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EDITORIAL: Climbing rents, gentrification and affordable housing in Chicago

A for-rent sign in Chicago. | Tanveer Ali / Sun-Times

There’s a new apartment building going up in Logan Square, and a small studio will cost you $1,675 a month. A two-bedroom will cost more than twice that: $3,450 a month.

Take it as the latest sign of Chicago’s affordable housing crunch. Not just in Logan Square either, as these two-bedroom rents from the apartment website show:

Logan Square: $1,600 — $2,250

Bronzeville: $1,460 — $1,800

Pilsen: $2,200 — $2,400

Oakland: $1,200 — $1,600

East Garfield Park: $1,450

Humboldt Park: $1,500 — $2,100

No wonder more than half of renters in Chicago and the rest of Cook County are “rent-burdened,” and shell out more than 30 percent of their income for rent. No wonder so many folks fear we’re becoming San Francisco, where the average rent is a jaw-dropping $3,500 a month, and are sounding the alarm about displacement of working-class folks and insisting Chicago needs rent control to stop it.


Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes Logan Square, recently proposed an ordinance that takes a sideways aim at the problem.

Sideways, that is, because there’s a laudable goal: to give tenants longer advance notice that their rent is going up. The steeper the increase, the longer the advance notice — up to 120 days for rent hikes of 15 percent of more.

Certainly, tenants deserve adequate notice of a substantial rent hike. More than 30 days, as the city now requires, might make sense if the increase is more than, say, $100.

But many landlords acknowledge that and already give 60 days’ notice, as one expert told us. And there’s a conflict with the existing Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance, which prohibits landlords from contacting tenants about rent increases more than 90 days ahead of time.

Beyond those technicalities, the ordinance sidesteps the real problem: Rent is just too high for too many Chicagoans. “There are just not affordable places to rent in these hot areas,” Sarah Duda of the Institute of Housing Studies at DePaul University told us.

When developers swoop in, buy and then fix up properties in an area they think is on track to become “the next hot neighborhood,” — rent in those buildings goes up. Developers want a return on their investment.

But working-class families living on the typical renter’s annual income of $36,000 get priced out, in favor of a couple of millennials pooling their paychecks to afford a swanky rehab in a trendy neighborhood.

So goes gentrification.

Chicago is overdue for substantive public hearings to air different solutions. One idea we’ve heard that’s worth exploring: property tax incentives for developers who keep rents low after they rehab a building.

There’s no one way to get there, but everyone who wants to live in a safe and desirable neighborhood in “Sweet Home Chicago” should have that opportunity.

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