Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

This is a big year for solar energy in Illinois. Illinois has committed state funding and changed regulations to increase the amount of electricity that Illinois users get from solar panels. This post is about two things:

  1. Building more solar power sources in low-income and environmental justice communities because of a new state law called FEJA
  2. Showing how Chicago Cityscape can help

1. Building more solar power sources

The Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA, “fee-juh”) was adopted in 2016 and created the Illinois Solar for All (ISFA) program. Elevate Energy, founded and based in Chicago, operates the program. ISFA will help homeowners, community organizations, and others get solar energy systems on buildings and on vacant land so that people in low-income households can reap the benefits of solar power.

Exelon, the parent company of ComEd, owns this solar panel farm at 120th and Racine in West Pullman, Chicago. ComEd will have to buy more electricity from solar and wind sources to comply with new state law. Photo by Josh Mogerman.

The Illinois Power Agency Act of 2007 requires that electricity utility companies in Illinois source 25 percent of their energy from solar and wind by 2025. FEJA amends that standard by requiring a significant portion to be sourced from low-income and environmental justice communities [1]. Additionally, 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power must be built.

Rather than rely solely on ComEd and Ameren to achieve the state’s goals, Illinois Solar for All is an incentive program to jumpstart building new solar panel systems. On the customer side, ISFA will find eligible people who either (1) can host new photovoltaic solar panels, or (2) want to buy power from local solar sources in a community (shared) solar setup [2].

On the property owner side, ISFA is approving vendors who will submit projects to be partially funded by an Illinois renewable energy fund. These properties can be residential rooftops, or buildings and land owned by non-profit organizations and public agencies in low-income and environmental justice communities (LI and EJ).

FEJA will give those approved vendors an upfront payment for their approved projects’ renewable energy credits; a REC represents 1 megawatt hour of electricity generated from a renewable energy source. The payment will equal 15 years of estimated RECs (with a premium) and be paid in the first year or over five years, depending on project factors.

For residential building owner-initiated rooftop solar projects, an approved vendor will be paid for the RECs of that system, and they will pass on some of the savings to the building owner. Residential properties must be occupied by low-income households but don’t have to be in LI or EJ communities.

Vendors must hire graduates from a solar job training program to complete a portion of the work (several of which are located in Chicago) — this brings a social benefit, as a portion of these graduates must come from LI and EJ communities. To control costs, capital and operating costs for the system aren’t allowed to exceed 50 percent of the value of the electricity generated.

Illinois Solar for All should spur more solar panel array construction, low-income households can potentially save on their energy bills, and Illinois can get more of its electricity from renewal resources.

Aaron Joseph, who has developed real estate and now develops solar panel arrays as Star Field Road, LLC, told me, “Illinois Solar for All is cool, and pretty unprecedented. Solar procurement is typically a commodity product. The unusual dynamic of the job training requirement changes things for solar companies.”

What’s happening now? The staff at Illinois Solar for All (Elevate Energy) are reviewing 29 community solar projects this week. The projects that end up getting approved will have 15 years of estimated RECs purchased and retired by the Illinois Power Agency in the first year, or first five years, depending on the project.

Want to participate?

Residents: Check to see if you or your tenants’ incomes qualify for the Illinois Solar for All program.

Non-profits and public agencies: Check to see if any of your properties are in low-income or environmental justice communities.

Contractors: Become an approved vendor.

Not eligible for Illinois Solar for All? Check out Solarize Chicagoland, a program operated independently of the State of Illinois to also increase residential solar by pooling customers to share in the cost of building new solar panel systems. Homeowners can start by requesting a site assessment.

2. How Chicago Cityscape can help

We’ve got maps, of course! These maps say if an address you’re looking up is in a low-income or environmental justice community. If it is, then the FEJA law and the Illinois Solar for All program — and the administrator, Elevate Energy — wants to install more solar energy sources there.

In the course of researching properties, use Address Snapshot to also identify if a property is in a low-income or environmental justice community.

Look up an Address Snapshot anywhere in Illinois and scroll down to “Environmental information”. Voilà!

And that’s not all: We also have maps and data to make it easy to find vacant land — using Property Finder — on which to build larger, ground-based community solar panel arrays. It works in Cook County only, but we can develop the information for other Illinois counties upon request.


N.B. This post was originally going to review some actual solar projects, but just learning how Illinois Solar for All works and trying to explain that here took up all the time. Thank you to Aaron Joseph of Star Field Road for teaching me about Illinois solar regulations.

[1] An environmental justice community is one that bears disproportionately high or adverse effects of environmental pollution (Illinois Environmental Justice Act of 1997). For the purposes of identifying these communities which are used as a factor in sorting projects for funding dedicated to EJ communities, the Illinois Power Agency adapted a method from the State of California. The IPA explains its method on page 188 (PDF) in the Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan.

[2] Subscribers to community (shared) solar panel systems won’t actually get their home’s electricity from solar panels because electricity sources are mixed in the electrical grid, but subscribers’ monthly electricity fees — which could be lower than what they’re currently paying — directly support the generation of electricity via solar panels.

Illinois wants you to build solar panels was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Every week a Cityscape membership (which ranges from the free Neighbor level to the paid Permits, Pro, and Enterprise levels, to the Reporter level) becomes more valuable as more features, more data, and more insight are added.

Here are 5 new things this week:

  • Planning heads up: Chicago is getting a new planning and development commissioner. Maurice Cox is currently the commissioner of the same department for the City of Detroit. Read about some of his initiatives in Detroit. Alex Nitkin, writing for The Daily Line now, has even more to say about Cox. Cox will be nominated at the next Chicago City Council meeting on September 18.
Maurice Cox, center, pointing, leads a group of Cornell University students on a tour of Detroit. Photo by Brandon Choy.
Maurice Cox, center, pointing, leads a group of Cornell University students on a tour of Detroit. Photo by Brandon Choy.
  • More property sales: We get our data from the State of Illinois, which updates the “PTAX” database quarterly. Q1 and Q2 are now both in the Cityscape database, so you can see records through June 28, 2019. We’ve also added new database filters and improved the search speed.
  • Help videos: We’ve made five short instructional videos on how to use the homepage map, look up building permits, use MLS/MRED boundaries, and find specific zoning districts in specific areas.
  • Chicago zoning map updated: Now when you watch the video to learn how to show only RT-4 zoning districts in Avondale, for example, know that you’re looking at the latest zoning map (updated August 5, 2019).
  • New community college maps: The 39 junior college districts of Illinois were added to our vast database (37,639 Places and counting). Find them on Maps Explorer.

What other maps and data should we add?

New chief planner coming to Chicago + new data has come to Cityscape was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New measures were proposed to sustain affordable housing around the Obama Center

A coalition of South Side residents, known as the Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition, have been pushing for a “Community Benefits Agreement” in Woodlawn to resist potential displacement and gentrification that may happen as a result of the incoming Obama Presidential Center. The coalition cited that “3,750 to 4,500 renting households in Woodlawn are at high risk of displacement. Half of Woodlawn’s current population,” and that neighborhoods surrounding the Presidential Center need “14,429 more units of affordable housing”.

Brand new Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks to news media after making an announcement at City Hall. Photo by Owen Lawson
Brand new Alder Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks to the news media after making an announcement at City Hall. Photo by Owen M. Lawson via Hyde Park Herald.

To address this, a new ordinance (O2019–5589) was proposed by Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) in City Council last week that would establish the “CBA Ordinance” (CBAO). This would not be a Community Benefits Agreement in the typical sense, in which a community group signs a contract with a developer. The city can enforce the contract if it’s recorded in the zoning entitlement. The CBAO, in this instance, would instead change Chicago laws and policies, without requiring input or funding from the Obama Foundation.

Chicago Cityscape explains how the CBAO could preserve affordable housing in Washington Park, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore.

The CBAO states that 30 percent of new or rehabbed housing units must be considered affordable housing. Two-thirds of those 30 percent would have to be affordable to a household earning 50 percent of the area’s median income (AMI) and the remaining one-third affordable at 30 percent AMI. The ratios would be reversed for projects that are partially financed by the city.

A new ARO pilot area with new rules

In contrast with Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), the option to pay an in lieu fee rather than build the housing is removed. All affordable housing units would have to be located on-site rather than a majority being allowed off-site, except when the development includes for sale units. The ARO pilot will activate for:

  • Rezonings that create 3 or more units (currently this is 10+ units for projects anywhere in Chicago)
  • Demolition of buildings that have 3 or more units
  • Substantial rehabs of existing buildings with 6 or more units
  • City-owned land, which must be developed as 100% affordable housing

In a Woodlawn community meeting on July 16th, there were some concerns that the CBAO would discourage the market from building new housing. Staff at the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement said “that by requiring developers to rent out 30 percent of their units at a lower price while not providing them subsidies, the ordinance could disincentivize developers from building projects in the area”.

Regarding these concerns, Alder Jeanette Taylor said the ordinance is “a working, living document” that is meant to be amended. Alder Leslie Hairston added that the CBAO’s goal is to offer “immediate protection” and would “be fixable after it passes”.

Most of the residential land in the CBAO Residential Area is zoned RT-4 and RM-5, which respectively allow for up to about three and eight dwelling units on a standard lot (standard meaning 25 feet wide and 125 feet deep). This means smaller developers that build as-of-right apartments are exempt, which tend to be moderately priced (although this often depends on the land price). The primary targets of the ARO pilot are developers that will build housing at higher densities.

A map of the proposed Obama Center community benefits agreement ordinance (CBAO) residential area, outlined in black. The boundary follows the border of the 5th and 20th Wards. Chicago community ares are outlined and labeled in red.

The 30 percent required affordable housing is higher than Chicago’s ARO (10 percent required) and existing ARO pilots in Pilsen, Little Village, Near West Side, Near North Side, and the Milwaukee Corridor (15–20 percent required). However, neighborhoods in the CBAO Residential Area such as Woodlawn, Washington Park, and South Shore have median rents that are at or lower than 60 percent AMI, which is what’s normally considered affordable for the overall city.

Since these three community areas have median incomes of less than $27,000, housing that is price for someone earning 60 percent of the AMI is instead considered unaffordable to existing residents. As such, the definition of what constitutes affordable changes in the context of these neighborhoods. The rent for 50 percent AMI is close to their median rent, while 30 percent AMI would truly be considered affordable for these neighborhoods.

A chart showing what rents are affordable in four Chicago community areas. Source: City of Chicago & Zillow

How it affects existing buildings

The CBAO ARO Pilot also differs in that significant rehabilitation of buildings with six or more units must include affordable housing. Rehabs of buildings have been used as justification for rent increases. Therefore, guaranteeing that a portion of the renovated units remain affordable can help mitigate this effect on current residents and ensure that there is stable housing. This still presents a cost burden on rehabbers, which is why the CBAO ordinance would also create a Community Trust Fund. The fund would offer loans or grants to preserve “preserve and/or expand affordable housing”, similarly to an effort in another gentrifying neighborhood. In a press conference for the ordinance on July 23rd, Ald. Taylor said funds might come from the city, bonds, the Obama Foundation, and other philanthropic organizations.

The CBAO would discourage demolitions of multi-family buildings with three or more units. If a building was torn and replaced by a new one, any net loss in affordable units would have to be replaced. Such teardowns of older building stock have contributed to the North Side’s loss of affordable housing. By protecting these buildings — which have naturally occurring affordable housing — more buildings could be preserved and push developers to instead develop vacant lots.

Unfortunately, this protection isn’t offered to two-flats, many of which are disappearing across the city. Two-flats have historically provided affordable rents for working-class families and are the only housing stock in the city to be declining. As such, one possible consequence of the ARO Pilot is that developers would be encouraged to deconvert two-flats to single-family homes (SFHs). This leads to a new loss of units, and the resulting SFH likely being higher priced than the original building.

In addition, a few portions of the CBAO Residential Area are zoned for RS-1, -2, and -3 (about 10 percent of the land area), meaning that only single-family houses can be built there. Given that some new single-family houses are being sold in the area for nearly $600,000, few existing residents can afford them. Construction of and deconversion to pricey single-family houses have contributed to displacement of residents in other neighborhoods. To remedy the deconversions and teardowns that remove affordable units, the CBAO could implement deconversion fees, which was only proposed one other time, in 2017, in Logan Square.

City-owned land

The ARO pilot would require city-owned land to be redeveloped with 100 percent affordable housing. There has been precedent for this in Logan Square where a 100 percent affordable housing TOD is proposed on city-owned land next to the Blue Line, by selling the land to a non-profit for $1 (the project is funded by TIF, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and the Chicago Housing Authority). The same could be replicated in the CBAO Residential Area given that in the Woodlawn community area alone, the city owns about 50 acres across 145 pieces of vacant land.

Cooperative tenant purchasing

The CBAO would also stipulate how multi-family buildings are sold. The CBAO incentivizes the owner of the building to sell to existing tenants, a tenants association, or a “Qualified Purchaser” by exempting the building from property transaction fees. Selling the building to existing tenants would ensure that they retain their lease, and would assist ownership among low-income residents. Given that only 20% of Woodlawn properties are owner-occupied, this could help build and maintain community.

The city would have to maintain a list of Qualified Purchasers that have been committed to maintaining affordable housing, which would include “nonprofit organizations, for- profit companies, Community Land Trusts, and Land Banks”. If a purchaser has been known to unjustly evict residents or has received significant complaints from residents, they will be removed from the list of Qualified Purchasers. This is important given that the CBAO Residential Area has a history of evictions, where the eviction rate in the area is higher than most of the city.

The CBAO presents an opportunity to address affordability in low-income neighborhoods that have not been attempted elsewhere in the city, with room to improve in future amendments. Given that sections of Hyde Park are included in the ARO pilot, which are wealthier than surrounding neighborhoods, the CBAO could help further integrate the neighborhood. The earliest the ordinance can be up for a vote is at the next City Council meeting on September 18th. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned in support of a community benefits agreement, said she will look over the ordinance before announcing her stance.

Coalition Pushes for New Affordable Housing Measures Around the Obama Center was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

In our massive database of Places — view them all on Maps Explorer — we’ve focused on including Place types that are relevant to real estate and business development and history and research. We’ve added Illinois State Police (ISP) districts to the Chicago Cityscape maps because they suddenly became relevant to business development of…cannabis dispensaries.

Sometime within the past two weeks the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) posted FAQs about recreational cannabis dispensaries, the first of which could be operational and selling pot to the 21+ over public on January 1, 2020.

One of the FAQs gives guidance to medical dispensary operators about where they can open a second location, for recreational weed.

Outside of a nine-county area around Chicago, where an operator can open a second location is dependent on the Illinois State Police district containing the current medical cannabis location.

screenshot from an Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) FAQ
Screenshot from one of IDFPR’s FAQs.

Illinois State Police district 1 includes Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside counties. Medical dispensary operators in this district can open a second site in those four counties, as well as in Bureau, Jo Daviess, La Salle, Putnam, and Stephenson counties. Four of the additional five counties border ISP district 1, and the fifth, Putnam, borders Bureau county.

A map of Illinois State Police district 1 that also shows the surrounding counties.

So now, when you look up an Illinois address on Chicago Cityscape’s Address Snapshot, the report will say which ISP district it’s in.

Screenshot of an Address Snapshot showing which ISP district the Naperville, Illinois, address is in.
Screenshot of an Address Snapshot showing which ISP district the Naperville, Illinois, address is in.

New Places: Illinois State Police districts was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Three potential changes to the real estate transfer tax in Chicago

Every time a property is sold in Chicago, buyers and sellers pay a “transfer tax” (officially called the Real Property Transfer Tax, or RPTT) on the value of the transaction. Think of it like a sales tax on real property. Cook County and State of Illinois also charge a RPTT. For the Chicago RPTT, the buyer’s portion is $3.75 and the seller’s portion is $1.50. The seller’s portion goes to the CTA.

screenshot of a deed showing how much transfer tax was collected in the sale
The “tax stamps” on this deed for the sale of 730 S Clark St show the amount of Real Property Transfer Tax (labeled Real Estate Transfer Tax here)

This week, three ordinances were introduced that would either increase the RPTT and divert that increased portion to a specific purpose, or save some property transactions from having to pay the RPTT.

  • O2019–5569 would raise the RPTT from $3.75 per $500 of the transfer price to $4.75 per $500 and divert the $1.00 to Chicago’s four pension funds. It would apply to all sales where the transfer price is greater than $1 million. For 2018 property sales, there were 2,600 sales worth over $1 million. At $1 per $500 to go to pensions, it would have generated $25,706,146 for the pensions (on $12,853,073,025.00 in sales for those properties of $1 million or greater).
  • O2019–5859 would raise the RPTT from $3.75 per $500 of the transfer price to $9.75 per $500 on transactions where the transfer price is greater than $1 million. The additional $6 would be deposited into a new Homeless Transfer Tax Fund and a new Affordable Housing Transfer Tax Fund. (Read the ordinance for the full list of allowable expenditures for the money in those two funds.) For 2018 property sales, there were 2,600 sales worth over $1 million. At $6 per $500 to go to the two funds, it would have generated $154,236,876 for the pensions (on $12,853,073,025.00 in sales for those properties of $1 million or greater).
  • The “Obama CBA Residential Area Affordable Housing Pilot Program” ordinance (O2019–5589) would exempt certain property transactions that occur in the proposed “Obama CBA Residential Area” (see the map) from the RETT. Exempt transactions include situations when the owner of an apartment building sells it to the tenants or a tenants association, pays a $20,000 per unit fee to the City, or sells to a “Qualified Purchaser” (non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, a land trust, or a land bank, that have “demonstrated a commitment” to providing affordable housing.

Note: We will have more information about the proposed Obama “Community Benefits Agreement” ordinance next week.

Three potential changes to the transfer tax in Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Redeveloping 900 vacant lots

There are many questions that can be answered and stories to explore each time we update the Cook County property data (which is done annually, as explained last week). For example, “How many two-flats were lost?”

The answer? From 2017 to 2018, there was a decrease of approximately 1,346 two-flats in all of Cook County. It’s possible some were demolished, deconverted to single-family houses, or burned down, while others may have gotten a third unit to become a three-flat.

Transforming vacant land

The question that I wanted to answer was how many vacant lots were redeveloped in Chicago. I looked through Chicago Cityscape’s huge Cook County property database for Chicago properties that the Cook County Assessor had classified as vacant in 2017 but not vacant in 2018. That query resulted in about 984 vacant parcels that had been redeveloped between 2017 and 2018. (It’s likely a little less than that because of errors in the data, and many parcels are combined in a single redevelopment project.)

A heat map of where vacant land was redeveloped between the 2017 and 2018 property tax years.

The most common transformation patterns, by land area, were redeveloping vacant lots into industrial buildings, one-story commercial buildings, and apartment buildings with more than seven units.

By parcel count, though, the plurality of vacant lots — about 154 of them — were developed into single-family houses. Hotspots were in Washington Heights, McKinley Park and Bridgeport, and Forest Glen.

Let’s tour some vacant lot redevelopments

A brief glance at the map shows a lot of redevelopment in the West Loop and Fulton Market area between 2017 and 2018. An analysis of earlier years, starting around 2012, would probably show many more former vacant lots.

map of selected redevelopments in the West Loop
This small map shows map of selected vacant land redevelopments in the West Loop.

Given that many parcels weren’t always vacant and buildings have been torn down, a parcel might show as improved one year, vacant after the building’s demolition in the second year, and then shown as improved the third year when the new building was erected. That was surely the case for a large group of redeveloped vacant parcels which appeared at the corner at Randolph and Carpenter Streets — the McDonald’s headquarters opened here last year on the former site of Harpo Studios, where Oprah Winfrey’s TV show was filmed.

A block north of the McDonald’s headquarters, Medici Living Group of Germany opened a Quarters-branded co-living residential building at 171 N Aberdeen St. It was a parking lot prior.

171 N Aberdeen, before (2015) and after (2018). Google Street View.

Southwest of there, at Racine and Jackson, the former Union Park tavern was demolished in 2016, after which a 20-unit building called Residences on Racine started rising; it opened in 2018.

236 S Racine, before (2015), and after (2018). Google Street View.

Heading outside downtown, we come across a redevelopment in Bronzeville. The former John B. Drake Elementary School (which is the same person who founded a plat subdivision in East Garfield Park, and was the father to the Drake hotel founder) was closed by Chicago Public Schools in 2013 and sold to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union local 134. Part of the school was demolished and an addition was built on the remaining building.

Clockwise from top-left: The Drake school in 2009 (Google Street View); partial demolition in January 2017; “save” markings in March 2017; additions and renovations in August 2017.

Sometimes the data guiding this tour is imperfect. This large vacant lot in Washington Park had been reclassified from “Vacant Land” in 2017 to “Minor Improvement on Vacant Land” in 2018 — yet no improvement had taken place. The Google Street View image from May 2019 shows only a pile of tires at the base of a small tree.

A street view image of 5211 S Prairie Ave, Chicago, which is a vacant lot.
5211 S Prairie Ave — still a vacant lot. Google Street View.

Heading due east from here, we come across Solstice on the Park, a Hyde Park high-rise. Like all of the others, the parcel was classified as “Vacant Land” in 2017, yet in 2018 it was reclassified as “Apartment building over three stories, seven or more units”. Indeed, it has 250 apartments!

Solstice on the Park, 5532 S Cornell Ave, designed by Studio Gang, seen in this aerial photo taken May 2018 by Steven Vance.

Sidebar: A vacant lot is still assessed for its value, and owners still pay taxes. In 2017, when the Solstice on the Park land was still “vacant”, the owners paid $26,190 in property taxes. In 2018 they paid $378,513. That tax bill includes the assessment of the building’s parking garage to the north.

Before it was vacant, it was classified as a “Special rental structure” (it was a surface and underground parking lot) and the owners paid $73,444 in property taxes.

Photo of One Eleven food hall in Pullman by Barry Brecheisen for Eater Chicago.

The last stop on this redevelopment tour is at a parcel in Pullman that was vacant in 2017 and a “One story commercial building” that opened in 2018. The new strip mall was developed by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI). It was in the news earlier this year for (1) opening a small food hall called “One Eleven” that hosts local restaurant entrepreneurs on a rotating, and (2) where Blue Cross Blue Shield opened its first “Blue Door Neighborhood Center” that’s a community health education center open to everyone, no matter their health insurance status or provider.

To explore this data, purchase a data dump from the Chicago Cityscape Maps & Data Store, or become an Enterprise member to access to our API. Everyone can look up information one parcel at a time using Address Snapshot.

Redeveloping 900 vacant lots was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

It’s that time of the year: Chicago Cityscape has integrated the most recent Cook County property tax data to include the 2018 tax bills and assessments. Annually we update our massive database of over 1.9 million parcels to include the most recent tax year, right after the second installment tax bill of the previous year is sent out. (It’s due August 1, by the way.)

This means those brokers, reporters, real estate developers, and even Chicago Ward offices, now have the latest comprehensive information about properties. Here’s how to access the data for an area.

Use the data for a single property

Bank loan officers, real estate agents, developers, and everyone else can find the updated information in the Address Snapshot report for a given address or PIN in Cook County. See the screenshot below.

Screenshot of property tax data
Look up an address or PIN and get more information from Cityscape than from searching three Cook County websites.

Analyze the new data by area

With this information, you can research just how much the assessments at any given property, block, or neighborhood have increased or decreased. For example, the assessed value of property in the North Center community area increased from about $387.1 million to $474.5 million, a 22.6 percent jump for a gain of $87.4 million in assessed value. In East Garfield Park, on the other hand, the assessed value of property increased from $93.6 million to $100.3 million, a 7.1 percent jump for a gain of $6.7 million in assessed value.

Want to analyze the property on a single block? Draw a Personal Place.

Many houses in this East Garfield Park Census tract were overvalued. Screenshot: The Tax Divide interactive, Chicago Tribune.
While many houses in this North Center Census tract were undervalued. Houses here had a lower average effective tax rate, too. Screenshot: The Tax Divide interactive, Chicago Tribune.

If you’ll recall from reading “The Tax Divide” in the Chicago Tribune in June 2017 — yep, it’s been two years since the assessment scandal was revealed — an increase in assessment doesn’t equate to an increase in taxes owed. How much property taxes are owed is based on a property’s assessed value relative to all other properties’ assessed values and how much levy each of the taxing authorities (City of Chicago, Cook County, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, etc.) are setting (their budgets).

If a property is under-assessed (meaning the Cook County Assessor is “valuing” it at less than it’s worth, and which the Tribune showed happened more often in areas with higher market value houses) in 2017 and then fairly assessed in 2018, that property may see a much higher tax bill. If a property is over-assessed (which the Tribune showed was happening in areas with lower market value houses) in 2017 and fairly assessed in 2018, that property may see a similar tax bill, a slightly higher tax bill, or even a lower tax bill.

In East Garfield Park, the average assessment for the 5,512 assessed properties increased by 13.1 percent from 2017 to 2018. In North Center, however, where there are many more higher-value houses which were under-assessed, the average assessment for the 11,222 assessed properties increased by 26.6 percent. This means that property taxpayers in North Center are now shouldering slightly more of Chicago’s property tax payments than before (relative only to the property taxpayers East Garfield Park).

Enhance your research with the latest property tax data was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Chicago’s new housing commissioner, Marisa Novara, is talking to the press. Let’s read what she has to say about aldermanic privilege in this interview in Next City with Jared Brey. Then I’ll tell you what’s new on Cityscape.

Novara speaking to someone who attended Novara’s confirmation hearing on June 6, 2019. Photo by Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times.

Novara’s confirmation hearing was on June 6, 2019, and she touched on many of the same topics in that hearing, speaking to the alders about affordable housing, as she did to Brey.

Her Next City interview

In Chicago there’s been a longstanding unwritten understanding about aldermanic prerogative that sort of exists on two different planes. One is that if there is a project that occurs in an Alderman’s ward, whichever stance that alderman takes, all 49 other aldermen go along with their position.

“How does [aldermanic privilege] exacerbate segregation?”

What we’ve seen play out in past years is that we have not had a vision for the city that says every community needs to contribute to the city’s affordable-housing needs. And lacking that as an overriding principle, we’ve allowed for 50 different decision-makers essentially about how that will play out in their ward, which has meant that for many it has meant it doesn’t play out at all in their ward. So we see parts of the city with lots of affordable housing and parts with next to none, which is not an equitable way to approach people having choices about where to live or to stay in their community if it’s getting less and less affordable.


Novara was appointed to become Department of Housing commissioner in part for her work in creating a groundbreaking report on the economic costs of past and sustained segregation in Chicagoland. But the outcome wasn’t to recommend ways to increase integration.

…ultimately what came through clear was that we should not be solving for integration, we should be solving for the root of segregation, which is racism.

And I learned something new about Novara: She attended a community education program run out of UIC called “Urban Developers Program”, “a very nuts-and-bolts kind of program to help people learn about affordable housing development”. I wish that was still going on.

Novara mentions Mayor Lightfoot’s executive order, issued on her first day of office on May 20. The order has been in the headlines as “ending” aldermanic privilege (although most headlines said “limit”), but it can only kinda do that. The order applies only to staff in the City departments, and says they cannot defer to an alder’s demand or suggestion in the course of doing administrative work. Alders can give input on processes like permitting and licensing, but they don’t have a veto — unless deferring to an alder is part of Chicago laws.

The zoning change process is encoded in law. Section 17-13-0300 in the Chicago zoning code dictates how zoning changes occur: After the zoning change application is filed with the Department of Planning & Development, the Chicago City Clerk introduces it to City Council, then the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards must hold a hearing on it, after which the City Council makes the final decision.

What’s new on Chicago Cityscape

Always something new. Don’t see something you need? Contact us.


The Chicago zoning map has been updated to show the April 2019 zoning changes. There were no changes in May 2019 (because of the change in City Council), and we will update for June in a week.

Brokers and developers can now filter the Chicago zoning map in any given Place for a specific zoning district. For example, as the map illustrates, you can show just the zoning districts in Avondale that are RT-4, which allows 2-6 units on a lot, depending on its size. (There are few lots in Avondale zoned to allow multi-family housing, given the rampant downzoning.)


The process of adding the 2018 property tax data started last weekend and will continue for another week.

Once that’s done, the Address Snapshot reports will be the first part of Cityscape to get updated, showing the property tax and assessment history going back to 2009 for any given property in Cook County. Then, other pages, like Property Finder, will get updated.


Looking up a Chicago property’s eligibility for the “Transit-Served Location” rule (an ordinance to allow for transit-oriented developments, or TOD) is a lot easier because we’ve improved how it displays visually.

A blue line is drawn between the Address Snapshot property and (1) the nearest CTA or Metra station entrance, and (2) the nearest eligible bus corridor.


Book recommendations. Want to learn some Chicago history, whether it’s about urban planning, riots, a specific neighborhood, or contract buying? We have a new crowdsourced virtual book library. Suggest a book!

Want to see where we get our data? We’re documenting sources publicly (in the GIS and other data-oriented worlds, this is called a data dictionary”).

New Housing commissioner talks about aldermanic privilege was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Governor Pritzker will probably sign HB 1438, the bill that legalizes recreational marijuana, really soon. The bill would take effect months later, after the various regulating and enforcing departments figure out the exact rules and regulations.

Map showing the 17 regions that establish quotes on the number of conditional licenses that can be issued before May 1, 2020. The West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area includes three discontiguous areas; the East Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area includes two discontiguous areas.

The bill divides Illinois into 17 regions, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s metropolitan and nonmetropolitan definitions. Each region comprises one or more counties.

The “Chicago-Naperville-Elgin” region will allow 47 conditional recreational dispensary licenses to be issued before May 1, 2020. This region covers nine counties in Illinois and has a combined population of 8,628,040 people. These up to 47 recreational marijuana dispensaries would be in addition to the medicinal marijuana dispensaries that are governed by different borders.

Chicago Cityscape’s suburban zoning partner, Shapiro & Associates Law, wrote a pretty great summary of the incoming law so I don’t have to. I was reading the bill to find what I could map.

The limits on dispensaries noted on the map (quotas) are only for the initial batch of licenses. Ian Brown, an attorney at Shapiro & Associates, wrote, “The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act allows the state to issue a total of 500 recreational dispensary licenses by 2022 over a series of waves.”

View all 17 maps. Every time you look up an Address Snapshot you’ll be informed which recreational cannabis region and which medicinal cannabis district it’s in.

Other updates on Chicago Cityscape

  • Books. There’s now a permanent home for Chicago urbanist Twitter’s suggested reading about city planning in Chicago, including building histories, school closures, public housing policy failures, and how politicians have wielded power. Reply with your recommendation!
  • Revitalization Areas are now in our Incentives Checker, when you look up an Address Snapshot. This is basically another word for how the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development defines a disinvested area, and it’s where people can get a discount on a HUD-owned single-family house or condo. The addition of Revitalization Areas gives Incentives Checker its 22nd incentive to consider when looking up any address in Chicago. Cityscape has several incentives across Illinois, as well.
  • TOD status in Address Snapshot has been updated to do a better job saying how far away the nearest CTA or Metra station or eligible bus route is. Commercial and residential property near stations and eligible bus routes have drastically lower car parking requirements, and residential uses can get a free density bonus.
The nearest transit infrastructure is identified separately for rail stations and eligible bus route corridors, and the distance is bolded. Benefits for this particular location are clearly listed below.

It’s always been clearly communicated that a property is likely eligible for the Chicago “Transit Served Location” benefits by showing a green checkmark. Now, in addition, the section clearly shows how far away the nearest eligible transit infrastructure is.

The second change was making it easier to read and understand what the benefits of the property’s eligibility was as the benefits aren’t the same everywhere. For example, most zoning districts limit the number of efficiency units (studios) in a multi-family building, but that limit is waived if the proposed building is no further than one block away from the transit infrastructure.

Look up the TOD status of a property you’re thinking of buying.

Legalizing recreational marijuana: There’s a map for that was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The discussion of whether to allow zoning districts that ban multi-family housing is still hot across the United States, but no hotter than in conversation around SB50 in California. SB50 is a proposed legislation that would prevent municipalities from places limits on housing density below a certain amount near train and ferry stations and some bus routes. The legislation would also implement several protections to prevent displacement of people who rent their homes while also giving certain communities time to adopt their own legislation instead of SB50.

Part of the discussion, however, includes the role of limiting who can live in a community, and where, because of the prevalence of single-family zoning.

In the bulk of CA, it's illegal to build any type of housing other than single family homes. #SB50, the #MoreHOMES Act, ends this prohibition. If we're serious about ending CA's 3.5M home shortage & doing so without sprawl, we need to legalize apartments.

 — @Scott_Wiener

This blog has published maps showing how much of the zoned land area in Chicago bans the new construction of multi-family housing (that means no apartments, condos, or townhouses, and no affordable housing) — including near high-quality transit. Keeping zones single-family-only also prevents homeowners from making additions to their existing two-flats and three-flats.

How much of Chicago bans multi-family housing?

A lot, and the proportion depends on how you look at the different ways land is zoned in Chicago.

The “zoning department” (it’s actually a bureau within the Chicago Department of Planning & Development) maintains a zoning map in GIS that divides zoning districts (discrete areas of a specific zoning classification that covers one or more parcels) into 12 types. Six of these types allow residential buildings, including the “R” zones that allow residential buildings of varying degrees of size and density, and some other uses like churches and schools. The other types are all mixed-use: B and C (neighborhood business districts), and DX, DC, and DR (different kinds of downtown districts).

The City of Chicago draws its zoning map to include all land area, while many other jurisdictions draw their zoning maps to only include only parcel areas. This means in Chicago that zoning districts will overlap with streets and alleys. Therefore, the following statistics are not “buildable” area, but should be considered in proportion to other districts, assuming that most of our streets and alleys are generally the same size.

Map of Chicago zoning, symbolized in four discrete groups. Thousands of buildings are legal, but non-conforming with their current zone. Zoned land area means the zones expand beyond parcels; this map shows zones in proportion to each other, not buildable area. A full quarter of Chicago’s land area is zoned for manufacturing, industrial, public open space, and transportation uses.

Zoned land area means the zones expand beyond parcels; this map shows zones in proportion to each other, not buildable area.

Across the City of Chicago, the six zoning types that allow residential uses comprise 62.0 percent of the zoned land area. (I’m excluding Planned Developments because I don’t know which ones allow residential uses. Planned Developments comprise 13.0 percent of the City’s zoned land area.)

Single-family is the only allowed use in fully 41.1 percent of Chicago’s zoned land area. Multi-family housing is permitted in about 20.8 percent of the city’s zoned land area.

Of the 62.0 percent of Chicago’s zoned land area that allows residential uses, 66.5 percent of that area bans multi-family housing — condos, townhouses, apartments, and affordable housing.

It’s expensive for a property owner to get a zoning change to allow more than one house on a lot ($6,000, at least, for the $1,025 zoning change fee and a lawyer) and the rezoning is far from guaranteed in many wards. While there are thousands of existing two and three-flats in areas zoned to permit only single-family housing, single-family zoning often results in a parcel with multiple units turns into a parcel with just one.

The pattern of teardowns of a two-flat in exchange for the lower-density single-family house is still occurring on the North Side. Single-family zoning is essentially a guarantee that those small apartment buildings will be replaced by a building for one household, and is a contributor to a smaller and less diverse population in some neighborhoods.

For those who want to do something about this — because they want to restore the population density and diversity in their neighborhood, the only thing I can recommend is talk to your alder. Want some talking points? Take it from here, or read Sightline Institute, City Observatory, and the Cost of Segregation.

For those who have questions about the zoning situation of a property in Chicago, look it up on Address Snapshot, or order a zoning report.

Apartments & condos are banned in most of Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

'1909' is a free, weekly newsletter with neighborhood development news, events, and original analysis.

Subscribe to '1909'

* indicates required
Your work

Other ways to stay updated

About '1909'

'1909' brings you Chicago neighborhood development news and events every week.

1909 was the year that Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the Plan of Chicago that forever changed the cityscape. The cityscape changes everyday and we track how and where on Chicago Cityscape.

Other ways to stay updated

Are you a reporter?

We give Chicago-based reporters who write about land use, zoning, housing, property development, and urban planning a free Pro membership and ask that you attribute and link to Chicago Cityscape when data presented on our website has helped you enhance a story.

Request a free membership

'1909' options

Read previous issues of '1909'

Sign up with the alternative form

Subscribe with RSS

Change your preferences

If you're already subscribed you can change your preferences including name, email, and interests, using the link at the bottom of every issue

Submit your events

Send us your news and event suggestions to be considered for inclusion in '1909'.

Fill out my online form.
Use Wufoo templates to make your own HTML forms.