Chicago hopes simplifying development process will help solve housing shortage

April 11, 2024

Improving the development process is part of the equation to solving Chicago’s affordable housing shortage, according to a city report released this week.

The report’s release marks the official launch of Chicago’s “Cut the Tape” initiative, which lays out actions the city plans to take in the near term to improve administrative processes that could be inhibiting development.

“For far too long we have heard that the City needs to reduce the hurdles that developers and contractors face when trying to develop housing and commercial properties,” said John Roberson, the city’s chief operating officer.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office released the report six weeks after announcing a $1.25 billion proposed bond issue intended to spur affordable housing creation and economic development in disadvantaged neighborhoods over the next five years. The bond issue awaits city council approval.

Chicago monitors more than 25,000 affordable housing units across the city but has an affordable housing gap of more than 120,000 homes, according to city data.

Commercial corridors are also struggling. The south and west sides of Chicago report storefront vacancy rates as high as 43%, and even formerly strong submarkets are also experiencing more vacancies since the pandemic, according to the report.

While more funding would help create more affordable housing, the goal of the initiative is to decrease redundant and inefficient steps in the development process, reduce the days and weeks lost to review cycles, and increase communication and trust with all the city’s development partners, Johnson said.

Such improvements should help lead to more units of affordable, supportive and market-rate housing, more business and commercial development and fewer project delays, the mayor added.

“Our mission is to foster growth and elevate Chicago’s economic landscape, as outlined in the Cut the Tape report, which aims for a more effective and streamlined development process,” Johnson said. “This strategy will quickly increase residential and commercial projects, stimulating business sectors and addressing the urgent need for housing.”

The most direct way to create affordable housing is to subsidize the creation of affordable units, but existing process requirements add to the amount of time, staff time and public funding that goes into each development, city officials said.

Streamlining the processes that affect all development types could be part of the solution to lowering housing costs for Chicagoans, according to the report.

“In many instances, market-driven housing development can also serve an important role in Chicago’s housing ecosystem,” the city said. “While community-driven assessments of development’s impact are crucial, especially but not only in neighborhoods where market forces are increasing housing costs and displacing or threatening to displace longtime lower-income residents, in many high-cost communities new multifamily housing can create new housing options for Chicagoans who cannot afford single-family homes.

“This also reduces the overall competition for housing in high-demand locations that bids up prices.”

The report — the product of a 90-day process that includes insight from more than 100 city staff, 90 external stakeholders and six peer cities — identifies more than 100 recommendations for development process improvement, including enhancements in internal and external communication, accountability, resource optimization and the elimination of redundant processes.

One action item resulting from the report that has already been put in place: Reducing the number of design review meetings within the department of planning and development from three to one and reassessing the role of the Committee on Design.

“Chicago is world-renowned for its design and architecture, but the process of moving projects through the design review process can sometimes be overly burdensome, time-consuming, and unclear,” the city said. “The design review process has been a pain point for external stakeholders, adding time and confusion to the overall process.”

Future action items resulting from the report include:

  • Cross-department coordination through the creation of a new Director of Process Improvement role in the Mayor’s Office in the next three months.
  • Policy improvements to enable expedited reviews for affordable housing projects in the next six months.
  • Zoning changes that include collaborating with City Council to eliminate minimum parking requirements and streamline special use permits in the next year.
  • Improving boards and commission processes by evaluating the feasibility of streamlining the Community Development Commission and the Chicago Planning Commission in the next nine months.
  • Streamlining design and construction requirements by revisiting the Department of Housing’s Architectural and Technical Standards manual in the next six months.
  • Eliminating environmental reviews as a requirement for sale of environmentally cleared city-owned parcels in the next nine months
  • Expand the finance pilot for cash advance payment options, which will make it easier for developers to get started, in the next nine months.
  • Creating an online “City wallet” account to improve options for customer billing, online payments, and debt check in the next year.
  • Work to reduce the administrative burden of the City’s Economic Disclosure Statement (EDS), including expanding expiration dates, allowing exemptions for select projects that receive an allocation of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits in the next six months.

Photo by leyla.a

Miles Smith

Miles Smith has more than two decades of communications experience in the public and private sectors, including several years of covering local governments for various daily and weekly print publications. His scope of work includes handling public relations for large private-sector corporations and managing public-facing communications for local governments.

Smith has recently joined the team as a content writer for SPI’s news publications, which include Texas Government Insider, Government Contracting Pipeline and its newest digital product, Government Market News, which launched in September 2023. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in journalism.

Don't Miss

Massive support, funding now available to improve supply-chain networks

New opportunities for multimodal freight, rail, and port projects are
A hospital hallway.

New hospitals greenlit for Amarillo, Wichita Falls

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is searching