I took the news that housing prices in Edgewater and Andersonville are on the rise very personally. For awhile now those two neighborhoods have been my ideal place to live. They’re close to the ‘L’ and lake, but hold their distance from the Loop. They have an urban feel, but still you can find those resplendent, leafy residential streets lined with stately homes. And, if I stood in the middle of Clark and Foster and shouted “Are you friends with Dorothy?”, I’d be almost guaranteed at least one “yes” in response. And, most importantly, they remain remarkably affordable.
Obviously, I want none of that to change. Maintaining affordability in Edgewater/Andersonville necessitates avoiding the problems that plague other areas of the city, but also by encouraging diverse residential development. This can be a slippery slope towards varying degrees of “gentrification” however. There is ample evidence to show the former can be achieved without the latter.
There’s no need to pretend that at some point continued demand to live in Edgewater/Andersonville might push prices up forcing out people who can no longer afford the area. Indeed, based on observations of Chicago’s LGBTQ* community, the trend towards rising prices and wealthier residents is already evident. In his book “There Goes The Gayborhood?” Amin Ghaziani effectively describes a movement of LGBTQ* Chicagoans northward from Old Town to Rogers Park along the lakefront that mirrors a consistent trend: queer people move into more affordable neighborhoods investing in them before moving on to still affordable neighborhoods further north while more affluent, and often straighter, residents move into former queer enclaves.
By this anecdotal evidence, Andersonville has reached a point that is not all that dissimilar to Boystown a decade or so ago, while Rogers Park is playing the role of Andersonville in the recent past. Assuming the model outlined above holds fast, there will be a rise in the incomes and rents in Edgewater/Andersonville in the coming years like in Lakeview and parts of Lincoln Park previously; that is, if nothing is done.
So while change can’t necessarily be stopped, that doesn’t mean these neighborhoods have to become bastions of the wealthy like Wicker Park/Bucktown and Lakeview/Lincoln Park. Right now, Edgewater/Andersonville still have median household incomes and rents that are lower than the surrounding neighborhoods, this according to Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, which uses data from 2008-2012. With average household incomes at about $37,800 annually residents only spend 20-25% of their income on rent. This is quite good, especially considering the amenities available in the neighborhood, but based on the article in question, this is what’s at risk of disappearing.
Interestingly, it’s debatable if the DNAinfo article accurately reflects changes in the affordability of Edgewater/Andersonville. While the article gives the impression that housing prices are beginning to skyrocket and will force many residents out of the neighborhood, Daniel Kay Hertz, a Senior Fellow at City Observatory and author of City Notes, thinks otherwise.
“It sounds like what they are doing is just taking the straight average of all the listed properties. But…that technique is open to really wild swings [in the market]. If you look at Zillow’s numbers for the area, which are based on a repeat-sales algorithm that takes into account the random basket of homes that happen to be for sale at any time, the increases in prices are way, way less dramatic.”
So, from another perspective this change is not as troublesome, nor reason to run for the hills. Indeed, based on my own calculations using the data from Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, residents living at or near the average median household income could absorb about a 20% rent increase without having to dedicate more than 30% of their income to housing. This doesn’t take into account the costs of purchasing property, nor changes in income levels. What it does show though, even in a vague sense, is a little leeway many residents could probably work with.
To build on the neighborhoods successes though, affordability has to be maintained. Where rents are pushing out businesses in Wicker Park and housing stock is becoming overly homogenous in Lakeview, Edgewater/Andersonville still provide housing types for a range of residents. This in turn spurs more economically sustainable neighborhood. This fits into what Hertz said makes neighborhoods affordable: “a lot of many different housing types, and a lot of subsidized housing,” as well as walkability and transit access. This is a decent description of these North Side neighborhoods.
Looking at the Institute for Housing Studies map of the Edgewater community area, there’s no indication that Edgewater/Andersonville risks developing overly homogenous housing stock, but under the right conditions, the neighborhoods could quickly get split into two worlds: high-rises east of Broadway along the lake and single-family homes west of there. Taking a closer look, the problems for the neighborhoods appear. Neither Clark Street nor Broadway, both primary commercial strips, have much in the way of housing, while much of the stock in Andersonville is either single-family units or two- or three-flats. These are easy targets for downsizing projects.
Such downsizing projects are already proving problematic in Lakeview. Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Square. There, the diversity and number of available housing units is decreasing. This not only strangles the housing market and can result in demand induced housing cost rises, but it can also harm the economic vitality of the area. Near the Southport and Paulina Brown Line stops for example, the overall number of units dropped by 2% and 4% respectively, according to Streetsblog Chicago, which simultaneously reported calls by local merchants for more social diversity in the neighborhood to support all kinds of businesses.
Building more is no clear solution. According to Hertz, the impacts of increased development at a hyper-localized level still aren’t well understood. At the very least, at a regional level, more housing does equal more affordable housing. Nonetheless, because of Edgewater/Andersoville’s demographic make-up the potential rises in rent wouldn’t be a huge shock and probably offset by other benefits stemming form more housing.
To prevent similar conversations from happening in Edgewater/Andersonville, the 46th and 48th ward aldermen, Harry Osterman and James Cappleman respectively, have to begin supporting development that diversifies the housing stock and ensures it stays large enough to stay on top of demand. This is, of course, in addition to improved transportation in the area. Fortunately, tools are in place to support the latter efforts. The city’s greatly increased Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance now covers much of the north lakefront and a development plan for Broadway exists that will hopefully guide smarter planning from Foster to Devon in addition to other projects.
Unfortunately, neither alderman seems to be doing a very good job of implementing the development side of this, or at least demanding better. While Cappleman has been brining new housing to Uptown, he’s received a lot of criticism for not being supportive of sustainable housing in the area and turning a blind eye to homelessness. Osterman just seems clueless. Since he’s been alderman he’s overseen the construction of much of the same on Broadway–strip-malls–in spite of transit access and the viability of more housing in this area. Indeed, Broadway and Clark are the two best areas in these neighborhoods to absorb new, residential rich developments.
Granted, the aldermen might not be able to do much. In my conversation with Hertz he expressed skepticism that aldermen can do all that much to impact development, especially since the development can be a purposefully slow affair conducted by the “risk averse”.
At the very least, the aldermen could be more supportive of the ideal kinds of developments and make it known that in their wards, they’re open to ways of better using available land and redeveloping sites in ways that are attune to the neighborhoods’ characteristics. What’s most important though is that residents stay aware of what’s happening around them, but also shed any potential NIMBY responses there might be to new projects in exchange for a more nuanced recognition of what needs to done to preserve the neighborhoods’ character into the coming years. What’s still so great about the far northern lakefront neighborhoods is they’re still a bit of a diamond in the rough. They can’t be preserved like a museum piece, but the tools available to allow them to sustainably change with the times.