicago. We hope that Mayor Johnson will choose a Zoning Committee Chair who shares our vision and is committed to a brighter future for our city.


Urban Environmentalists Illinois

Active Transportation Alliance

Better Streets Chicago

Center for Neighborhood Technology

Elevated Chicago

Housing Action Illinois

Impact for Equity

Metropolitan Planning Council

Sierra Club Chicago

Shared-Use Mobility Center

Commuters Take Action

Bike Grid Now