Renting in the Chicago-land Area is Ruining our Chance to Start Over

I left him over 6 months ago. Only took me 19 years to realize giving up and letting go have two entirely separate definitions.

It was wasn’t easy considering we have four children together. Finding a day that worked well was the hardest, but I knew he couldn’t be home, so I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Actually, telling my two eldest children the day before we packed the car was the hardest. “I’m leaving your father. Please don’t tell the little ones. I will explain it to them when we’re settled.” How does one explain to a 7 year old that we’re moving out of our house without their father? Believe me, my 10 year old didn’t quite understand either. Now that I think of it, packing the car was hardest. How do you pack everything you need for 5 people using only a hatchback? You don’t. It took three trips. One trip entirely dedicated to transporting our 14 year old cat, including his supplies, and a massive guinea pig cage, housing not one but two piglets, and their supplies. “I’m so sorry, boy, but we can’t take you with us where we’re going”, I remember saying to our confused dog, Max. I still can’t believe we left him behind, but the phrase NO DOGS ALLOWED was expected. And who am I to complain? I have all my kids with me. “We can bring him with us when we find a place of our own”, I promise while wiping away their tears. Unfortunately keeping that promise is proving to be harder than I originally anticipated.

Gosh, we left behind so many things. So many things.

We got lucky with our current housing situation. Lucky as in we have a place to stay…for the time being that is. It’s a temporary solution, but we have until the summer to find our own place. The thing is I’ve been looking since we left back in August. But rent in the Chicago-land area is too high for a single mom with 4 kids, a cat, two guinea pigs, and an adorable Pomeranian. And although I’m trying to not be picky with my future choice of residency, I would like to be close enough to my family just in case of an emergency. I mean, what if I have to work late? Who will pick up my kids from school if I live all the way in Pilsen? And I’m not talking about the luxury lofts along the art strip. No, no, no. Those start at $1,800 a month for a one bedroom + den, not including utilities. Oh, and let’s not forget the NO PET policy. But it doesn’t matter where I look. Rent is high everywhere. And considering what I do for a living, I think I bring home a decent paycheck. Too bad it’s not enough to pay rent somewhere familiar, safe, near my family, and with an understanding that pets are family, too.

I take back everything I said earlier in this post…Finding a place of our own is proving to be the hardest.

My ideal wish list consists of the following:

• 1st floor is a must if we were to rent an apartment (5 people equals a lot of foot traffic)
• At least 3 bedrooms
• Pets allowed
• Onsite laundry
Bonus: At least one utility included with rent (I know this is almost impossible when renting a single family home, but the landlord paying the water bill would be a Godsend)

And that’s it. That’s all we really need. We can live with one bathroom. We don’t need a backyard because I know where the best parks in the city are located. No dishwasher? I have a pair of rubber gloves and 4 capable children – DONE! With this short list of “must-haves” I should be able to find a place suited for us with no problem whatsoever. Not the case according to, Craigslist, Zillow, Facebook Marketplace, and numerous neighborhood newspapers. Believe me, I’ve been looking.

According to my twice daily search over the past six months, the following areas prove to be too expensive for such “luxuries”.

Summit, Justice, Willow Springs, Bedford Park, Hickory Hills, Bridgeview, Burbank, Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Worth, Merrionette Park, Evergreen Park, Crestwood, Oak Forest, Orland Park/Hills, and Tinley Park. The last few is further than I would like to be, but that’s as far south as I can go. Let’s try the other direction. Forest View, Stickney, Lyons, McCook, Berwyn, Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside, La Grange, La Grange Park, Westchester, Forest Park, and Oak Park. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, I only look in Oak Park to see what I’m missing because let’s face it, there is no way I can afford to live in Oak Park. What about the actual City of Chicago? Okay, let’s try Garfield Ridge, since that’s where my kids’ currently attend school. Nope! Even higher than the burbs. Clearing? Maybe, but I’ve read too many recent reports of burglaries, shootings, and muggings. Mount Greenwood? Now I'm really kidding myself.

I don't know if landlords in these areas are aware, but these neighborhoods I mention above are still considered "South Side". I almost feel sorry for all you "North Side" folks. Almost.

And did I mention that I have four kids? Forget the pet policy. Disclosing that I have multiple kids is not the biggest seller when trying to find a rental either. A majority of the landlords I’ve spoken to apparently have a no pet and a no more than x amount of children policy in place. It would be so much simpler if this information was mentioned in the rental ad, but I understand there is a discrimination issue if this information were to be put in writing. And no landlord wants potential renters to think of them as assholes before actually speaking with them over the phone. I get it. But I can't help but feel a sense of shame for having been told 4 is just "too many" kids.

So where do we go from here? Buy? Anyone have 20% I can borrow in order to avoid PMI fees? I promise to pay you back in monthly installments just like my student loans, car payment, car insurance, phone bill, mortgage, and utilities. Just pray I have enough left over to keep food on the table, because according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, I make too much money to collect SNAP benefits. Just like I make too much money for Section 8. Oh, well. I should be grateful. I am grateful. I was able to leave a toxic relationship so my kids can grow up knowing that wasn’t how a relationship is supposed to be. I’m so grateful. But the fear of not finding a place of our own is very real, and it’s starting to take its toll on this full-time working mother of four.

Believe me when I say I don’t want to complain anymore. I don’t want to stress out about this anymore. I just want to open up a rental ad and see that the rent is under $1,500 and pets are allowed. That KIDS are allowed. I just want to find a decent place for my kids’ and I to start over. I want to bring my dog home. I want to wake up, in my own bed, knowing that I did it. I want to know that if I pay rent for the month that I have a little money left over to save for an emergency, or if we just need a weekend away at the local indoor water park hotel, or to be able to get the good pizza on any given Friday night.

I want to live life already, dammit.

I just want to start over.

Why are landlords making this accomplishment so damn hard?

Thank you for taking the time to read.
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Filed under: Chicago, Housing, Parenting, Rentals

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