All readers of this blog will be familiar with the Emmett Street Affordable housing development in Logan Square by Bickerdike. People are excited that 100 units of affordable housing will be added to a neighborhood that is facing displacement pressure due to rising prices. The new development means that 100 people or families will have a new home near public transportation, which is a great thing.
The purpose of this piece is to show that the benefit of the Emmett Street project is greater than people realize. The reason for this compounded benefit is a process called filtering.
The benefit of the Emmett Street project is greater than people realize.
Consider 2 identical families with a need for affordable housing. They are friends with each other and their kids go to the same school. Family A lives in a two flat and although the rent is high the landlord is good and fixes anything that breaks. Family B lives nearby in a different two flat, but their rent is higher and the landlord is a jerk. Family B’s landlord neglects the property and for a week in the winter the unit didn’t have adequate heat. Family B is afraid to report the landlord because they don’t know how the system works and there aren’t any cheap options to move to that would allow their kids to stay in their school.
Now, suppose that when Emmett street opens up family A gets a unit in the building. This is great, Family A has a real need for affordable housing and this will provide security for them and their kids. This is the obvious benefit of Emmett street. The next benefit that isn’t so obvious, Family B applied but due to the huge demand for affordable housing and the limited number of units family B doesn’t get a unit. The benefit is that Family A’s unit opens up. Family B knows that unit is better and the landlord is better, so they quickly move in when Family A moves to Emmett Street. Family B doesn’t benefit as much as family A, but now they are paying a bit less rent and their landlord isn’t a jerk.
In this way more than 100 families can benefit from the Emmett Street development. Its still important to advocate for Family B in the future, but it’s good to know they will be in a less precarious position.
Obviously the above is a grossly over-simplified example, but hopefully it is able to communicate the concept of filtering and the compounding benefits of building affordable housing. This example could also be run the opposite way for why it’s important to prevent deconversion of two flats to single family homes.
The Chicago zoning code has a number of restrictive rules designed to prevent the less affluent from living near the wealthy. The most insidious is the minimum lot area (MLA) per unit. This is what prevents a structure in Single Family Zones (RS-1 to 3) from allowing multiple families to share the lot.
The minimum lot area per unit for RS-3 zoning is 2,500 square feet per unit. The standard Chicago lot size is 3,125, so only one unit is allowed in the standard Chicago lot. Defenders of single family zoning will say that RS-3 allows for duplexes, however, you would need to have a 5,000 square foot lot to build a 2 flat by right in a RS-3 zone.
I propose is reducing the minimum lot area per unit for older homes to 1000 square feet. This would allow older single family homes that are at risk of demolition to have a 2nd life as a 2 or 3 flat. This isn’t revolutionary and probably won’t have a big impact in some part of the city. However, near L stops, where there is demand for smaller units, this could provide affordable housing and save old homes.
Recently the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (@ChicagoDPD) announced that it was going to allow for residential use of an area that was previously a planned manufacturing district (PMD):
This is great news. The West Loop is in high demand with new apartment and office developments popping up seemingly every week. This is a great thing for Chicago as a whole as it allows residents to live in a dense area near the core job center. This means shorter commutes and less vehicle miles traveled for new residents.
The transition from manufacturing to residential zoning in cities makes a ton of sense for a number of reasons.
As the purpose of this project is to change people’s minds I am constantly evaluating what evidence will convince someone to change their mind. As someone who works with cold hard data I am easily convinced by it, but I recognize that not everyone sees the world this way. Here I’ll share two descriptions of white flight from Michelle Obama’s Becoming. The first uses data:
That evidence shows dramatic change in the racial diversity of a neighbor. But consider these two class photos as another piece of evidence:
Your New Year’s resolution should probably be to walk more. Gil Penalosa and Jonathan Berk tell us why in a couple tweets:
What does the common sense advice have to do with zoning? How much you walk is very dependent on where you live. If you live in a place with sidewalks, amenities, and the area is safe you will be more likely to walk. Unfortunately, tons of people in America don’t live in places that are conducive to walking. Below is graph from Fitbit in 2015. Even in the winter residents of Illinois, New York and California walk more than those in the South.
This project would turn a parking garage into housing while preserving the facade. Housing is a much better use of space in dense walkable neighborhoods like Old Town than parking. The new residents will patron the local shops and restaurants. In a post pandemic world our local spots are going to need all the support they can get.
A quick response to Andrew Schneider’s @ASchneider2008 recent thread defending the idea of down-zoning proposed by Ramirez-Rosa. For background on this plan see: Block Club Chicago. Schneider does an excellent job appealing the the emotion’s tied to home, neighborhood, and nostalgia.
Who wouldn’t want to live next to “Round-Up”? They could turn that space into a cool brewery like they did in that other neighborhood! But, the argument goes, if the property isn’t down-zoned it will be turned into ugly condos.
However, Andrew ignores one key problem, you need people, and lots of them, to support local businesses. The “Round-Up” went under as a theater, then it went under as a restaurant, then it went under as an electronics store. Clearly there is something larger going on here that is causing businesses to go under.