Members of Evanston’s Housing and Homelessness Commission voiced support Thursday evening for plans to construct new coach houses in town as a way to make housing more affordable — but how to fund their construction remained a stumbling block.

Dick Co, president of the Evanston Development Cooperative, suggested that an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom coach house might be built for around $200,000 and made affordable for someone who earns 80 percent of area median income to rent if three-quarters of the cost was funded with a 20-year loan at a 1% interest rate.

But with mortgage rates currently running around 4%, it could require a subsidy from the city of around $50,000 over the 20 years to reduce the effective interest rate to the level that would make the unit affordable.

As of June 30, the city had around $1.5 million in its affordable housing fund, which is funded primarily by fee-in-lieu payments from developers of large new housing projects.

Working with a group of Northwestern University engingeering and computer science students, the cooperative has calculated that of the roughly 10,000 single family house lots in the city, 4,700 cold accommodate a coach house or accessory dwelling unit under existing zoning rules.

Co says the group is set up to assure worker control and that workers building the new homes would be Evanston residents, many of whom could be trained on the job.

The homes would use a panelized construction method that Co says provides high insulation and fire safety ratings along with the potential to frame in a new house in a few hours rather than weeks.

Larry Donoghue.

Commission Chair Larry Donoghue said the EDC concept looks like “a really exciting strategy for accomplishing a number of goals” including providing more housing and more equity in Evanston.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator, said the city has been having ongoing discussions with Wintrust Bank about whether they could help finance construction of coach houses here.

Co says most accessory dwelling units now are financed either by the homeowner taking out a home equity loan or through refinancing their existing mortgage.

Flax said Evanston’s exploration of the coach house concept with EDC has also drawn interest from Housing Action Illinois and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

Co says he is currently working with three homeowners in Evanston who are interested in putting coach houses on their properties and hopes to have at least one constructed by the end of the year.

Related stories

Co-op: Thousands of coach houses possible here (8/1/19)

Development co-op seeks city funding (2/27/19)

Prof pitches new approach to affordable housing (10/31/18)

NU’s solar house wins big (10/16/17)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Coach houses

    Dick Co and his associates at the Evanston Development Cooperative have devised an innovative, workable, and doable response to our affordable housing shortage.  An added value is the opportunity to create intergenerational households.  Let’s do this!

  2. City panel likes coach house plans

    One obstacle is that each unit needs a fire surpression system which would entail a new 1.5″ or 2″ water service to meet current building codes. Most SF homes have 3/4″ if older or 1″ if newer. This is just the beggining of costly code-related items that need to be modified to move this idea to reality.

  3. Why need any subsidy?

    If the coach house concept “makes sense” why is there a need to ask for any subsidy?

    Instead of costing $200,000 for an 800 square foot coach house (or $250 per square foot), can’t they figure out a way to build it for $160,000 (or $200 per square foot)?

    I like the idea of building coach houses, but I don’t like the idea of subsidies.

    Subsidies bring many unintended consequences that need to be totally considered, but rarely are well thought out.

  4. Here’s another example of

    Here’s another example of shrewd operators trying to get Evanston into another boondoggle.

    So… I am going to use my property to allow people of no established skills (but Evanston residents) to build an institutional design (word “barracks” comes to mind) coach house on it. Will Evanston offer a 20-year warranty on these coach houses?

    Cook county will, no doubt, want its pound of flesh in ever increasing taxes – which is probably not accounted for 100% in this proposal. And Evanston will, no doubt, want to choose who rents on my property. All in return for 3% on $150,000 – which is $375/month.

    Here’s a better idea for housing affordability: drop zoning rules and disband “historic” districts. Take a trip to Houston, TX to see how a zoning-free city can grow and remain affordable.

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