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Nearly Half Who Need Affordable Housing in Lakeview Can't Find it: Study

By Serena Dai | April 30, 2013 7:37am

LAKEVIEW — Nearly half of the people living in Lakeview and Lincoln Park who need affordable housing can't find it — meaning the neighborhoods have some of the greatest demand for lower rents in the city, according to a report.

Lakeview and Lincoln Park have some of the greatest shares of unmet demand for affordable housing in Chicago, according to the study by the DePaul University's Institute for Housing Studies. More than 22,070 households need affordable housing, but only about 12,150 units exist — meaning 45 percent of the households are unable to find affordable places to live in the North Side neighborhoods.

Those who can't find affordable housing aren't necessarily living on the street, but they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, said Geoff Smith, co-author of the study and executive director of the institute. That means they have less money to spend on food, clothes, savings or other needs.

"They’re rent burdened," he said. "Sometimes greater than 50 percent of their income goes toward rent."

The study defines the demand for affordable rental housing by counting the number of renting households which earn an income of 150 percent of the poverty level, or $34,532 in 2011. It defines affordable units as ones where rent is 30 percent or less of that income, or $863.29 a month in 2011.

Maintaining income diversity is important so that low-income people are not limited to neighborhoods with fewer amenities, Smith said. Lakeview is pedestrian friendly, near public transit and accessible to grocery stores, and low-income people should be able to live there, Smith said.

"That type of diversity is important to promote," he said.

Affordable housing has been a hot topic in Lakeview recently, as more than 700 affordable units have been lost in the past year through sales to private developers and conversions into specialty housing — igniting protests from activists and residents.

Many of the buildings, including the recently sold Chateau Hotel, were targets of complaints of drug dealing, fighting and panhandling and were often not up to city code. 

Lakeview and Lincoln Park's high affordability gap may partly be due to the number of students living in the area and the rise in young households, Smith said. In 2011, nearly 70 percent of people ages 25-34 in Cook County rented, up nearly 10 percentage points from 2007. 

And the number of renters as a whole increased in Lakeview and Lincoln Park from 2007 to 2011, with the rental rate going from 52.4 percent to 60 percent. Ownership levels declined, too, and Lakeview and Lincoln Park saw one of the biggest decreases in buyers, with a 14.7 percent decline in owner-occupied homes — sharper then the city's overall decline of 11.6 percent.

Home ownership is important to cities because it can have a stabilizing effect on neighborhoods, Smith said. When people own the home they live in, "they tend to be more engaged, more interested" in their communities and more willing to invest locally, Smith said. 

No new affordable housing units have been built in Lincoln Park in more than 40 years, said Erin Ryan, board president of Lakeview Action Coalition. But any residential development as part of the old Children's Memorial site is set to include 10 percent affordable housing, Ryan said. Developer Daniel McCaffrey's commitment is "huge," though the number of units has not yet been determined, Ryan said.

"We’re often in that emergency mode," Ryan said. "This is an example of LAC and others working proactively to create brand new units."

Meanwhile, activists groups like Ryan's are trying to save existing affordable housing units — not an easy task when many buildings have been poorly maintained, Smith said.

"That’s always a challenge in terms of public perception," Smith said. "You say affordable housing, and it raises concerns with homeowners and neighbors."