Co-op: Thousands of coach houses possible here

A coach house, in blue, in an EDC drawing.

Single-family home lots in Evanston could accommodate thousands of new coach-house style accessory dwelling units under existing zoning, according to reseach the Evanston Development Cooperative will present to the Housing and Homelessness Commission tonight.

In an interview with Evanston Now, co-op leaders Dick Co and Robbie Markus said they worked with an engineering student group at Northwestern University, Develop + Innovate for Social Change, to map properties in Evanston and determine whether a coach house could fit on each lot under the zoning code.

In many cases the coach houses EDC envisions would be built on the same footprint as existing garages, adding living space over the garage.

Co says of the roughly 10,000 single family house lots in the city, the research found 4,700 could accommodate a coach house.

Beyond the phyical capacity issue, the bigger question is how to make the coach houses affordable enough to provide housing for moderate income residents.

Markus says the co-op hopes to partner with local financial institutions to come up with lending options that work for the homeowners who would add coach houses to their properties so they could rent them out at affordable rates.

Co says the cost to build a coach house, under the panelized system the co-op plans to use should range between $200 and $250 per square foot, not including the cost of the land.

"We have three homeowners under contract going through the design phase now," Co says, "and once we hone in on a design we'll have better numbers" about the exact construction cost.

Cost spreadsheets the co-op will present to the commission suggest deeply subsidized loans would be required to make the ADU projects affordable  to residents at 80 percent or 60 percent of area median income.

Co says the small number of existing coach houses in Evanston, many of them a century old, typically rent for around $2,000 a month, which is too much for a lower income resident to afford.

Markus says money from the city's affordable housing fund could be used to cover a portion of the cost, in return for the homeowner's commitment to rent the coach house at an affordable rate.

"I want to think about how we can fairly provide this asset to folks arcross the socioeconomic spectrum in Evanston," Markus added, "so we're also thinking about how moderate-income, home-owning residents who are being priced out of Evanston could help build weath and equity on their property by adding a coach house." That, he suggested, might call for a different level of subsidy from the city.

The Housing and Homelessness Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Room 2402 at the Civic Center.

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