Talking Transit: Repopulating our city through more housing choice - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Repopulating our city through more housing choice

Chicago Ward 47

The proposed development at 2150 W. Lawrence Ave. would add people and vitality to Lawrence Avenue.

Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit, supported by Bombardier, provides updates about transit-related activities around the world. Read In the Loop for the latest transportation headlines.

Did you know?

According to research by the Chicago Rehab Network, Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood lost more than 5,000 inhabitants, or more than 11 percent of its population, between 2000 and 2010. At the same time, housing costs increased dramatically over the same period, with the share of renters paying more than 30 percent of their incomes in rent rising from 33 percent to 42 percent. Meanwhile, the neighborhood became wealthy, with only high-income households increasing in population.

What happened? Lincoln Square’s population became wealthier and its households declined in size. Though 1,056 housing units were built in the neighborhood over the decade, it lost more than that number of renter-occupied units as demand to live in the neighborhood increased. As a result, population declined and low- and middle-income people moved out.

Similar processes have been taking place citywide, all across Chicago, in large part because—particularly in areas near transit—we’re not building enough to keep up with demand. As a result, smaller, wealthier families are taking the place of poor and middle class ones, increasing economic inequality, reducing the city’s tax base and making neighborhood retail difficult to maintain.

Transit-oriented development is one way to address this problem. It can help bring more people into neighborhoods while reducing pollution and avoiding increases in congestion. 

New projects are necessary—and they need to be bigger than what we currently are building

Earlier this month, developers announced a proposal for a five-story mixed-use building at 2150 W. Lawrence Ave. in Lincoln Square. If approved, the project would renovate and expand an existing industrial building about a quarter-mile from two Chicago Transit Authority Brown Line stations and bring 59 residential units to the heart of one of the city’s residential districts. It would also add about 4,000 square feet of retail space to the active strip. But because the project will expand an existing building, it requires a zoning change.

Alderman Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward, who represents this area of the city, has stated his approval of the project, despite expected opposition to adding two stories on top of the existing building. The project is currently under review by the ward office; in order to move forward, it will need to be approved by the city council. 

The benefits of expanding the building, though, are clear. Using the Metropolitan Planning Council’s (MPC) Transit-Oriented Development Calculator, we can compare the economic impact of the new building, with or without the two-story addition on top.

As the table below illustrates, the project as currently proposed, with 59 apartments, would bring 121 new residents to the neighborhood and add about $4.7 million in new local tax revenues to the district. 

Without the addition, however, the number of apartments in the building would decline to just 31. This loss of 28 apartments would result in $2.2 million fewer tax receipts over 10 years and $157,000 fewer sales for local retailers. That’s real impact that affects businesses and residents who want walkable retail. 

 

With 2-story addition

With no addition

Difference

Apartments

59

31

28 fewer apartments

Residents

121

64

57 fewer residents

Local tax revenue

$4.7 million/10 years

$2.5 million/10 years

$2.2 million fewer tax receipts over 10 years

Local retail sales

$398,000/year

$241,000/year

$157,000 fewer sales at local stores and restaurants per year

Transit trips

27,000/year

15,000/year

12,000 fewer transit trips per year

Every project matters 

Though the addition of 59 residential units in Lincoln Square may not seem like much on top of the 20,000 units already in the neighborhood, every new apartment counts in a city where supply is constricted and demand for living near transit continues to grow. This project is just one of many that get debated each year. Since developments like this are frequently downscaled, it is clear why communities like Lincoln Square are losing population and businesses are losing revenues at a time when neither can afford to do so.

In order to spread equity of opportunity to neighborhoods throughout the city, we need more projects like this, in communities near transit and along significant retail corridors. The reality is that demand to live in transit-served places like Lincoln Square will continue to grow whether or not we allow new construction. Without adding new housing units, existing residents will see rising rents and decreasing affordability as wealthier households are able to spend more to live there. New construction, on the other hand, can absorb some of that demand. By balancing supply and demand and thereby reducing rent inflation, these new developments can help keep low- and middle-income families in their homes.

Just as importantly, places like Lincoln Square—well served by transit, retail and other amenities—are the kinds of neighborhoods that make Chicago an attractive place to live for young couples, college graduates and empty nesters. New development in these neighborhoods helps give them a place to live. If we want to find a way for our region to grow sustainably, we need new units.

MPC’s Transit-Oriented Development Calculator is a vital resource to help residents, aldermen and developers understand how new projects will affect their communities. The tool is open to anyone who wants to examine project impacts all across Chicago. Check it out today!

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