JEFFERSON PARK — When Luis Pedraza and his wife Carla decided in 2010 to buy a new house, the couple had a long list of must-haves.
It had to be close to public transit, an expressway and have a nice-sized yard, Pedraza said.
And perhaps most important for Pedraza — the house had to be big enough so he could finally have enough space to have a man cave all for himself.
"We looked everywhere in Logan Square, and found nothing," said Pedraza, who had been living near the Bucktown-Humboldt Park border.
Ultimately, the couple's real estate agent brought them to Jefferson Park, where they found exactly what they were looking for.
The Pedrazas were not alone.
Heather Cherone breaks down the data on the movement of Chicago's Hispanic population.
Although the city's population is falling, the population of the Far Northwest Side grew 21.5 percent from 2000-14 in the Dunning, Edison Park, Forest Glen, Jefferson Park, Norwood Park, O'Hare and Portage Park community areas, according to U.S. Census data.
That growth is almost entirely fueled by Hispanic Chicagoans moving to the Far Northwest Side, the latest in a long line of immigrants stretching back more than a hundred years who headed north and west looking for a safe place to live with good schools.
In each of the seven community areas on the Far Northwest Side, the number of Hispanics grew more than 70 percent, according to the data.
The shift was even more pronounced in Dunning where the number of Hispanics — mostly Mexicans and Puerto Ricans — grew 107 percent and in O'Hare where the Hispanic population grew 120 percent.
The O'Hare community area — nestled in the city's far northwest corner — was the only community area to experience double-digit population growth, adding 21 percent more people between 2000 and 2014, according to the data.
In addition, the Hispanic population grew 88 percent in Norwood Park, 87 percent in Jefferson Park, 85 percent in Edison Park and 80 percent in Portage Park, according to the data.
During the same time period, Logan Square lost more Hispanic residents than of any of the city's 77 community areas, according to U.S. Census data.
The shift in the racial and ethnic make up of the Far Northwest Side has fueled an ongoing debate about whether areas like Portage Park, Jefferson Park and Edison Park should remain suburban-like havens or allow denser developments near transit hubs and business districts.
Pedraza, a member of Jefferson Park Forward, spoke out earlier this month for the need to revitalize the area around the transit center.
"My wife takes Metra to work, and I take the [CTA] Blue Line," Pedraza said. "We very rarely drive anywhere."
A similar debate erupted in Edison Park over a 44-unit apartment complex and 156-space garage proposed for Edison Park.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), whose ward includes parts of Portage Park, said many of the new arrivals to the Far Northwest Side whom he meets were forced out of Logan Square, Wicker Park or Bucktown by "gentrification" but want to stay in the city.
"There are also people who sold their townhouse or condominium in Logan Square now that the housing market is recovered, and wanted to buy a bigger property," Villegas said.
The growing Hispanic population on the Far Northwest Side also prompted members of the City Council to redraw the ward boundaries to ensure that the 36th Ward was predominately Hispanic in an effort to add another Latino alderman to the Council.
Villegas won his seat in 2015 with the support of Ald. Nicholas Sposato, who represented the 36th Ward for one term before winning the 38th Ward seat on the Council.
Since taking office, Villegas — who is of Puerto Rican heritage — said his office has had to fill the role played by nonprofits in Logan Square to help Spanish speakers.
"Far Northwest Side communities don't have those sort of groups to help people," Villegas said.
At the same time, the area's Polish population has dropped significantly as many young families move to the suburbs, meaning the Far Northwest Side is becoming more diverse as the white population drops.
With the changes, the area's average household income is down significantly. Accounting for inflation, it was $77,252 in 2000. By 2014, it had dropped by more than $10,000 to $66,284, according to census data.
Another change is the growing number of renters on the Far Northwest Side, said James Rudyk, the executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center, which has expanded its original mission of encouraging homeownership and helping homeowners avoid default to include community organizing.
"This is a stopping point on the outward migration," Rudyk said. "Low-income individuals don't have the economic mobility that others do. The middle income people are moving out to the suburbs."
Dan Pogorzelski, a historian, said that shift is part of a long tradition in Chicago.
"On every block of the Far Northwest Side, there used to be at least two families led by a city worker — one Italian and one Polish," Pogorzelski said. "That's still true, but now those families are Hispanic."
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