Urban planners the world over recognize that affordable housing is crucial for neighborhood stability, as well as workforce diversity and the economic sustainability of a given region. But in the summer of 2012, the tight rental market in major cities like Chicago meant that landlords could get record high prices in leasing their apartments. Overall, since 2005, the rents in Chicago have increased by 14% and 13% in surrounding suburbs. These rising rents, coupled with the economic downturn, resulted in a crisis of affordable housing in Chicago and Cook County, putting many households at risk.
Thankfully, The Preservation Compact brings together leaders across the public, private, and non-profit sectors to maintain rental building stock across the region. This group has been tracking the markets and working toward closing the affordable housing gap since 2007. The challenge is daunting, with more people renting than buying homes; continually increasing demand in the rental market. The Preservation Compact’s 2012 report cites a decrease of 63,000 owner-occupied homes from 2007-2009, with an increase in rentals by 54,000 homes over that same period. Furthermore, demand continues to grow, with Cook County residents needing 9% more affordable housing since 2005, and an additional 44,000 units needed by 2020, as estimated by The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. In 2009, the gap between available affordable housing units and demand totaled 180,000 units, a gap that is expected to grow to 224,000 units by 2020.
So what can be done? The Preservation Compact employs a number of strategies to keep a sufficient supply of affordable rental housing:
- Energy retrofits to reduce tenant household costs;
- Building code and property tax reform to make it easier for owners to invest in their buildings;
- Preservation and adaptive re-use strategies for small multi-family buildings to stabilize an at-risk segment of the housing market;
- Data-collection and research to make housing information more accessible;
- Partnerships with tenant groups and public entities to develop equitable solutions.
All of these initiatives form a coordinated effort towards a shared goal, making The Preservation Compact a uniquely multi-disciplinary group.
This problem isn’t unique to Chicago.In fact, in no state can a minimum wage worker afford Fair Market Rate apartments.
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