The adaptive reuse of the decommissioned elevated Bloomingdale Trail rail line has been widely recognized and celebrated. However, its success has been noticed by the development community as well. The result has been a huge surge of property appreciation/inflation, tear-downs, new construction and deconversions of multi-families in the neighborhoods close to the trail. This is putting significant pressure on the existing community of home owners and renters.
Since ground was broken on the 606 in 2013, housing prices west of Western Avenue rose by 48.2% according to a study published by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10/17)
This rapid increase in gentrification caused by the 606’s success has prompted 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno and 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, to introduce an ordinance that would significantly increase demolition fees for residential properties and create a deconversion fee when multi-unit buildings are deconverted into single-family homes in proximity to the trail.
“Alderman Maldonado said the aim is to preserve existing housing stock and affordable housing in the area near the 606. He said, “it’s twofold – to slow down the pace of gentrification and to create a fund for those existing homes to be improved for home and building owners and their tenants.”
Additionally, he said, “if the developers are really willing to buy existing properties and want to demolish them to build higher-end now properties, making it almost impossible for neighborhood people to afford them, they will have to pay a premium demolition fee.” (Chicago Tribune, 5/23/17)
Alderman Moreno said, “the goal is to provide a financial incentive for people to restore their homes rather than have them torn down. That’s the carrot part of the ordinance. The [stick] part of the ordinance is to dramatically increase demolition fees, so that developers think twice before [demolishing] buildings around the 606. Now that the 606 has been built, it’s a great asset, we want people of all economic levels to be able to live near it and enjoy it.” (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10/17)
Preservation Chicago sees a tear-down trend, similar to those affecting the neighborhoods along the 606, throughout neighborhoods and districts of historic homes throughout Chicago. The pace of tear-downs has been on the increase. As market forces have grown stronger, many more historic buildings are being sold as potential “tear-down candidates”. All too frequently when historic homes sell, developers are able to outbid prospective homeowners.
Of the approximately 820,000 buildings in Chicago, only 1.2% are protected within local historic landmark districts. This represents considerable effort and success by the Chicago preservation community, but in the vastness that is Chicago, the majority of Chicago’s historic built environment remains unrecognized, unprotected and highly vulnerable.
As one possible strategy, Preservation Chicago has been working to create a Historic Home Demolition Fee Ordinance. Similar to the proposed 606 Demo Fee, this would help to “level the playing field” and allow prospective homeowners to more effectively compete with developers intent on demolition.