AVONDALE — Like other unexposed pockets of Chicago, the streets of Avondale are a rainbow of cultures and cuisines, marbled together over decades.
But as more people take note of Logan Square's neighbor to the north, some worry its diversity will suffer the fate of ultra-trendy 'hoods like Wicker Park or places like Pilsen, which is still more than 80 percent Hispanic but saw 10,000 move out since 2000.
"The struggle Logan Square has had is to continue to be a place that's welcoming to everyone and has a space for everyone," said Daniel La Spata, an affordable housing activist.
There are ways to push back against gentrification and rising real estate prices, La Spata told the Avondale Neighborhood Association last month.
There also are signs of when it's starting to happen.
In his 20s, La Spata and a couple of roommates could easily pool rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Logan Square, he said.
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"Whether we want to be doing this or not, we can come in with three incomes and outbid families who may be trying to get that same three-bedroom apartment," La Spata said.
Neighbors said they'd noticed a similar trend in Avondale, where non-family households grew by 20 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a 2013 report from the Chicago Rehab Network using Census and University of Illinois-Chicago data.
At the same time, the neighborhood lost 1,000 family households — about 10 percent of the 9,500 that existed in 2000. There are about 13,500 total households in Avondale.
"When you have four different families or non-family households competing for the same unit, it is our lower-class residents — working-class families — who are going to lose out every time," La Spata said.
La Spata — who is also program vice president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association — points to city regulations on policies like tax-increment financing as major drivers of a neighborhood's makeup.
Small-business improvement funds, for example, are only used to reimburse entrepreneurs after they've completed renovations — a potential hiccup for those who don't have immediate access to money or loans.
That money is key for family businesses or those in desperate need of renovations to attract new customers, but struggling businesses "are going to have a lot of trouble accessing dollars that are there technically to help," La Spata said.
He also called on the Avondale Neighborhood Association to push for more inclusion of the area's large Hispanic population in making neighborhood decisions, and to be wary of development that converts multiunit residences to single-family homes.
"It's worth thinking about ways to increase the supply of overall housing in Avondale that anticipates what that demand is going to look like" over the next decade, he said.
A citywide policy discouraging conversion of multiunit buildings to single-family homes would be an even more effective way to maintain rentals and inclusive housing for multiple income levels, La Spata added.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) is considering a policy that would push for more affordable housing in new developments throughout the ward, which includes portions of Logan Square, Hermosa and Avondale. But Avondale neighbors are concerned the blanket policy would drive away potential developers from the quieter Avondale and Hermosa areas.
Still, "there's no real magic bullet for [maintaining] diverse neighborhoods," La Spata said. "You need to look at a variety of solutions."
Defining diversity is tricky; some described it as "a feeling more than anything else," while others saw diverse communities as open-hearted and accepting of others.
For Avondale newcomer Kay Manger-Hague, her walks to the "L" station are filled with Spanish and Polish chatter, and "the diversity of languages and people and perspectives are part of what I love about it," she said. "It feels like a proper neighborhood."
Avondale lost two-thirds of renters who pay less than $750 per month between 2000 and 2010, according to the Chicago Rehab Network report. Prices are adjusted for inflation to 2010 constant dollars.
But those paying more than $1,000 in monthly rent skyrocketed, more than tripling from 498 to 2,221 renters. Homeowners saw similar changes, with a fiften-fold increase in homeowners with mortgage payments of $2,000 or more, from 205 households to 3,128.
The median household income, however, stayed level, rising slightly from $46,067 to $47,167.
One-third of Avondale renters and homeowners put more than 30 percent of their income toward housing in 2000, the report states. By 2010, it grew to 57 percent of residents.
Households paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent or mortgage payments are considered "cost-burdened," La Spata said. In 2000, six of every 10 households earning less than $50,000 were cost-burdened in Avondale, and that grew to 80 percent by 2010.
La Spata used to live in Avondale, at Milwaukee and Central Park avenues, where a short walk revealed "so many different experiences," he said.
But as a development boom changes the face of Logan Square, activists and officials are starting to realize more should be done, La Spata said.
"I think if we had a failure in Logan Square in the last 10 years, it was not anticipating that development well enough," La Spata said. "In a way, we tried to minimize development without thinking about what impact that would be on diversity."
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