Affordable Housing and Filtering

Mark Fruin

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.

Emmett Street Development by Bikerdike

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 One Weird Trick to Preserve Big Old Houses and Increase Affordable Housing

Mark Fruin

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.

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Cities and Factories

Mark Fruin (@CYimby)

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.

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Slowing Displacement Starts in Old Town

Dear Ald. Smith,

Please do not stop the project at 1810 N Wells St. as outlined by Block Club and Crain’s The first reason to allow this project to move forward is that it would be a valuable addition to the neighborhood. The second reason is to help Old Town do its’ part to slow displacement in less well off neighborhoods around the city. I’ll go on to discuss the foolish and damaging opposition to the project. You should not let a small, often malicious, group of homeowners prevent progress in your ward. 

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.

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The Destruction of Milwaukee Ave – Population – Part 1

Mark Fruin

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.

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The case for increasing property taxes… on vacant land

I would love for this to start a conversation about vacant land. Any and all criticism is welcome.

By simply tweaking the ‘assessment level’ on vacant land, we can: 

  1. Reduce investor speculation.
  2. Build middle class housing.
  3. Encourage property development.
  4. Increase the land controlled by the city.
  5. Preserve old buildings.

So, what is ‘assessment level’ and how can the city adjust it in order to produce these outcomes? 

First, let’s review how property taxes are calculated. This is from the Cook County assessor’s website:

This is the formula determining property tax bills. There are a lot of steps, but let’s focus on line 2: Assessment Level. 

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Dear Alderman La Spata, Build Homes Now!

Alderman La Spata,

Please reconsider your move to downzone the 1628 W Division Street development. I ask that you let this project move forward and do not obstruct the construction of any affordable housing in the 1st Ward.

In the past you have supported the construction of affordable housing; an example of this would be the Emmett Street development in Logan Square. That is a great project that will add 100 affordable units to Logan Square.  I find it odd that you would support that project, but oppose adding 20+ affordable units to Wicker Park. This is an equally valid project that will only add to an already vibrant Wicker Park.

I fear that you have placed too much weight on the opinions of a homeowner community group that opposes new construction and affordable housing. You have taken them at their word that they are arguing in good faith, but they are not speaking for the entire community. Community groups of this kind were used since the 1910s as a way to segregate cities all across the United States. Although their language has been toned down, their goals are the same. Consider this recent podcast, Segregation Then and Now, or the book The Color of Law by Rothstein. 

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