Metropolitan Planning Council: It’s time to get serious about preserving Chicago’s two- to four-unit apartment buildings

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“The plight of Chicago’s small, two to four-unit buildings, has received research and media attention for nearly a decade, yet little by way of coordinated and comprehensive action. This needs to change.

“This iconic housing stock has long housed over a third of the city’s working-class residents and has been a crucial source of affordable homes, especially those that include basement apartments that tend to be among the most affordable in the city. Yet Chicago has been losing these affordable homes for nearly a decade due to foreclosure, abandonment, flipping and deconversion. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to accelerate the loss of this crucial affordable housing, with significant displacement consequences for Chicago’s vulnerable renters, low income and households of color, threatening to further widen spatial and racial inequities in our city.

“If we care about black and brown families in Chicago’s disinvested as well as gentrifying neighborhoods, we need to protect this housing stock now.

“Following the 2008 foreclosure crisis, nearly one third of two- to four-flat buildings in weaker housing market neighborhoods were affected by a foreclosure filing, contributing to mass displacement on the South and West sides and the loss of Chicago’s Black population. The foreclosure crisis and ensuing displacement wave resulted in significant community trauma, neighborhood distress and the staggering loss of wealth in Black communities. While new financing that targeted redevelopment of the 1-4 flat stock in the wake of the 2008 crash helped, the economic impacts of COVID-19 threaten to further destabilize these disinvested communities.

“The City of Chicago has declared its commitment to reversing decades of disinvestment and segregation through its Invest South/West initiative, yet stabilizing affordable housing in these areas has yet to officially become part of the effort. To ensure the health, wellbeing and stability of residents in these communities, it’s imperative to ensure they have access to affordable housing. City-wide, nearly 40% of the city’s affordable stock is in buildings with 2-4 units[2] and the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of two- to four-flats are majority black and brown neighborhoods with high poverty rates on the city’s south and west sides.

“In gentrifying areas, two- to four-unit buildings are often swept up by speculators, flipped, and/or “deconverted” into single family homes, resulting in a significant decline in the number of affordable units in stronger housing markets. This trend contributed to the significant loss of Latinx households from these desirable neighborhoods. To achieve the diversity, economic mobility and access to opportunity the City’s values, we also need to protect the two-to-four housing stock in stronger, gentrifying markets.

“Preventative action is needed if we want to keep history from repeating itself. Due to the diversity of Chicago’s housing market and building types, one sized solutions to the housing impacts of the pandemic may bypass huge swaths of the city. And preserving this stock is far less expensive than producing a new unit (affordable or not), so there are cost savings alongside anti-displacement benefits to preserving this stock as well. Now is the time to act and take the preservation of this critical affordable housing stock seriously.” (Zuk, 6/29/20)

Read the full story at Metropolitan Planning Council

It’s time to get serious about preserving Chicago’s two- to four-unit apartment buildings; Preventing displacement in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Miriam Zuk, Metropolitan Planning Council, 6/29/20

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