“Few things scream “Chicago” like a row of two-flats. They’re one of the most common housing types in the city, said Adam Rubin, the Chicago Architecture Center’s director of interpretation. They’ve been popular for a century and played a key role in the history of Chicago’s immigrant communities. And you can’t find flats outside Chicago — at least not in such numbers. The term “two-flat” isn’t even used (or, at least, googled) outside Illinois, according to Google Trends data.
“Two-flats started becoming popular in the early 1900s, Rubin said. Geoff Smith, the executive director of DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies, said more than 90 percent of the city’s two-flats are at least 75 years old. Flats were largely built by people, many of them immigrants or first-generation Americans, who weren’t wealthy but who were “upwardly mobile,” Rubin said.
“Two-flats were particularly useful to these new homeowners because they could live on one floor while renting out another to pay down the mortgage, Rubin said.That unique setup also means flats tended to be more affordable for tenants, Smith said, and flats became “really important” affordable housing stock in many neighborhoods.
“Historically, “these owners are perhaps less profit-driven and more relationship-driven, in some cases,” Smith said. “They’re trying to find good tenants, and ownership costs … of the building may be lower because they’ve been owned by the same family for a while [so] they don’t necessarily have a high level of mortgage debt to repay.” (Bauer, Block Club Chicago, 2/18/2019)
Wait, Are Two-Flats Only A Chicago Thing? Why These Uniquely Chicago Homes Have Thrived For A Century; Despite their history as affordable options for working families, two-flats are “in distress” as people convert them into single-family homes. Kelly Bauer, Block Club Chicago, 2/18/2019)