The devastated housing market on Chicago's South and West sides during the Daley era

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley will be remembered for the rise of shiny, new downtown condominiums and the fall of towering public housing buildings. But his tenure should also be remembered for declining homeownership and the dramatic rise of cost-burdened renters and home owners in many of Chicago’s South and West side communities.

In a time when Chicago witnessed the rapid expansion of its real estate market and then watched as that home-buying bubble burst, more people actually owned a home in Chicago in 2009 than in 1990. According to census data, home ownership citywide rose from 41.5 percent to 48.6 percent during that time.
When looking at the rate of home ownership within the neighborhoods, however, declines were found in 27 of Chicago’s 77 communities. Among the neighborhoods whose rates fell, 11 were predominantly African American, seven were racially mixed, six were majority Latino and three were predominantly white.

While white, Asian and mixed communities each collectively experienced double-digit increases in home ownership, Latino communities as a whole saw only modest gains during the same period, from 46.3 percent in 1990 to 49.5 percent in 2009. Alternatively, African-American communities saw a decline in home ownership, albeit slight, down from 42.8 percent in 1990 to 42.6 percent in 2009.

The sharpest declines occurred in Burnside, Pullman, Washington Heights, West Englewood and West Pullman, all South Side communities. Conversely, the highest growth in home ownership occurred in and around downtown–the Loop, the Near West Side and the Near South Side–community areas many point to when acknowledging some of Daley’s greatest accomplishments.

Phil Ashton, a professor in the Urban Planning and Policy Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, credited the Daley administration with attempting to address the issues of subprime lending and foreclosures before the problems became widespread.

“The city was a relative leader in responding early to foreclosures at a time, 10 or 15 years ago, when very few people were paying attention,” Ashton said. “The City of Chicago was out there; they were getting people and saying these are potential time bombs within our neighborhoods.”

Part of that response, Ashton said, led to the formation of the Homeowners Preservation Initiative, which he described as a prudent step in preparation for the wave of foreclosures that eventually hit.

“Chicago has been hit pretty hard by subprime lending and foreclosures. And like a lot of cities, Chicago is struggling to keep up,” Ashton said. “What the city’s early interventions did was provide them with a framework to be able to be on top of these problems and be there for the long haul.”

Efforts aside, Ashton acknowledged much of the effects of the foreclosure crisis have been felt in minority communities. The same is true of subprime lending.A Chicago Reporter analysis revealed that the Chicago metro area led the nation in high-cost, subprime loans and that African American and Latino borrowers were far more likely than their white and Asian counterparts to receive those loans.

While home ownership remained relatively steady throughout much of Daley’s time in office, many found it much more difficult to simply maintain a roof over their head.
According to the Reporter anaysis of census data, the percentage of “cost-burdened” homeowners–those paying 30 percent or more of their income to cover their mortgage and other homeowner costs like property taxes and homeowners’ insurance–grew dramatically between 1990 and 2009, from 25.7 percent to 49.5 percent citywide.

The number of cost-burdened renters, those paying 30 percent or more of their income on rent, also increased, from 42.3 percent in 1990 to 49.8 percent in 2009.

The increases were most dramatic in Latino communities on the Northwest and Southwest sides of the city. Both Belmont Cragin and South Lawndale witnessed increases of 20 percentage points of cost-burdened homeowners and cost-burdened renters.

“By all indications, the difficulty on households to meet their housing costs is causing instability in their lives and for the community,” said Kevin Jackson, executive director of the Chicago Rehab Network, a coalition of community organizations that has worked to increase the city’s amount of affordable housing for more than 30 years. “People are literally running out of money by the end of the month.”
Jackson assessed the working relationship with the Daley administration as cooperative, but added it was not without its share of challenges.
“There were times when the Mayor’s leadership was extremely effective–working together on passing property tax reforms, working on national legislation and state legislation that was all really good,” Jackson said.  “The internal city programs [programs funded] from their own corporate fund–that type of stuff was much more difficult.”
Some advocates contend that some of the Daley administration’s actions were intended more for keeping up the appearance of working at the problem rather than doing anything substantive.
“The Daley administration liked to pay lip service to being a strong advocate of affordable housing,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “But if you dig a little deeper behind the numbers they put out, you’ll see that they weren’t really doing all that much.”
Dworkin contended that initiatives such as in the administration’s plan in 2003 to end homelessness throughout the city in 10 years was never backed with enough city resources to make it very effective.
“We’re now actually about a year-and-a-half from the end of it [the program] and homelessness is worse now,” Dworkin said. “If you do something as ambitious as saying you’re going to end homelessness in 10 years, you’re going to have to put some money into it to actually do it.”
When asked about the new administration, Dworkin said it was still too early to tell whether there would be a substantive difference, but added the appointment of Andy Mooney to head the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development was an encouraging sign.
“He’s somebody who’s really been dedicated to housing in the city,” Dworkin said. “We took that as a sign that there is a new openness and we’re hoping to build on that.”

Steven Ross Johnson


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