WBEZ | Housing http://www.wbez.org/news/housing Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Rents may be going up, but residents not going anywhere http://www.wbez.org/news/rents-may-be-going-residents-not-going-anywhere-111269 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Land-trust-2.png" style="height: 240px; width: 320px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="(from right) Arturo Chavez and his roommate, Jorge Herrera, share an apartment for $700 a month in Albany Park. A new building owner is evicting them to convert the units into upscale rentals." />There&rsquo;s a fight brewing in Albany Park over who gets to live there.</p><p>Arturo Chavez would like to stay in the North Side neighborhood, where he&rsquo;s lived for roughly three years &mdash; but that seems increasingly unlikely.</p><p>&ldquo;I go around in a car, looking for places,&rdquo; he says, speaking in Spanish. &ldquo;I see ads, and I call the numbers. Some places were being remodeled. I was told they were going to rent it, but later they told me they had already leased it to family members.&rdquo;</p><p>Chavez is one of the few remaining tenants of 3001 W Lawrence Avenue, a courtyard apartment building with 32 units. In August, new owners bought the building and notified its tenants that they were all to be evicted. The plan is to gut rehab the units and turn them into upscale rentals.</p><p>Inside, ceiling pipes have started to leak and parts of the walls are falling off. Chavez, a car mechanic who has been fighting for workers compensation since he was injured last year on the job, knows he&rsquo;ll have to leave soon. But he says he hasn&rsquo;t been able to find another place nearby that comes close to the $700 monthly rent he pays now.</p><p>&ldquo;The rents are too high and that means people are being separated and they&rsquo;re moving to areas farther away,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Antonio Gutierrez, an organizer with the community group Centro Autonomo in Albany Park, says scores of low-income Albany Park residents have been pushed out in recent years. Just like Chavez, they&rsquo;ve been unable to keep up with the rising rents and property values in some areas.</p><p>&ldquo;I would say about 40 percent of them, they ended up having to leave Albany Park and having to move outside the city to suburbs,&rdquo; said Gutierrez.</p><p>Between 2011 and 2013, the median home price in Albany Park rose almost 40 percent. Gutierrez says after the recession, speculators flocked back to the neighborhood, buying foreclosed homes and driving up property values.</p><p>So last year, Centro Autonomo decided to try a creative idea to bolster affordable properties in the neighborhood: it created a &ldquo;community land trust&rdquo; called Casas del Pueblo. The land trust is a non-profit entity that will acquire properties in the neighborhood, then rent them out.</p><p>&ldquo;(The rent) would just be the taxes for the property, the insurance for the property and a maintenance fee,&rdquo; Gutierrez explained. &ldquo;And they can stay there for as long as they want.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Albany-Park-Median-Home-Sales-Price-Median-Sales-Price_chartbuilder.png" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>The concept of community land trusts is not new to the Chicago area. Gutierrez&rsquo;s variety is a slight twist on something that&rsquo;s been tried before, just a few miles south, in West Humboldt Park.</p><p>There, three, red brick single family homes sit on a residential street next to the noisy Union Pacific rail line.</p><p>&ldquo;The homeowners say the walls were built in a way it&rsquo;s not really bothersome,&rdquo; said William Howard, former Executive Director of the West Humboldt Park Development Council.</p><p>Under Howard, the Council created the First Community Land Trust of Chicago, also a non-profit, in 2003. He said residents at that time were worried their neighborhood might become unaffordable. With the alderman&rsquo;s support, the land trust bought city property for $1 and built the 3-bedroom homes.</p><p>&ldquo;Were it not for these spots, the gentrification would have just swamped everybody,&rdquo; said Howard. &ldquo;A lot of people would have moved out.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Land-trust.png" title="William Howard led the establishment of the first community land trust in Chicago in 2003. It built three, single-family homes that remain affordable, though the recession halted its expansion. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" /></div><p>Howard&rsquo;s land trust follows a more conventional model than the one in Albany Park.</p><p>Instead of renting the homes, it offered them for sale.</p><p>&ldquo;The land trust owns this land in perpetuity,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;And then we get the homeowners, and the homeowners own the house.&rdquo;</p><p>Howard said three things keep land trust homes affordable. First, homeowners don&rsquo;t buy the land; they only buy the house itself. That means the house sells for much less than its market value.</p><p>Second, homeowners have to agree to resale restrictions.</p><p>&ldquo;Even if the homeowners decides later on they want to sell the home, they must sell it to someone of a like economic profile,&rdquo; said Howard. &ldquo;Otherwise the land trust goes bust.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, homeowners have to sell the home to someone that qualifies as low-income. That keeps the resale price of the house low.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="320" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/gentrification/widget/14/" style="float: right; clear: right;" width="400"></iframe></p><p>Finally, homeowners only pay property taxes on the value of the house, not including the land.</p><p>Howard originally wanted to build ten homes, but the timing didn&rsquo;t work out.</p><p>&ldquo;We only got three up,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think anyone at that point had any idea that the recession would last as long as it did or be as deep as it was.&rdquo;</p><p>During the recession concerns about gentrification in West Humboldt Park fizzled out.</p><p>The First Community Land Trust of Chicago still exists, but only to collect the nominal monthly ground lease from the three homeowners in those homes. Property values in the neighborhood dropped so much after the housing bubble burst that it doesn&rsquo;t make sense for the land trust to build additional homes.</p><p>But there is another Chicago-area land trust that&rsquo;s flourishing. It&rsquo;s north of the city, in Highland Park. Luisa Espinosa-Lara and her family once struggled just to rent in this wealthy suburb.</p><p>&ldquo;We thought OK, one day (when) we are able to buy a house, it&rsquo;s not going to be here,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Houses here are so expensive.&rdquo;</p><p>But thanks to Community Partners for Affordable Housing, Illinois&rsquo;s oldest and largest community land trust, Espinosa-Lara and her husband were able to buy a three-bedroom house in Highland Park. They paid $175,000 for it, roughly half of its market value.</p><p>&ldquo;It was like when you feel that you win the lottery, but like you get millions,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;because you don&rsquo;t have to go. And I think it&rsquo;s so painful when you have to leave.&rdquo;</p><p>In Highland Park, the community land trust isn&rsquo;t really about gentrification. Instead, it&rsquo;s about creating inclusive, mixed-income neighborhoods.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Antonio Gutierrez hopes to do back in Chicago&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. But he&rsquo;s taking on a big challenge. Community land trusts typically need hundreds of thousands of dollars in startup costs, to buy, renovate or build homes. Most of them rely on a mix of public grants and private donations.</p><p>Casas del Pueblo doesn&rsquo;t have that kind of money, so Gutierrez hopes to persuade banks to donate foreclosed homes to the community land trust. So far, this strategy has yet to bear fruit.</p><p>&ldquo;Every single time I get to a meeting with a bank, the first thing they ask is how many houses do you have now? How many houses are you managing? And when we say zero, they close the door,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Still, Gutierrez remains undeterred.</p><p>He believes once they have a couple of homes, others will look to his community land trust as a model for how gentrification can benefit even those it would normally displace.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rents-may-be-going-residents-not-going-anywhere-111269 Real-estate developer in hot area sees bright future — and displacement http://www.wbez.org/news/real-estate-developer-hot-area-sees-bright-future-%E2%80%94-and-displacement-111231 <p><p><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Rob%20Buono%20meeting%203%20CROPSCALE%20fix.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 258px; width: 350px;" title="At a community meeting, Robert Buono presents architectural renderings of the dual-tower complex he wants to build near a Chicago Transit Authority stop in the Logan Square neighborhood. The project is among a half-dozen residential developments that could hasten the area’s transformation to an upscale enclave. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />About 150 people packed into a Latin American restaurant a few weeks ago to hear about a proposal for an apartment complex in Logan Square, a fast-changing neighborhood on Chicago&rsquo;s Northwest Side.</p><p>At the invitation of the local alderman, real-estate developer Robert Buono got to make his case for a zoning change that would allow the project on a vacant parcel designated for something else.</p><p>Buono projected architectural renderings of the complex onto a screen facing the audience. They showed two glass towers &mdash; one 11 stories, the other 15 &mdash; that together would hold 254 residential units. He said tenants in two-bedroom apartments would pay as much as $2,700 a month.</p><p>&ldquo;Everything is privately financed,&rdquo; said Buono, 51, who became a developer after working for a Lincoln Park alderman in the 1980s, when that North Side neighborhood was transforming into a wealthy enclave. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re asking for no support from the city.&rdquo;</p><p>Buono said his towers would be part of a trend, known as &ldquo;transit-oriented development,&rdquo; in which homes are built within walking distance of train stations, making it more convenient for residents to live without a car. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re going to have higher density, lower parking and taller buildings,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The dual-tower complex is among a half-dozen upscale residential developments proposed along Logan Square&rsquo;s stretch of the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s Blue Line. That train line connects O&rsquo;Hare International Airport with the city&rsquo;s downtown, known as the Loop.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WHEELER-KEARNS-MKE-978x1024.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 314px;" title="The towers would stand at 2293 N. Milwaukee Ave. within a few hundred feet of the California stop of the CTA’s Blue Line. (Rendering courtesy of Wheeler Kearns Architects)" />Audience members questioned Buono about everything from the shadows the towers would cast to the effect of the complex&rsquo;s rainwater runoff on the sewers to whether the residents would bring more cars to the neighborhood than he was predicting.</p><p>And another question kept coming up. How would such steep rents affect a neighborhood that still had many working-class residents, including tens of thousands of Latinos?</p><p>Buono said he had agreed to a condition, imposed by the alderman, that 10 percent of the units be reserved for affordable housing.</p><p>That led to more questions. A young man who grew up in Logan Square drew applause when he asked, &ldquo;What is the amount of profit that you are going to make if this goes exactly to plan?&rdquo;</p><p>Buono estimated that the $60 million project could net roughly $10 million or, he added quickly, it could lose that much. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the risk that we take,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>A follow-up question was how much profit there would be if the entire building were devoted to affordable units. Buono answered.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s not a lender on the face of the earth that would loan me money to build the project,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I can&rsquo;t build it inexpensively enough for the rents to support the costs of construction. It&rsquo;s just not possible.&rdquo;</p><p>Buono is not out to solve Chicago&rsquo;s affordable-housing crisis on his own. But he said the project would help attract young professionals that would uplift Logan Square and the rest of the city. The people he has in mind would use the train to get to their jobs in the Loop. Or, Buono said, they would be &ldquo;consultants that work out of town.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;</span><span style="font-size:22px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">I don&rsquo;t want to move from here&rsquo;</span></span></p><p>Not everyone in Logan Square likes the idea of bringing in those sorts of newcomers.</p><p>A few blocks from the proposed apartment complex, Andre Vásquez pulled up to his 10-year-old daughter&rsquo;s school and slipped open the big door of his family&rsquo;s car &mdash; an old Dodge Caravan. She climbed in and told him about a field trip her class took that day.</p><p>Vásquez, 41, makes his living as a DJ for parties and business events. His wife is a part-time nanny. They&rsquo;re raising two kids in a two-bedroom Logan Square apartment about three blocks from the proposed towers.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bakery%20CROPSCALE.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 397px; width: 300px;" title="A Mexican bakery stands near a Logan Square elevated-train station that real-estate interests are eyeing for ‘transit-oriented development.’ Despite years of gentrification, Logan Square still has tens of thousands of Latinos. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />&ldquo;I pay $950 a month, which is fairly cheap for this neighborhood,&rdquo; Vásquez said. &ldquo;And I was just informed by my landlord that she&rsquo;s going to have to raise the rents at least another $400 or $500 because the taxes in the area have gone up.&rdquo;</p><p>The neighborhood&rsquo;s rents have gone up because property values have increased as wealthier people have arrived. From 2011 to 2013, median sales prices of Logan Square homes jumped almost a third.</p><p>Vásquez said he had been displaced before &mdash; from a nearby neighborhood called West Town, where he grew up. &ldquo;They built their condominiums and only people with money, and lots of money, move into them,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no way people like myself or my parents or grandparents could ever afford it.&rdquo;</p><p>Vásquez looked at his daughter in the van&rsquo;s back seat and said he did not want her to go through the same thing. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to move from here,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;This is all she knows.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="320" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/gentrification/widget/22/" style="float: right; clear: right;" width="400"></iframe></p><p>This is textbook gentrification. And Buono, the real-estate developer, defends it.</p><p>Interviewed in his office, Buono said the towers would serve a basic need: &ldquo;Developing communities that are going to be attractive to the future of the city of Chicago &mdash; so that the demographic that we&rsquo;re addressing, the 18-to-35-year-olds &mdash; so that they want to move to Chicago, that they want to work in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Buono called the lack of development so close to the Blue Line station a missed opportunity for the city to boost its revenue. &ldquo;We look at a property like that today that pays $29,000 in real-estate taxes because it&rsquo;s vacant,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;A new development there would produce $350,000-$400,000 a year.&rdquo;</p><p>Buono said his project will benefit the entire Logan Square neighborhood. &ldquo;Bringing 300-400 people to an area, that really is depopulated, starts to support a whole bunch of activities,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Those people living in those buildings support the businesses in the neighborhood.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">&lsquo;Natural and inevitable&rsquo;</span></span></p><p>This reasoning is familiar to Marisa Novara, who directs the housing and community-development program of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.</p><p>&ldquo;Anyone in a neighborhood that has a lack of amenities &mdash; places to shop locally, strong schools &mdash; wants things to get better,&rdquo; Novara said. &ldquo;What they don&rsquo;t want is to not be able to live there anymore once they do get better. Housing that is near transit should be available to everyone, not only the highest bidder.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Marisa%20Novara%201%20CROPSCALE.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 242px; width: 320px;" title="Marisa Novara of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit group, says Chicago must try to ‘harness’ the private sector due to a lack of federal affordable-housing funds. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />Novara said the city has interests beyond attracting young professionals and collecting more property taxes. When gentrification fuels economic segregation, she said, everyone loses.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a cost to concentrated poverty &mdash; education outcomes, health outcomes, crime, economic productivity,&rdquo; Novara said.</p><p>Without a massive increase in federal funds for affordable housing, Novara said, cities such as Chicago must harness the private sector. That means setting up carrots and sticks so developers in hot neighborhoods include affordable units in their projects, she said.</p><p>For his Logan Square towers, Buono has already agreed to include the 10 percent. If his project is not scaled back, that would amount to 25 units. That leaves the other 225 to be rented for whatever the market will bear.</p><p>&ldquo;If we achieve the rents that we&rsquo;re suggesting that we can &mdash; and the landlord down the street in the two-flat decides to raise his rent as a result, primarily because the market says he can &mdash; could it cause a displacement of some people?&rdquo; Buono&nbsp;asked. &ldquo;The answer to that is yes.&rdquo;</p><p>And if Buono&rsquo;s project and the other Logan Square proposals&nbsp;materialized, he acknowledged, they would &ldquo;alter the character&rdquo; of the neighborhood. &ldquo;This is a natural, inevitable trend that has happened in many neighborhoods in Chicago,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><br /><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 05:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/real-estate-developer-hot-area-sees-bright-future-%E2%80%94-and-displacement-111231 Families make up a growing number of the homeless population http://www.wbez.org/news/families-make-growing-number-homeless-population-111225 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/homeless families.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-9324213e-3e84-1716-850d-2137f1c8207c">The people we see at an underpass might be the most visible among the homeless population in Chicago. But families make up a major part of the count, and they often go unnoticed.</p><p dir="ltr">If you saw Marilyn Escoe, you might just see a single mother to four. A few years ago, she was providing for her family on a tight budget, but things spiraled when her mom got sick. Her mother moved into her house and Escoe became her caretaker.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My mom, she started getting sicker. That didn&rsquo;t leave me enough time to keep up with my job duties,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Escoe lost her job and fell behind on rent. She thought staying with a friend would be a burden and that moving into a homeless shelter would put the responsibility on her. So she made the tough decision to put her mother in the hospital and move the kids to a shelter.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I thought about the sense of privacy. I thought about how would my children react with other children,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Escoe and her kids slept on bunk beds in a dorm-style space with other families.</p><p dir="ltr">What was supposed to be a four-month stay, turned into two years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The twins, they actually started their puberty at the shelter. I said, &ldquo;wow,&rdquo; if anything else can&rsquo;t happen, this had to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Escoe&rsquo;s mother passed away during that time, and her oldest daughter had to step up when Escoe got a part-time job.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I couldn&rsquo;t be able to transport them to school. So at 12 years old, she was taking her three siblings back to the West Side to school. So it was like an hour and half away from the shelter,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Escoe&rsquo;s story isn&rsquo;t uncommon. The city&rsquo;s most recent count recorded a general homeless population of 6,294, relatively unchanged from the previous year. But there was a 7 percent increase in sheltered families with children.</p><p dir="ltr">Providers like the Primo Center for Women and Children felt that uptick firsthand.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There are so many families we turn away because we don&rsquo;t have the beds,&rdquo; said Christine Achre, CEO of the center.</p><p dir="ltr">This shelter has wraparound services, things like child care and counseling. Unlike many facilities in the city, families share apartment-style units. There are 111 beds here, and Achre says 30 families are using all of them.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the years, Achre has seen intact families and single fathers with their kids. The most typical configuration is a mother and at least one child. Achre says one of the greatest predictors of adult homelessness is if a mother&rsquo;s experienced residential instability in her youth.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really important that if we&rsquo;re going to break the cycle of homelessness, that we need to nurture our families more and give more priority to family homelessness,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s Department of Family and Support Services has a $43 million homelessness program. It&rsquo;s a mix of funding from the federal government, the state, the city and some private donors.</p><p dir="ltr">John Pfeiffer with DFSS says poverty is a complex problem that takes many agencies working together.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;When there is a failure in one system or if someone&rsquo;s had a bad experience in one of those systems, or multiple systems it can result ultimately in homelessness. So we&rsquo;re always trying to look back up the chain and try to see what policy changes can be made to prevent further homelessness,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Pfeiffer says beds were available for all families in need this year, whether that was at a shelter or an overflow site. He says the city&rsquo;s been maintaining its services for all subsets, and it&rsquo;s aligned itself with a federal initiative to end veteran homelessness in 2015.</p><p dir="ltr">Julie Dworkin with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless says while those efforts are good, it can turn attention away from other groups. For example, she says, a previous push to end chronic homelessness came with the idea that it would free up resources for others.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Where the resources are getting saved are emergency room visits, jails. Other systems are saving money because these folks aren&rsquo;t accessing them. But it doesn&rsquo;t create any more money in the homeless service system,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Dworkin says families make up more than half the city&rsquo;s homeless population. The coalition&rsquo;s annual count estimates 138,575 people were homeless between June 2013 and June 2014. That&rsquo;s 22 times the city&rsquo;s count. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The main difference is the city uses standards from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the coalition uses the definition from the Department of Education. Basically, the coalition counts people living temporarily with a friend or relative, and the city doesn&rsquo;t.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If you say these folks who are doubled up aren&rsquo;t homeless, they&rsquo;re eventually going to end up in the shelter system. That&rsquo;s the most common pattern, (is) when the families come in and you say &lsquo;why are you here?&rsquo; They say it was because of a dispute. Those situations break down,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Dworkin says there&rsquo;s been little change to the city&rsquo;s budget line item for the homeless over the years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So whether it&rsquo;s a good budget time or bad budget time, it sort of stays stagnant. So it&rsquo;s a matter of priorities,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">These days things are looking up for Marilyn Escoe. She and her children live in a subsidized apartment in Rogers Park. She just finished a culinary program and works part time at the homeless facility that once sheltered her.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I was once in those shoes and I had shelter. Some people don&rsquo;t even have shelter. It could&rsquo;ve still been me out there,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">The city says it&rsquo;s adding new beds in 2015. It hopes with an increase in the minimum wage and more available affordable housing, those extra beds will be just that, extra.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Susie An covers business for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a></em></p></p> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 06:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/families-make-growing-number-homeless-population-111225 Entrepreneurs in low-income areas find ways to grow businesses http://www.wbez.org/news/entrepreneurs-low-income-areas-find-ways-grow-businesses-111124 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/microbusiness_141117_nm2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In underserved communities, entrepreneurs have a hard time finding capital to start and grow their businesses.</p><p>But several programs in Chicago are helping these micro-business owners secure loans and be financially successful.</p><p>One of those programs is Sunshine Gospel Ministries in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Participants regularly go through hypothetical scenarios to learn how to complete contracts and balance their books. The business academy&rsquo;s mission is to help train and support entrepreneurs in low-income communities</p><p>Over the past two years, 70 micro business owners have gone through the program.<br />These are one-person home operations -- people who cut hair, make T-shirts or do event planning.</p><p>Jittaun Priest, who owns a decorative painting business, completed the program earlier this year.</p><p>&ldquo;My books are more balanced and I believe that it&rsquo;s given me more confidence to go out and talk to people more because I have a better focus of what I&rsquo;m doing,&rdquo; Priest said of participating in Sunshine&rsquo;s programs. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not all over the place like I was. The focus (is) helping me realize what my niche is, and go out there and make that step.&rdquo;</p><p>Joel Hamernick is executive director of Sunshine Ministries and said the business academy started as a way to deal with the absence of work in communities - and lack of capital.</p><p>&ldquo;If you grow up in a cash economy where nobody has a bank account, everybody goes to the payday lender and the cash advance places to pay their bills, then you really don&rsquo;t have the basic functional tools that allow you to save a tremendous amount of money over time and put you on a pathway where you can navigate to know when you&rsquo;re being taken advantage of and when you&rsquo;re not,&rdquo; Hamernick said.</p><p>Earlier this year, the non-profit research group the Woodstock Institute put out a study on race and income disparities when it comes to access to business credit. Among the findings: Businesses in majority white tracts were more likely to receive loans than businesses in majority minority tracts of the same income level.</p><p>In some cases, Sunshine graduates end up getting micro loans.</p><p>Accion Chicago is probably the best known local microlender. Most of its clients are people of color with moderate to low income. The average loan is $8,400.</p><p>&ldquo;Most financial institutions would prefer not to give somebody a loan under $25,000, (instead) maybe a credit card because it takes a lot of labor to produce a loan,&rdquo; said Steve Hall, Accion Vice president of business development.</p><p>Hall said most people associate microlending with developing countries. But in the United States, the average small business is more than $400,000.</p><p>&ldquo;Having a microloan is basically any loan than can help you bridge a gap, whether its short-term working need to cover payroll (or to) pay off an additional vendor to get additional inventory,&rdquo;&nbsp; Hall said.</p><p>Recently, Accion started SEED Chicago. It helps entrepreneurs find money via online crowd sourcing.</p><p>It&rsquo;s just another way to give people access to much needed capital&hellip;.when there is none readily available.&nbsp;</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 11:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/entrepreneurs-low-income-areas-find-ways-grow-businesses-111124 SRO tenants gain protections http://www.wbez.org/news/sro-tenants-gain-protections-111093 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS7102_IMG_2085 (outside 2)-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Low-income tenants of Chicago&rsquo;s disappearing single-room occupancy hotels have new protections under an ordinance city council approved Wednesday. The &ldquo;Chicago for All&rdquo; ordinance, as it has come to be known, passed 47-2, with only Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Mary O&rsquo;Connor (41st) opposing. Supporters of the measure hope it will slow the trend of affordable SRO units falling into the hands of for-profit developers who displace low-income tenants.</p><p>&ldquo;This is all a piece of an overall fabric,&rdquo; said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose office helped broker the compromise between affordable housing advocates and SRO owners. &ldquo;The housing strategy particularly is part of a five-year plan: 41,000 units of affordable housing in the City of Chicago.&quot;</p><p>Emanuel&rsquo;s office worked closely with sponsors Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), Ameya Pawar (47th), and a coalition of organizations including ONE Northside, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and many more.</p><p>The ordinance regulates the sale of SRO buildings such that owners are encouraged to negotiate first with buyers who intend to preserve the building as affordable housing. If an owner opts not to do so, he may sell to for-profit developers and pay into a city SRO preservation fund at the rate of $20,000 per unit in the building. The preservation fund, in turn, could be used to provide forgivable loans to SRO owners who wish to make building improvements, to subsidize building purchases by preservation buyers, and to build new SRO buildings in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;In places like the Fourth Ward, we believe that we are doing our fair share when it comes to affordable housing and public housing,&rdquo; said Alderman William Burns (4th).&nbsp; &ldquo;And when we look at other places in the city, we ask what&rsquo;s being done to create affordable housing on the north lakefront? On the North Side of Chicago? So that there&rsquo;s equal opportunity for people to have affordable housing throughout the city&mdash;and particularly in communities where there&rsquo;s access to good schools, jobs, grocery stores, and an opportunity to break down racial segregation in this city?&rdquo;</p><p>Burns and other aldermen praised the ordinance for addressing, in part, the city&rsquo;s shortage of affordable housing. In particular, they cited it as a key way to combat the problem of homeless veterans. Housing advocates estimate about one-quarter of SRO residents are war veterans who might otherwise be homeless. Mayor Emanuel has declared one of his goals in the 2015 budget will be to end veteran homelessness in Chicago.</p><p>Additionally, the ordinance would provide additional financial assistance for SRO residents who are displaced. It would require building owners to pay between $2,000 and $10,600, depending on the circumstances. It would also forbid SRO owners from retaliating against residents who complain to the city or the news media about conditions in their buildings.</p><p>Negotiations between the city, advocates and SRO owners were challenging. Initially, many SRO owners hoped the city would shy away from regulations, and instead offer more financial incentives for them to keep their buildings affordable. But concerns early on that the regulations may be enough to prompt a lawsuit against the city have largely dissipated.</p><p>&ldquo;We were disappointed that the ordinance fell a bit short. We, and so many other stakeholders over about six months had been working very diligently,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation. &ldquo;We will, as operators, do our very best to work with the plan, with the ordinance, as it was presented.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6cd3f03c-a623-4dee-4055-9af79ec2a054"><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/sro-tenants-gain-protections-111093 How home appraisals are calculated http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/diningroom.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s been looking at why some Chicago neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering as quickly as others in this post bubble market. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530">As we reported over the summer</a>, part of the measure of a neighborhood is the value -- or appraisal -- of the property there.</p><p>So exactly how is that value measured? I tagged along with an appraiser to find out.</p><p>&ldquo;What is the home consisting of? How many bedrooms, how many bathrooms? What&rsquo;s the floor plan? What&rsquo; the quality of the interior,&rdquo; said Michael Hobbs, president of PahRoo Appraisal and Consultancy. &ldquo;Then, how does that as a package go together and how does that compete with others in proximity.&rdquo;</p><p>He said it&rsquo;s not just about walking through a house. It&rsquo;s also hours of research and looking at comparable properties in the area.</p><p>One of the properties we looked at was a bungalow in the city&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. It was originally listed at $329,900.</p><p>Before we even stepped inside the house, Hobbs sized up the neighborhood to see how this house fits in. The block had a mix of single-family homes and two flat rentals.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look around you can see there&rsquo;s a couple frame properties on the block, a few stucco, but most of them are brick,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs also took note of recent tuck pointing work, updated windows and gutters.</p><p>A placard on the front door notes home&rsquo;s historic bungalow designation.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing we notice as we walk in is the original wood work that&rsquo;s still here, from the flooring to the doors,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Some other original features include vintage brass handles and a certain crown molding common in the early 1900s when the home was built.</p><p>Hobbs took note that the sellers made efforts to preserve these touches to maintain the bungalow&rsquo;s historic status.</p><p>He made note to research what the demand is for vintage properties in this micro market.</p><p>The kitchen also has a retro look.</p><p>&ldquo;This is quite typical for the age. You can see the metal sink, original metal cabinetry,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s flanked with yellow tile backsplash and a green and blue tile floor. Behind us is a breakfast nook right out of a 50s diner.</p><p>&ldquo;We measure the perimeter of the home. We&rsquo;ll start in one corner and literally measure our way around the property. We make a full floor plan and sketch, and what we&rsquo;re noting here as we&rsquo;re walking through is that this home has 3 bedrooms on the first floor and a bathroom,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The homeowners could&rsquo;ve paid for updates, but Hobbs said that cost wouldn&rsquo;t necessarily result in a higher market value.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s almost no home improvement project that returns 100 percent of the cost to the actual owner. And that&rsquo;s an important clarification for a lot of people. Just because you spent $50,000 doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean you&rsquo;re going to get $50,000 back,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The home has a large unfinished basement that&rsquo;s mostly dingy, storage space. But it also includes a finished portion with wood paneling--think VFW hall. Hobbs also made note of the water heater and boiler, not to inspect them, but to make note the home has them.</p><p>In the backyard, there&rsquo;s no lawn or garage, but there&rsquo;s a concrete patio and enclosed parking pad.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing I see is how much shorter the neighboring homes are,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>He points out the home&rsquo;s larger back end and wider lot than those nearby.</p><p>Back inside, the second level of the home opens up into a large red room with white trim and built in shelves, reminiscent of an old classroom.</p><p>&ldquo;As we can see based on the plywood on the floor and the wear on it, this has been here for an awfully long time,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>For home buyers looking to get a mortgage loan, banks often require an appraisal.</p><p>Regulation post housing crisis is set up to safeguard against collusion between appraisers and bankers, a problem in the past. So now a third party, an appraisal management company assigns the jobs.</p><p>Hobbs said that&rsquo;s sped up the closing of the home deals, which is good for buyers and sellers, but can limit an appraiser&rsquo;s time for thorough market research.</p><p>&ldquo;So we have to make some assumptions. And therefore we end up completing reports in a shorter amount of time and with maybe less of the information we more traditionally would have had because the push is faster, faster, faster,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs said people often criticize appraisers for the short time they spend looking at a property.</p><p>&ldquo;You were only in my home for 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour, how do you know how much it&rsquo;s worth? I&rsquo;m like, we got to go do research,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>That means looking at comparisons or comps nearby. How dissimilar are they and how much might those features change the value of the home we&rsquo;re appraising?</p><p>&ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a matter of both looking back in terms of what has closed. Looking laterally&hellip;buyer activity has chosen that home instead of this one. And then what&rsquo;s active. What&rsquo;s ahead of us in the form of what this buyer looks at as alternatives,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Appraisers get the buyer/seller contract before viewing the property. Hobbs said the appraisal and contract price often end up being the same. He said that doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean the appraiser was influenced by the offer price.&nbsp; Rather, buyers and sellers have more access to information to make a more informed valuation for themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;Really the appraiser is coming along and documenting the activities of typical buyers and sellers to really confirm that one person isn&rsquo;t way out there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s your chance to make an appraisal.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="3600" scrolling="no" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/WBEZ-Graphics/AppraisalQuiz/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 Tensions and torches after the Great Chicago Fire http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tensions-and-torches-after-great-chicago-fire-110908 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/171250855&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The Great Chicago Fire has been a key part of Chicago&rsquo;s identity since the fateful dry, windy night of October 8, 1871, when the O&rsquo;Leary barn caught on fire. The blaze is represented by one of the stars on the city&rsquo;s flag. It&rsquo;s cited as the reason Chicago became a beacon of innovative architecture. And, it&rsquo;s often referenced with pride as an example of Chicago&rsquo;s indomitable, can-do spirit.</p><p>But University of Chicago history major Angela Lee asked us to skip all that. Instead, she asked us this question, which gets to a less-commonly discussed aspect of the disaster &mdash; how it affected residents&rsquo; relationships with each other.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How did the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 affect where Chicago&rsquo;s wealthy and poor lived?</em></p><p>Significant gaps in the historical record create problems answering this question with much precision, but there is a lot to learn. Among other things: Chicagoans at the time were uneasy when it came to the mixing of the social classes. And months after the fire, social tensions were stoked by &mdash; of all things &mdash; the type of materials available to rebuild.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Before the blaze</span></p><p>In 1870 Chicago was home to 298,977 people. Lacking modern zoning and planning sensibilities, the city was also a hodgepodge; homes, businesses, and even small manufacturing establishments were located near each other. According to Anne Durkin Keating, professor of history at North Central College, Chicago&rsquo;s working class and poorer areas tended to be near the river, on undesirable polluted land and close to jobs. The neighborhood where the fire began on the South Side, for example, was packed with small, wooden homes of immigrants according to Karen Sawislak, the author of <em>Smoldering City: Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874</em>.</p><p>The wealthy were also spread out, often near the emerging central business district, Keating says. One wealthy enclave was north of the river, centered around Washington Square Park on the Near North side. Large homes in that area were owned by families with familiar names like McCormick, Ogden, and Kinzie. Another wealthy enclave that was not affected by the fire was Prairie Avenue between 18th and 20th Streets.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">During this era Chicago also had a large immigrant population, many of whom were homeowners. &ldquo;Rates of immigrant home ownership from 1850 to 1920 were incredibly high,&rdquo; says Elaine Lewinnek, the author of <em>The Working Man&rsquo;s Reward: Chicago&rsquo;s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl</em>. In some of the city&rsquo;s poorest neighborhoods (as well as some areas just beyond its border), she says, home ownership rates among the working class neared 95 percent. &ldquo;It was really this immigrant-led American dream. It trickled up.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/fire+demographics+story/burned+district+map+larger.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/burned district map for story.jpg" title="An illustration in Richard's Illustrated shows the districts of Chicago affected by the Great Fire. 1871. (Photo courtesy Newberry Library)" /></a></div></div><p>In contrast, renting was common among wealthy people with deeper roots in the country. &ldquo;Native-born Americans weren&rsquo;t so interested in owning homes. There was more prestige in some renting areas,&rdquo; Lewinnek says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the fire, an &lsquo;awful democracy of the hour&rsquo;</span></p><p>Many accounts concerning the fire have been preserved in personal letters. Mrs. Aurelia R. King penned a note to friends that reads:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;The wind was like a tornado, and I held fast to my little ones, fearing they would be lifted from my sight. I could only think of Sodom or Pompeii, and truly I thought the day of judgement had come. It seemed as if the whole world were running like ourselves, fire all around us, and where should we go? &hellip; Yet we are so thankful that if we were to be afflicted, it is only by the loss of property. Our dear ones are all alive and well, and we are happy.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>During chaos of the fire, people from all walks of life fled their homes with a few treasured possessions and valuables. They waited for the fire to pass wherever they could: in the lake, on the prairie, in parks and in tunnels. People even sought shelter in abandoned graves. Bodies had been removed from City Cemetery years earlier, but the actual graves had not yet been filled in. These empty graves made a convenient, if creepy, place to seek shelter.</p><p>The usual divisions between groups of people vanished as Chicagoans endured this epic fire together. In fact, this jumble of different types of people was an element of <em>why</em> the fire was so distressing to some. &ldquo;This is the Victorian age. It was a time when people wanted their spatial separations to be clear. It wasn&rsquo;t clear right after the fire, part of the pressure in rebuilding is to make things clearer,&rdquo; Lewinnek says.</p><p>Reverend E. P. Roe later recalled the tunnel under the Chicago River at LaSalle Street: &ldquo;There jostled the refined and delicate lady, who, in the awful democracy of the hour, brushed against thief and harlot. &hellip; Altogether it was a strange, incongruous, writhing mass of humanity, such as the world had never looked upon, pouring into what might seem in its horrors, the mouth of hell.&rdquo;</p><p>When the fire finally stopped, rumors swirled about more potential trouble. Survivor Ebon Matthews recalled &ldquo;one who was not an eyewitness can hardly imagine the fears of incendiarism, looting, etc., which prevailed. Stories of all kinds were afoot concerning thefts, murders, and the like.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CHM illustration.jpg" title="Witnesses recounted avoiding the flames for two days. Image: Scene on the Prairie, Monday night. Alfred R. Waud, Pencil, Chalk, and Paint Drawing, 1871 (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></div></div></div><p>According to Sawislak, there was an undercurrent of uncertainty about what could happen next. Yet, she says, after the first couple of days passed things were orderly. &ldquo;After reading through records of contemporaneous accounts, you sense this huge fear of disorder, further explosion and disruption in the aftermath, but really everyone who was charged with public safety is kind of constantly saying: &lsquo;You know? It&rsquo;s really quiet. People are going about their business and being very helpful.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Military presence</span></p><p>Nevertheless, a feeling of unease remained. &ldquo;Very quickly business leaders in the city basically prevailed upon the mayor to cede civic authority over peacekeeping in the aftermath of the fire, and give it to the army. It became a military operation commanded by General Philip Sheridan,&rdquo; Sawislak says.</p><p>According to an account in historian Carl Smith&rsquo;s <em><a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo5625323.html" target="_blank">Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman</a></em>, former Lieutenant Governor William Bross recalled &ldquo;Never did deeper emotions of joy overcome me. Thank God, those most dear to me and the city as well are safe.&rdquo; Bross said without Sheridan&rsquo;s &ldquo;prompt, bold and patriotic action, &hellip; what was left of the city would have been nearly if not quite entirely destroyed by the cutthroats and vagabonds who flocked here like vultures from every point of the compass.&rdquo;</p><p>This brief period of defacto martial law was controversial. &ldquo;His soldiers mostly were stationed to patrol the ruins of the banks and the hotels and the big commercial structures and safeguard what they thought was wealth that was sort of buried in the rubble. But they didn&rsquo;t go to work handing out food or helping people clean up the damage or building structures for temporary shelter. That was not considered to be part of their job,&rdquo; Sawislak says. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re not really there to help. They&rsquo;re there to guard, and that&rsquo;s a whole different project.&rdquo;</p><p>In 1872 Elijah Haines, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, spoke to that body about the brief military presence in Chicago. &ldquo;They are men with bayonets, bringing complete military armament. For what purpose? For war?&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Smith does note that General Sheridan &ldquo;requisitioned relief rations and supplies from St. Louis.&rdquo;</p><p>He also describes an incident that may have hastened the end of this period of military involvement. &ldquo;Theodore Treat, a twenty-year-old college student on volunteer curfew duty, shot Thomas W. Grosvenor, who died the next morning. Grosvenor was a former Civil War officer and successful lawyer&rdquo; Smith writes. He continues, &ldquo;Grosvenor may in fact have been a victim of the false reports of rampant criminality that put Treat fatally on edge.&rdquo; &nbsp;Three days later, on October 23rd, 1871, General Sheridan resigned from his temporary post overseeing Chicago&rsquo;s security.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The class and ethnic divide</span></p><p>As Chicago emerged from this tense environment, the city discussed how to rebuild the burnt district. Foremost on some people&rsquo;s minds: preventing a similar disaster to the one they had just endured. This school of thought proposed new building rules, the most strident being that, for safety&rsquo;s sake, only brick and stone would be allowed for construction within the city limits. The problem with this idea? Wood was cheap. For the immigrant homeowners on the North Side, maintaining their homes trumped even fire safety.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/fire+demographics+story/lincolnParkLarger.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/smaller%20lincoln%20park%20refuge.jpg" title="Illustration from Harper's Weekly featuring refugees in Lincoln Park during the Chicago Fire of 1871. (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></a></div></div></div><p>&ldquo;People were furious,&rdquo; Lewinnek says, &ldquo;especially the German and Irish immigrants who lived on the North Side who had been most burned out by the fire, were furious they might not be able to rebuild.&rdquo; They tended not to have reliable insurance and felt they wouldn&rsquo;t be able to afford to keep their land if wood construction was not allowed. &ldquo;They&rsquo;d say things like: &lsquo;We don&rsquo;t care if the city burns again, we need our own houses,&rsquo;&rdquo; Lewinnek says. Populations affected included those of German, Irish and Scandinavian background.</p><p>Karen Sawislak says, circling this debate was a hard question: Who&rsquo;s a good American? &ldquo;It was the immigrant community, specifically Germans, Scandinavians, who pushed hard to not have the fire limits extended over their neighborhoods, because effectively that would have meant that some very large percentage wouldn&rsquo;t have been able to rebuild any time soon or possibly at all, because of the expense of construction with stone or brick,&rdquo; she says. She adds that it became a political fight over &ldquo;the right to better yourself in your new country through this hard work and investment you&rsquo;ve made versus the need to protect a bigger, more abstract public from another possible disaster.&rdquo;</p><p>This conflict came to a dramatic head on Monday night, January 15, 1872. Immigrants gathered and marched by torch light to City Hall. Reports vary between the local English language newspapers and the foreign language papers, but Lewinnek says between 2,000 and 10,000 people marched to city hall. They carried signs with slogans like, &ldquo;No Fire Limitz [sic] at the North Site,&rdquo; and &ldquo;Leave a House for the Laborur.&rdquo; Again, reports vary about what happened when they arrived at City Hall. The German-language <em>Staats-Zeitung</em> wrote that six windows were broken, while the <em>Chicago Times</em> declared &ldquo;ALL THE WINDOWS BROKEN,&rdquo; and called the event &ldquo;the most disgraceful riot which ever visited Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>In the end, the North Side immigrants won the right to re-build with wood on their existing property. Areas north of Chicago Avenue and west of Wells Street and Lincoln Avenue were outside the new fire limits. After another significant fire in 1874, the fire limits were finally extended to the city, according to Elaine Lewinnek.</p><p>By that time, most of the North Side immigrants had managed to rebuild their homes, and so their wooden homes were &ldquo;grandfathered in&rdquo; according to Lewinnek.</p><p>In terms of how the fire changed the layout of Chicago, existing trends quickened. In general, property owners and even wealthy renters tended to remain where they were before the fire. Suburbs continued to grow. Distinct districts &mdash; residential, manufacturing, and the downtown area &mdash; developed. Downtown land prices rose.</p><p>Also after the fire, Chicago&rsquo;s population changed. The Relief and Aid Society had given out free rail passes to people who wanted to leave town after the fire. Some left, while new residents arrived. &ldquo;Immediately after the fire 30,000 people moved to Chicago to help rebuild it. So you don&rsquo;t actually have the exact same population,&rdquo; Lewinnek says. Many of these newcomers rented or lived in suburbs. The city&rsquo;s population grew from just under 300,000 in 1870 before the fire to 503,185 in 1880. (As of the most recent census, in 2010, Chicago&rsquo;s population numbered 2,695,598. Chicago&rsquo;s highest census number was recorded in 1950, with 3,620,962 residents.)</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Telling silence, shared memory</span></p><p>Since the fire, of course, this era has been remembered as a triumphant moment in the city&rsquo;s history. In 1872 Frank Luzerne published a work titled <em>The Lost City! Drama of the Fire-Fiend! or Chicago, As It Was, and As It Is! and its Glorious Future!</em>. Citing nearly 5,000 newly-issued building permits, Luzerne wrote &ldquo;there will be no interruption in the work of rebuilding until the new Chicago arises from the ashes of the old, in more substantial grandeur, rehabilitated, immeasurably improved, and all the better for her thorough purification.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rebuilding 2.jpg" title="Before the fire wood construction was common but afterwards it was proscribed in much of the city. Image: The Rebuilding of the Marine Building; Glass Lantern Slide, ca. 1873. ichi-02845 (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)" /></div></div><p>Sawislak takes issue with this narrative. &ldquo;Basically, I think that the Chicago fire is this very proud moment in the city&rsquo;s history, but it&rsquo;s a very heavily mythologized history,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;In many ways the disaster very much reinforced existing barriers between classes, between ethnicities.&rdquo;</p><p>Events surrounding the fire were extensively documented, but significant segments of the population were not included in that process and therefore their experiences were lost to history, Sawislak says. There are a wealth of first-person accounts of the fire, but says they were written only by people of means. &ldquo;We have very few records from working class people that are contemporaneous accounts of the fire,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually rather hard to find a record of how most Chicagoans experienced this signature event in the history of the city.&rdquo;</p><p>This imbalance, Sawislak argues, extends even to the estimated three hundred people who died in the fire. &ldquo;Even the fact that it&rsquo;s always an estimate tells you something,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Most victims &mdash; virtually all &mdash; were working class, immigrants, in very densely packed immigrant neighborhoods that were most impacted by the early stages of the fire on the South Side.&rdquo; Even following years of research, Sawislak says she&rsquo;s never discovered a comprehensive list of names of the deceased.</p><p>Combine this, she says, with the fact that the working poor left behind so few written accounts of the fire, and you&rsquo;re struck with an uncomfortable truth.</p><p>&ldquo;The silences are really kind of what&rsquo;s telling.&rdquo; she says.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/angela%20lee%20photo.jpg" style="float: left; height: 268px; width: 200px;" title="(Photo courtesy Angela Lee)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p>Angela Lee thinks a lot about cities, history, and demographics. She&rsquo;s originally from New York City. &ldquo;I&#39;ve only lived in cities,&quot; she says. &quot;I&#39;ve always been curious about why certain neighborhoods are located where they are, and why the divisions can be so extreme sometimes.&rdquo;</p><p>Her interest in where people live is long-standing. She began paying attention to real estate when she was just ten years old, she says. Now she&rsquo;s a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, majoring in history. Thinking about the London fire of 1666 made her wonder, &ldquo;They had to completely rebuild the city, I thought something similar might have happened in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Special help for this story comes from Carl Smith, author of <a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo5625323.html" target="_blank">Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman. </a>He also curates <a href="http://www.greatchicagofire.org" target="_blank">The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory</a>.</em></p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is an independent producer. Follow her on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tensions-and-torches-after-great-chicago-fire-110908 Rehabbing vacant buildings, and the lives of those who fix them http://www.wbez.org/news/rehabbing-vacant-buildings-and-lives-those-who-fix-them-110862 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/green%20housing_140929.jpg" style="height: 351px; width: 250px; float: left;" title="The apartment building on 62nd and Fairfield was once an eyesore and symbol of community blight. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)" />A two-flat building in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood was once a neighborhood eyesore.</p><p>It was vacant and vandalized, marked with an X for demolition. The tipping point occurred when a young girl was sexually assaulted in the gangway.</p><p>&quot;It was a symbol of really what was problematic with these properties across this community,&quot; said Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.&nbsp;&quot;Literally you could&rsquo;ve walked into it at anytime. There was not only drug dealing going on, there was prostitution. Literally the neighbors had to change, then alter their schedules because they were just terrified about what was going on in this building.&quot;</p><p>That galvanized the community made up of neighbors, priests, imams, and rabbis. For them, the building could no longer remain empty.</p><p>IMAN, a social justice nonprofit on 63rd Street went to court and received the home for free from the city. The two flat was then retrofitted and rehabbed by formerly incarcerated men and gives them a place to live.</p><p>It&rsquo;s called the <a href="http://www.imancentral.org/project-green-reentry/">Green ReEntry program</a>.</p><p>IMAN&rsquo;s turning vacant homes into environmentally-friendly dwellings with help from the Jewish Council of Urban Affairs and the Southwest Organizing Project.</p><p>The green component includes eco-friendly insulation, preserving rain runoff with buckets and installing ultra-efficient appliances. In the backyard vibrant swiss chard marks a vegetable garden.</p><p>Now, the building&rsquo;s basement will be a community space for block club meetings or other social gatherings. Two families rent apartments in the rehabbed building for below market rate. The goal is to transition them into home ownership.</p><p>It&rsquo;s a rare bright spot in a neighborhood rocked by foreclosures. According to the Woodstock Institute think tank, the rate of long-term vacancy in Chicago Lawn is nearly twice as high as the rest of Chicago.</p><p>Taqi Thomas moved in the two-bedroom apartment in July but the smell of fresh paint lingers.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t want to fall victim to the streets again so I decided that my best bet was to stay around the muslims instead of going home to my family members. I went to IMAN&rsquo;s transitional housing,&rdquo; said Thomas, who served a 13-year drug conviction.</p><p>Downstairs from Thomas is Khalifa Tyeiba&rsquo;s apartment where he lives with his wife and four children.</p><p>Tyeiba served time for aggravated battery, and has been out of the criminal justice system for more than a decade.</p><p>He said this is what usually happens when he applies for an apartment.</p><p>&ldquo;I paid my debt to society and this that and the other, and they&rsquo;ll say &lsquo;Oh okay, we&rsquo;ll get back to you&rsquo; and I won&rsquo;t get a call back. Or they&rsquo;ll outright say you can&rsquo;t have a felony,&rdquo; Tyeiba said.</p><p>He estimates he&rsquo;s been rejected a dozen times in his quest for renting a place.</p><p>To help more men like him, IMAN is in the process of acquiring two other nearby homes for the Green ReEntry program.</p><p>&ldquo;And so to come here in a community, a decent community I see things getting done,&rdquo; Tyeiba continues. &ldquo;My son goes to school right across the street. Beautiful.&rdquo;</p><p>Tyeiba says he can finally relax a bit. There&rsquo;s no longer the X on his back.</p><p>Nor on the building on south Fairfield Avenue.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. Email her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>.&nbsp;</em><em>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 07:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rehabbing-vacant-buildings-and-lives-those-who-fix-them-110862 Chicago SRO owners say proposed city ordinance is 'hostile' http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SRO ordinance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6a96fd4e-5c8e-a95a-a0fa-12b9a087e263">A new City Hall plan to preserve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/slow-disappearing-act-chicago-sro-105836">fast-vanishing</a> affordable housing units in single-room occupancy (SRO) and residential hotels has some Chicago SRO owners upset.</p><p>The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, includes incentives to induce building owners to maintain a certain threshold of affordable units in their buildings. There are few specifics about those incentives, but much of the measure focuses on financial penalties that owners would face if the number of affordable units in their buildings falls below a mandated percentage.</p><p>&ldquo;Essentially what has happened is the city wants to change the rules in the middle of the game,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation, which works with building owners, operators and tenants to preserve SRO housing in Chicago. &ldquo;The properties are going to be dropping substantially in value because of the proposed ordinance, as now written,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Under the proposal, owners who wish to demolish or convert their properties to market-rate rentals would be required to maintain at least 20 percent of the building&rsquo;s units as affordable, or else pay a $200,000 &ldquo;preservation fee&rdquo; for every unit that falls short of that threshold. Additionally, if an owner wishes to sell a building, it would allow non-profits first crack at purchasing it and would require the owner to engage in good-faith negotiations with those organizations. If no sale occurs within six months of notifying non-profits, then the owner may attempt to sell the property to private developers.</p><p>&ldquo;The private market often moves too quickly for these non-profits to pull together the financing,&rdquo; explained Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, &ldquo;and so we wanted to make sure that there was enough period of time for these organizations to actually&hellip; know a sale is coming, and then work with potential lenders, work with the city, work with the state. There are different parties that could potentially help put together a deal like that, but they just need the time to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>The proposal would allow building owners to bypass this process altogether, and to approach the private market first, if they pay a fee of $200,000 on each unit for 30 percent of the units in the building. But many current owners fear that these fines will drastically undercut the selling price of their buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;The property values will have plunged based on the market being so restricted, that the only option essentially for a current owner when he or she is ready to sell is to turn to a non-profit,&rdquo; worried Rubenstein, &ldquo;and the non-profit could offer nickels or dimes on the dollar.&rdquo;</p><p>All fees collected through the proposed ordinance would go to a preservation fund, which the city would use to assist SRO owners with defraying the cost of maintaining, developing or improving their properties. Negron said, additionally, that the city already may have existing resources to preserve at least 700 SRO units through the end of 2018. He said owners may call the city&rsquo;s Department of Planning and Development to discuss rental subsidies from the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, and financing from TIF districts and low-interest loans, to maintain affordability.</p><p>Rubenstein said he and other building owners had hoped the city would employ more incentives than penalties to encourage affordability. He said SRHAC submitted a list of 15 suggested incentives for the city to consider in its ordinance, including exemptions from sales taxes, water fees, and the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Negron said many of the suggestions were impractical.</p><p>A broad coalition of advocates for the homeless, and low-income tenants around Chicago, praised the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a great ordinance,&rdquo; said Adelaide Meyers, a former tenant of the Norman Hotel and affordable housing advocate. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s exactly what Chicago needs to maintain SROs throughout the city, because if we lose all our SROs we&rsquo;re going to have a lot of homeless people.&rdquo;</p><p>Meyers was herself displaced from the Norman Hotel when Cedar Street Co. bought the North Side property and converted it to upscale rentals within its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475">FLATS portfolio</a>. Meyers now shares an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood with a friend, and with some rental assistance from her father.</p><p>&ldquo;I never thought that I would end up living in an SRO to start off with, but I lived in a few different ones for several years,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I could definitely end up back in an SRO.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 The tale of the two-flat http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tale-two-flat-110681 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/164044282&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: The podcast version of the story includes an excerpt from a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-flammable-fire-escapes-109009#related" target="_blank">more extensive examination of Chicago-area wooden porches used as a means of egress</a>. To catch every episode, <a href="http://wbez.is/VIdLFv" target="_blank">subscribe to our podcast</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Most older U.S. cities have a signature kind of building. In Brooklyn it&rsquo;s the brownstone, one standing shoulder-to-shoulder to the next. In Philadelphia, newcomers and visitors are struck by the distinctive row houses.</p><p>What about Chicago? Well, it&rsquo;s a city known for its skyscrapers, for sure. Outside of downtown, though, you won&rsquo;t find soaring steel and glass. In the neighborhoods, it&rsquo;s wood, brick and stone. The real workhorse of Chicago&rsquo;s built environment is the modest, ubiquitous (yet fascinating) two-flat.</p><p>You know the building. Two stories, with an apartment unit on each floor, usually with bay windows greeting the street through of a facade of brick or greystone. Most were built between 1900 and 1920.</p><p>Two-to-four unit apartment buildings make up 27 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s housing stock, according to data from the <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">DePaul Institute of Housing Studies</a>. The rest is split evenly between single-family homes, condominiums and buildings with five or more units.</p><p>We recently got a question that returns some wonder to this everyday building. Our question asker, who chose to stay anonymous, is particularly interested in why the two-flat became so popular. And she wants to know who calls these buildings home. As she observes in <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/743" target="_blank">the question she submitted to Curious City</a>, they&rsquo;re somewhere between suburban houses and big apartment buildings:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Chicago-area two-flats straddle the line between apartments and homes. Who were they originally designed to serve? Has that changed?</em></p><p>The answer to that last part? It&rsquo;s revealed in a story, one you&rsquo;d miss if you choose to focus on the city&rsquo;s skyline or crane your neck to see the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. It turns out the advent of the humble two-flat mirrors the development of Chicago&rsquo;s middle class. And in many ways it still does today, but in the wake of the 2008 financial and foreclosure crises, that may be changing.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A Bohemian building boom</span></p><p>Through the late 1800s, European immigrants made up almost half of Chicago&rsquo;s population. Hundreds of thousands of Polish, German and Czech people settled here, often making their first home in narrow one-story buildings usually made out of wood. Those came to be called worker&rsquo;s cottages.</p><blockquote><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://wbez.is/1q1Znnk" target="_blank"><strong>Related: How the size of the &quot;foreign born&quot; population has changed in the city.&nbsp;</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>As Chicago&rsquo;s big industries grew &mdash; Sears, McCormick Reaper and Western Electric, to name a few &mdash; so did the population. Soon it made sense for developers and architects to build up as they built out. Hence two- and three-flat buildings, which offered denser housing, and gave the owners a shot at some extra income from renting out their extra unit.</p><p>We found several architects from the era who built two-flats by the dozens on spec, meaning they weren&rsquo;t designing for a specific client, but acting as &ldquo;owner-architect&rdquo; in the parlance of records from the era. Many of them were Bohemian. (Today, the former Bohemia is part of the Czech Republic).</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/czeckad.jpg" title="An ad for Lawndale two-flats steered toward Eastern European immigrants. (Courtesy Chicago History Museum) " /></p><p>In fact, along with Jen Masengarb of the <a href="http://www.architecture.org/" target="_blank">Chicago Architecture Foundation</a> &mdash; whom we partnered with on <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/743" target="_blank">this voting round</a> and helped us research this story &mdash; we found an old article from the <em>Chicago Tribune</em> that shows the connection between the city&rsquo;s booming Czech population and its sprawling housing market. A headline from <a href="http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/28540648/" target="_blank">Oct. 17, 1903</a> crows: &ldquo;BOHEMIANS IN LEAD AS BUILDERS OF HOMES.&rdquo;</p><p>At the convention of the Building Association league of Illinois, Bohemian Frank G. Hajicek boasted of &ldquo;$12,000,000 in shares in force&rdquo; held by the &ldquo;the Bohemians of Chicago.&rdquo; It was a point of pride for the 28-year-old resident of the South Lawndale neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;Never in the history of the world, I believe, have people in a foreign land established themselves in homes so securely and rapidly as have the 200,000 Bohemians who make Chicago their home,&rdquo; said Hajicek in 1903.</p><p>In the heavily Eastern European Southwest Side neighborhoods of Pilsen (named for the Bohemian city of Plzeň), North Lawndale and South Lawndale, many of those homes were two-flats.</p><p>With Masengarb&rsquo;s help, we dug up some documents at the<a href="http://www.chicagohistory.org" target="_blank"> Chicago History Museum</a>, including a 1915 &ldquo;Book of Plans&rdquo; that enticed homebuyers to order away for all the materials needed to build a two-flat sized for a typical Chicago city lot.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/bookofplanslarger.png" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bookofplansinset.png" title="Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum. Click for larger view. " /></a></div><p>&ldquo;Our design No. 144 is a two-family flat designed for a money making proposition,&rdquo; begins one such ad. &ldquo;Anyone wanting a comfortable home and at the same time a good income on the investment will do well to consider this proposition.&rdquo;</p><p>Many, it seems, did consider it. A 1910<em> Tribune</em> article reported $38 million of flat building, &ldquo;a new high record in this field, exceeding by over $4,000,000 the figures of 1908, which also established a new record.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A &lsquo;workhorse building&rsquo; in a western paradise</span></p><p>Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that it often wasn&rsquo;t young first-generation immigrants buying Chicago two-flats. Instead it was those who immigrated to Chicago as children in the late 19th century, and by the early 20th century had built up enough money to graduate from renting.</p><p>&ldquo;What appears to have happened is that the Czech population was essentially moving further west, out of Pilsen and other sort of areas, Maxwell Street areas, to newer land, I guess you could say,&rdquo; says Matt Cole of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, which administers the <a href="http://www.nhschicago.org/site/3C/category/greystone_history" target="_blank">Historic Greystone Initiative</a>. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s where the name California [Avenue] comes from &mdash; it was like their western paradise.&rdquo;</p><p>Jen Masengarb and I take Cole up on his offer to point out one such western paradise: <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/North+Lawndale,+Chicago,+IL/@41.8582574,-87.7139721,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e328a692e8e51:0x26c3604dc3282d76" target="_blank">the part of North Lawndale known as K-Town for its K-named avenues (Kostner, Kildare, Keeler, etc.)</a> near Pulaski and Cermak Roads. In 2010 K-Town was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its collection of classic Chicago apartment buildings.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/masengarbktown.jpg" title="Reporter Chris Bentley, Jen Masengarb and Matt Cole with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago meet in K-Town to learn about Chicago's two-flats. (Photo courtesy Anne Evans) " /></div><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a microcosm of Chicago architecture,&rdquo; says Cole, pointing out stately greystones, single-family brick residences and flats in styles ranging from Queen Anne to Prairie to mashups of any and all architectural detailing popular between 1900 and 1930. &ldquo;The reality is that the two-flat and three-flat are the workhorse building of this period of Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>During our neighborhood walk, Masengarb points out that for a lot of early 20th century Chicagoans, the two-flat was a vehicle of social mobility.</p><p>&ldquo;This two-flat is that bridge, I think, between that older 1880s, 1870s housing,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;And then the bungalow which was the even bigger dream, and a bigger yard, my own space and nobody living upstairs, clomping around. &ldquo;</p><p>Consider Frank Stuchal. Census data shows in 1888 he immigrated to Chicago from Bohemia as a 13-year-old with his parents and two sisters. The census is taken every 10 years, and every 10 years as his income increased &mdash; Stuchal was first employed as a typesetter, then a print shop foreman, and finally business manager for a newspaper &mdash; he moved further west along Cermak avenue. In 1900 the 24-year old Stuchal rented an apartment at W. 23rd Street and South Spaulding Avenue with his two sisters. In 1920 he and his wife owned a two-flat, half of which they rented out to a German family. By 1930 he and his wife were raising their son in a bungalow they owned in the southwest suburb of Berwyn.</p><p>The 1920 census shows the street lined with two-flats occupied by second generation Czech, German, and Polish immigrants in their 40s and 50s, raising Chicago-born teenagers. Stuchal&rsquo;s neighbors included butchers, policemen, bookkeepers, bricklayers and librarians.</p><p>That two-flat Stuchal owned in 1920 was in K-town, near 21st Place and Keeler Avenue. It was built in 1916, and <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/@41.852501,-87.731744,3a,75y,144.04h,88.86t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sj8F0Ae9ndTVLStijAJ4d8A!2e0" target="_blank">it&rsquo;s still there</a>.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://www.google.com/maps/@41.852501,-87.731744,3a,75y,144.04h,88.86t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sj8F0Ae9ndTVLStijAJ4d8A!2e0" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/insert-images/Capture_0.JPG" style="width: 610px; height: 234px;" title="Frank Stuchal's two-flat was built in 1916. (Google Streetview/Google)" /></a></div><p>Today it&rsquo;s owned by Arquilla Lawrence, whose parents moved in when she was two years old.</p><p>&ldquo;And I love it,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s been my home all my life, ever since I was two we moved into the neighborhood. I&rsquo;ve been here my whole life except when I went away to college.&rdquo;</p><p>Like many African-Americans, Lawrence&rsquo;s father moved to the neighborhood from the South &mdash; Oklahoma, in his case &mdash; during <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/545.html" target="_blank">The Great Migration of blacks to northern cities </a>during the middle of the 20th century. After World War II the neighborhood became the first African-American neighborhood on Chicago&rsquo;s West Side.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s so well kept,&rdquo; says Corey Brooks, who also grew up in K-town. &ldquo;Because most of [the property owners] migrated from the South. This is where they put their roots in, so they all know each other.&rdquo;</p><p>Brooks introduces us to his wife, Rita, who is on her way to check in on her mom. Both of them moved back to their childhood homes in order to care for their parents. Turns out it&rsquo;s not just the neighborhood&rsquo;s property ownership that has lasted all these years.</p><p>&ldquo;This is my childhood sweetheart,&rdquo; says Rita, pointing to Corey. &ldquo;He was my first boyfriend! Then he got married to someone else, I got married, I lost my husband, and then two years ago we found each other and got married.&rdquo;</p><p>Before we leave K-Town, Jen Masengarb surveys the mishmash of early 20th century architectural styles on display.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a metamorphosis or an evolution. We&rsquo;re gonna try this over here on this block, and then this is five years later we&rsquo;re gonna try this &hellip; You can just see it evolving in the way that we live and the decisions that we&rsquo;re making in terms of what our families need, what is stylistically impressive,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;This architecture is us, it&rsquo;s a reflection of us.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Losing equity: Is the workhorse getting exhausted?</span></p><p>So the form of two-flats was basically a response to economics and demographics, as well as the size and shape of a Chicago city lot. The buildings no longer house predominantly Czech and other Eastern European immigrants, but today&rsquo;s tenants share a lot with their neighbors across the decades &mdash; many of them used two-flats to build community and a little bit of personal wealth in the form of equity. The two-flat was a bridge to a better life for the families that built Chicago as we know it.</p><p>One hundred years later, however, it&rsquo;s not clear how much longer two-flats will be able to fill that role.</p><p>K-town is well kempt, thanks in part to incentives from its historic district status. But two-flats are expensive to maintain. And since the 2008 financial and foreclosure crises, a lot of two-flats in other neighborhoods around Chicago are sitting vacant or being bought by developers who don&rsquo;t occupy the units.</p><p>And sometimes the ownership moved in the other direction. Eric Strickland tells us he bought a K-Town two-flat in the 90s. When he purchased the building on 21st Place, it was divided into three units. Once he&rsquo;d saved up enough money, Strickland converted the two-flat into a single-family home. He lives there now with his wife and daughter.</p><p>During the housing crisis two-to-four unit properties were disproportionately impacted by foreclosure. And Geoff Smith from the DePaul <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">Institute of Housing Studies</a> says two-flats don&rsquo;t really make economic sense for new development, so they may well be lost to history in lower-income neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;What you see more commonly is a single-family home targeted for owner occupancy, or you see a larger rental building,&rdquo; Smith says.</p><p>He adds that, if older two-flats fall into disrepair, there will likely be no two-unit rentals to replace them. &nbsp;&ldquo;The concern is that in some of these more distressed areas, where there is a substantial stock of these buildings, there is a risk in some neighborhoods that this kind of housing could be lost,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>That prospect matters. According to data from the DePaul <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">Institute of Housing Studies</a>, today there are more than 76,000 two-unit apartment buildings in Chicago. In some neighborhoods &mdash; Brighton Park, New City, and South Lawndale &mdash; they still make up more than two-thirds of the housing stock, as well as a substantial proportion of the city&rsquo;s affordable housing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://housing-stock.housingstudies.org/#13/41.8759/-87.6436" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/depaulmap.PNG" style="height: 300px; width: 620px;" title="Click to view full map from DePaul's IHS. " /></a></div><p>Prices for two-to-four unit buildings in distressed areas of Chicago fell roughly 70 percent between the pre-crash peak and current figures. That means many homes in those areas are worth less than they were in 1997, says Smith.</p><p>So if the &ldquo;money making proposition&rdquo; that two-flats once promised to working families is more elusive these days, what will become of the lower-income neighborhoods where these historic buildings are most prevalent?</p><p>&ldquo;Because of changing population dynamics, the changing nature of the city, in some areas you are going to see demand in decline. You may not see it recover, and there just may not be an economic value to some of these properties,&rdquo; says Smith. &ldquo;Hopefully some prescient, some really far forward-seeing investor can come in and say &lsquo;these properties have value for the long-term.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist and reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. <a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Follow him at cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>. Jen Masengarb is Director of Interpretation and Research for <a href="http://www.architecture.org/" target="_blank">the Chicago Architecture Foundation</a> and contributed reporting to this story. </em></p><p><em>Correction: A draft of the text for this story misstated the time period during which the majority of Chicago two-flats were constructed. The correct timeframe is between 1900 and 1920.</em></p></p> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tale-two-flat-110681