Handicapped parking spaces are wide, close to elevators and may even boost your property’s value. But are these accessible spots located in Chicago apartment buildings being used by the people they were designed for?
Just ask Chris Connolly, who said only two out of the fourteen accessible parking spots in his family’s downtown condo building were owned by people with disabilities.
“This is a situation where the rich are taking advantage of resources designed for the handicapped,” Connolly said.
Connolly, 27, experienced a life-changing injury as a teenager and uses a wheelchair. He said his family fought for seven years to purchase an accessible parking spot in their condo building.
“For a long time it would be this huge ordeal when I wanted to get in and out of a car, where we would have to stop the car in a place where traffic was going on, let myself out into the street; or in our parking garage in a really busy lane,” Connolly said.
Chicago Attorney David Liebowitz is living with multiple sclerosis and said he also experienced difficulty obtaining an accessible parking spot in his West Loop condo building. He said the people who owned the spots were not disabled and were using the spaces for their vehicles, children’s toys and strollers.
As a result, Liebowitz moved to another building after not being able to swap out his parking spot with someone else.
“You can’t imagine how hard it is to find a place in the city that’s a condo that was like ours, it was a three bedroom condo, that was accessible,” Liebowitz said. “You either had new construction or you had to find some place and it wasn’t easy.”
New construction creates thousands of new parking spots in Chicago. However, developers are only required to make 2 percent of the spots handicapped accessible. Though critics said there is no oversight and accessible parking spaces are often sold to the highest bidder.
“Some developers, rather than waiting and keeping the accessible parking for the purpose it was intended, in case a family comes in with a family member who needs it, they go for the quick buck and they sell it,” said civil rights attorney Jeffrey Taren.
Taren represented the Connolly family in a federal housing complaint against their condo association. The association admitted no wrongdoing, but to resolve the complaint they agreed to help facilitate the transfer of accessible spaces to residents in need.
The Connolly’s ultimately purchased a spot from another resident at a cost of more than $60,000.
“A man who was actually moving from Chicago reached out to us and said that he would happily sell us his spot,” Connolly said.
Meantime, Connolly is trying to help level the playing field for disabled drivers and their family members. He helped 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly craft an ordinance that, if passed by city council, would ban the sale of handicapped parking spaces in new multi-family projects.
“These spots would be theoretically available for me to rent on a monthly basis, or maybe even yearly and as soon as I moved out, I would stop renting them,” Connolly said.
The Chicago Association of Realtors represents developers and property managers and said it “conceptually” supports the provision.
“We want to work with Alderman Reilly, the advocates and the City Council to make sure that the zoning code embraces this provision and further that the potential retroactive impacts of the ordinance are fully discussed,” said a Chicago Association of Realtors spokesperson.
The ordinance was crafted in 2017, but has yet to be brought up for a vote.
The Chicago Mayor’s Office declined to comment on the issue.