Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

I live in the “D10” area, which includes parts of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Bucktown. The area was surveyed and graded by consultants to the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC).

Chicago Cityscape has added Great Depression-era home loan security maps to its vast database of Places. The Chicago-area maps were drawn in 1939 and 1940, and, like the maps drawn in the rest of the country, were color coded to indicate lending risk based on housing characteristics as well as racial and nationality characteristics. Maps were created for 239 cities — all American cities with 40,000 population or greater.

These maps are popularly known today as “redlining maps” because of the red lines that delineated areas that one federal government agency considered a dangerous place to issue mortgages and had low prospects for loan repayment. They are maps of inequality, as well, because the lowest graded places were also where a plurality of Blacks lived; national and local policies made it harder for black families to obtain loans even before redlining began. According to a new study, a plurality of Blacks still live in areas that were rated “hazardous” for loan-making purposes.

Look up your address

You can browse the whole collection, or look up your Chicago or Cook County address. After looking up your address and arriving on the Address Snapshot report page (sample), click on the “Show all Places” button.

We have the maps for Cook County, but the HOLC didn’t grade industrial or sparsely populated areas.

Look up your Cook County address on Chicago Cityscape to see what grade the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation assigned it in 1939–1940. Data from the Mapping Inequality project/University of Richmond (see full attribution at the end).

The rest of this post describes why and how the maps were drawn, what their effects have been, and the current problem of retail redlining in Chicago. Attributions are at the end.

Where did these maps come from?

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created during the Great Depression to rescue homeowners from defaulting on their mortgages. After refinancing over a million loans by 1936, the HOLC’s parent organization, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, created the City Survey Program to assess the prospects of their long-term loans as part of the board’s charge to stabilize the entire real estate industry during and after the Great Depression, according to Hillier (2005). Part of the program was the creation of neighborhood appraisal surveys — with housing and demographic statistics and narrative descriptions — and lending “security” maps.

While the HOLC focused on the prospective borrower’s creditworthiness, the board “required a more systematic appraisal process that included careful attention to the neighborhoods” (Hillier 2005) where the loans were issued. That’s likely why the maps were drawn and graded based on race and other non-housing characteristics.

The “security map” for my block is labeled D10 in the map, covers 1 square mile and includes parts of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Bucktown. This is what HOLC’s survey said about it (emphasis added, see Note 1):

This is a very mixed area with the bulk of the properties in poor condition. Future of this section is doubtful as Negroe threatens to move into the southeast corner from below North Avenue. Most properties are built very close to sidewalks and utterly lacking in architecture or appeal except as low rental housing. Relief load is very heavy and those employed are of low-income group.
The neighborhood is not a slum area at present, but with continuing age it may develop such characteristics, although at present it is not as congested as closer-in areas. Rents quoted in two-family structures are for unheated units. About 5% of the buildings are large apartments with an additional 10% three-family units valued up to $5,000; some of these are converted singles with basement and attic apartments. Considerable business is scattered through this section which further limits desirability except as it provides convenient employment.

How were the grades assigned?

HOLC field agents hired map consultants from the real estate community, paying real estate agents and appraisers a fee to help draft the area descriptions and gather statistical data. Hillier (2005) wrote that it wasn’t clear in her research of the Philadelphia maps who drew them: the consultants, the HOLC staff, or both.

It’s not entirely clear, either, what the survey standards were. In addition to the four named letter grades on the map legend (A, best; B, still desirable; C, definitely declining; D, hazardous), there were other ways to describe these grades, Hillier (2005) found:

  • “A” area were “hot spots”: “These were areas that still had room for new residential growth, were ‘homogeneous,’ and were in demand during ‘good times or bad.’”
  • “B”: “‘They are like a 1935 automobile — still good, but not what the people are buying today who can afford a new one.’”
  • “C” areas were “older, becoming obsolete, and had ‘expiring restrictions or lack of them’ and ‘infiltration of a lower grade population.’”
  • “D” areas “‘represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are now taking place in the C neighborhoods, have already happened.’ They had lower homeownership rates, poor housing conditions, ‘detrimental influences in a pronounced degree,’ and ‘undesirable population or an infiltration of it’.”

Segregated areas of U.S.-born whites got a higher grade, while areas with Blacks and recent immigrants got lower grades. The grades were also based on quality of the housing stock, building age, home value, homeownership rates, and crowding. Hillier (2005) said “Federal Home Loan Bank Board and HOLC materials instructed field agents to collect a large amount of very detailed data, but they do not explain how field agents were to integrate all the different characteristics into a single grade.” Hillier also found that all African American areas of Philadelphia were consistently assigned the D-Hazardous grade.

You may recognize the map above from the book cover of “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein (2017). While not the first to explore the topic, it summarizes all of the effects, pointing to historical and contemporary research. Rothstein also argues that redlining, and associated policies, laws, and tactics (including restrictive covenants), were forms of “de jure” (lawful) segregation and discrimination, promulgated by governments at all levels, countrywide.

The idea of homogeneity — neighborhoods having people of only one race, ethnic group, or nationality — was present in the doctrine and ideas of many housing administrators, policy makers, and real estate trade groups. This is well described in Rothstein’s book, across all levels of governments in many jurisdictions, related to redlining and other discriminatory rules and practices. Governments all over supported and sometimes encouraged racially restrictive covenants, preventing a white family from selling to a black family. Another example Rothstein discussed: some public housing authorities wouldn’t allow Blacks to move into public housing in white neighborhoods, even when units were vacant. (This still happens with affordable housing.)

Hillier argued that HOLC’s maps represented the federal government’s most explicit “acceptance and promotion” of “racially based appraisal standards”.

The Fair Housing Act and subsequent legislation in the 1970s made discrimination on race and ethnicity illegal, and made lending security maps illegal. While illegal, discrimination still happens. This post will not discuss that, but there are some links sharing recent examples of rental discrimination in Lyletta Robinson’s post.

What were the effects of “redlining”?

Hillier, in her 2003 article, disputed that the maps were integral to HOLC field agents or consultants deciding if it would refinance a loan after receiving an application from a local lender. She explains that HOLC’s appraisal process “considered the ‘moral risk’ of loan applicants by analyzing the borrower’s credit history and present value of the property without much consideration of its location or the future of property values in the area” and “there is no evidence that HOLC serviced its loans differently according to the type of neighborhood in which it was located”.

Additionally, Hillier wrote, “ lenders were avoiding areas they perceived to be high risk even before HOLC created its maps” (emphasis added).

Hillier’s statistical analysis in her 2005 paper showed a correlation between the maps in Philadelphia and race, but multiple maps were made, and “as HOLC refined its mapmaking process, race became somewhat less important — but still significant — and housing conditions became more important.”

Hillier (2003) also discussed the misconception that people living in D (“hazardous”) areas, or black households living in other graded areas, were denied mortgages. In Philadelphia, the area of her study, “lenders did not categorically refuse to make loans to areas colored red by HOLC or provide loans with considerably different terms” in the decade following the map creation, based on an analysis of mortgage lending.

A paper published in 2017 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found more pronounced effects than Hillier. Their study looked at pre-map conditions and compared those to conditions between then and all the way up to 2010 using Census, housing values, and credit scores data.

They show that the grades had long-term and modern consequences and claim that the HOLC maps caused lower home ownership rates and disinvestment, across the country, and maintained lower home values between the maps’ creation in the late 1930s and 2010.

Their study observed that living “on the lower graded side of D-C boundaries led to rising racial segregation from 1930 until about 1970 or 1980 before starting to decline thereafter”. They also found a similar phenomenon on the C side of C-B boundaries, calling this “yellowlining”.

The researchers posited that the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, helped the rising segregation to decline.

Left: The green, blue, yellow, and red-colored areas on the map were graded by the HOLC. Right: The survey is the description for D10, the particular area that covers the part of Humboldt Park I live in, scanned by the Mapping Inequality project.

Modern redlining in Chicago

In her book “The South Side” (2016), Natalie Moore, a reporter for WBEZ, interviewed Bridget Gainer, a Cook County commissioner, and a co-founder of the Cook County Land Bank Authority. The authority acquires properties (map of them) mostly via public auction of delinquent taxes and clears liens and title issues for a smooth resale to first-time buyers and vetted developers.

…the whole financial meltdown gave Gainer a different view on how the system isn’t working. “The whole appraisal system in my mind got totally upside down and that’s a massive area for reform you could argue there’s quasi redlining when it comes to appraisal”, [Gainer] explained. For example, how can a suburban appraiser understand a black Chicago neighborhood when that person knows nothing about the community and may bring the baggage stereotypes? You wouldn’t use an uninformed realtor so why use an uninformed appraiser?

Moore also interviewed Dorothy Brown, a professor at Emory University. Moore wrote, “[Brown] said racism could consciously or unconsciously be embedded in how appraisers value properties when they are in black neighborhoods.”

Retail redlining is also an important topic in Moore’s book. She described it as “the practice of businesses declining to come to black communities”, but which doesn’t have explicit maps created by the federal government. Moore noted research that shows that the whiter a neighborhood becomes, the more supermarkets it gets.

A definitive example of this issue was a study from 2012 (which doesn’t exist online) that found a “retail leakage” in Bronzeville on the order of $150 million. That means that Bronzeville residents were traveling to stores in other neighborhoods for all kinds of shopping, including for groceries.

Moore discussed the tendencies for national retailers to avoid opening stores in Black neighborhoods in Chicago (at least without mayoral involvement, like with the new Whole Foods store in Englewood). She also wrote about the friction at the corner stores that are owned by people of a different background and who don’t live in the neighborhood and mistreat the customers. Again, this post doesn’t dive into this — it’s best you read “The South Side”.

Notes

One more thing: My friend Vitaliy Vladimirov, a project manager at Uptown United and Jane’s Walk Chi organizer, created a palm size pamphlet called “Invisible Boundaries”, a zine about redlining that’s being distributed at a Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit — you can also view it on his website.

Note 1. I thought it was strange that there was a belief that having businesses in a neighborhood made it a worse neighborhood; that having zero setbacks on residential buildings was also a bad characteristic; and, I don’t think my neighborhood ever became a “slum”.

Attribution

The redline maps, and the relevant GIS data, was created for a project called “Mapping Inequality” by dozens of professors and students at four universities, led by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab. Thank you, team, for applying a Creative Commons license to the data so it’s crystal clear that the data can be downloaded and re-shared.

Works cited


My neighborhood was redlined — was yours? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


A new report from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy shows that the owner of a median-valued house in Aurora, Illinois, pays the second highest effective property tax rate in the country of 3.76 percent. The report analyzed 73 large U.S. cities, including the largest city in each state.

The effective property tax rate is the tax bill as a percentage of a property’s market value. If the market (or assessed) value of a house is $816,160 and your tax bill was $15,846.61, then the effective tax rate is 1.94 percent. (This particular example is a large single-family house in Humboldt Park.)

The median home values were sourced from the American Community Survey’s 1-year data from 2016 — not an ideal source — but it’s probably the best non-proprietary source. One-year datasets are very weak because they use extremely small sample sizes, surveying less than two percent of Illinois households.

Chicago homeowners, comparatively, have the 26th highest effective property tax rate in the country, among the 73 cities, at 1.64 percent. The difference between Aurora and Chicago homeowner property tax rates is because Chicago has a higher reliance on commercial property taxes than Aurora, a lower reliance on property taxes overall than Aurora, and higher home values.

Homes in Aurora, Illinois, the owners of which pay a higher effective property tax rate than homeowners in Chicago. Photo: David Wilson

Separately, Chicago has a lower effective property tax rate for apartment buildings worth $600,000, ranking 39th among the largest cities in each state, plus Washington, D.C., Aurora, Illinois, and Buffalo, New York (53 in total). Aurora and Buffalo were included “because the tax systems in Chicago and New York City are significantly different from the rest of the state”.

Aurora is one of our focus cities, where we’ve recently added their zoning map.

The apartment building effective property tax rate, 1.24 percent, is lower than the effective property tax rate in Chicago for owner-occupied houses, which is 1.64 percent for the median-valued home.

The report suggests that because the effective property tax rate in Chicago in 2017 was higher for owner-occupied houses (of the median value) than for apartment buildings worth $600,000, that homesteaders (owner-occupied primary residences) are subsidizing renters.

The opposite is true in New York City, where “homeowners are heavily subsidized at the expense of renters and businesses”.

This could mean that apartment buildings are undervalued in the market in 2017 in Chicago compared to apartment buildings in Aurora and cities in other states, or it could mean that they’re underassessed relative to houses. The report says “The preference [in a lower effective property tax rate] given to apartments in these cities is not the result of statutory provisions, but is simply the result of greater underassessment for apartments relative to homesteads.”

New York City is a major outlier in the apartment-homestead classification ratio, with an effective tax rate on apartments that is nearly five times higher than the median valued home.

The report also points out that apartment building owners, and by extension the renters who pay that property tax, are usually not given the same kinds of exemptions from their local assessor that homeowners receive. Additionally, renters cannot deduct their expenses on federal income tax like homeowners with a mortgage can.

The report adds, “Since renters have lower incomes than homeowners on average, preferences given to homesteads relative to apartment buildings will tend to make the property tax system more regressive.”

Effective property tax rates vary so much between cities (like Aurora and Chicago) mainly because of each city’s reliance on property taxes as a funding source, and the level of property values. It’s difficult to compare Aurora and Chicago this way. Chicago doesn’t use property tax revenues for its corporate (daily operations) fund, but Aurora does. Chicago’s property taxes pay for debt, pensions, and some library expenditures.

Last year, the Chicago Tribune, later joined by ProPublica Illinois, found that poorer homeowners were subsidizing wealthier homeowners because of unfair assessments and appeals. This greatly affected the election, and Fritz Kaegi was elected in the March 2018 primary to replace Joe Berrios as the property tax assessor in Cook County.

It’s difficult to make any connections between their reporting and the Lincoln Institute’s report. The Tribune/ProPublica analyzed data across Cook County, among multiple tax years, while the Lincoln Institute looked at one year in one municipality of Cook County (Chicago).

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning published a report last fall with some good looking and easy to understand maps showing property tax burdens across the Chicagoland region. However, the maps don’t have county or municipality names, making it difficult to find a particular place.


Aurora homeowners pay a higher effective property tax rate than those in Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


This is our biggest expansion into the suburbs

Adding information for suburban communities has been a constant request in our four year existence (happy birthday us this month). Many of the developers who use Chicago Cityscape are active in municipalities outside of Chicago. While Chicago is where most development occurs in the region, there is plenty of building going on in the suburbs.

Buildings in Oak Park, Evanston, and Naperville, all municipalities where Chicago Cityscape can tell you the current zoning information. All by Eric Allix Rogers.

We thrive on requests from our users, and heard “Do you have data and maps for Evanston?” the most. As of this writing we have the zoning maps for six additional municipalities:

  1. Evanston (we also have building permits and Ward maps)
  2. Naperville (we also have building permits)
  3. Oak Park
  4. Northbrook
  5. Maywood
  6. Aurora

Anytime you look up an address in one of those places we’ll give you the current zoning code. Where available, we’ll show you the zoning description (the individual municipalities provide these descriptions).

The main map on your Address Snapshot lookup will also have a zoning map for properties in those municipalities (read more about this below).

Evanston TOD status

In the same site change, we’ve added a check for Transit-Oriented Development status in Evanston. The city adopted “TOD areas”, which are fixed groups of parcels near the several Metra and CTA stations in Evanston.

The TOD status check for Evanston works just like the one we’ve offered for Chicago address lookups for years. A simple check mark indicates this building is in a TOD area, and the requirements and incentives for housing developments are summarized.

Look up any address in Evanston and we’ll tell you if it is in the TOD area, and give you a summary of the development incentives there.

The TOD areas are part of Evanston’s “Inclusionary Housing Ordinance” (IHO), adopted in late 2015, that works similarly to Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). It has a lower trigger threshold: In Evanston’s TOD areas, any development with 5 or more units, with or without a zoning change, must comply. Chicago’s ARO is most frequently triggered by the property owner getting a zoning change; it only applies to developments with 10 or more units.

Zoning map style update

We’ve also updated how the zoning map looks by adding two new categories:

  • Single-family only (although every zoning code has some exceptions to allow schools and other institutional uses)
  • Commercial only (in Chicago, every B and C district allows housing, and it’s M districts that are commercial only; in other municipalities there are distinct “O” and “C” districts for office and commercial, only)
A restyled zoning map shows single-family areas in a brighter shade of green than residential areas that also allow multi-family; there’s also a new, light-orange area to show commercial-only (no residential) areas. This zoning map style is the same for all of the municipalities we cover.

New: Zoning maps for six municipalities was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Which generates more property tax revenue per square foot of space it occupies in Chicago: Target, or the Logan Theatre building? Images from Google Street View

Inspired by this Strong Towns article, and this tweet I read the other day, I’m going to compare the property tax revenues of different uses of properties in Chicago.

On a per square foot basis, which property generates more revenue?

  • Logan Square Target on Elston Avenue
  • or the building that contains the Logan Theatre, other shops, and some apartments

The Target store and its parking lot and parking garage occupy 227,484 square feet of space and generated $427,276.40 in revenues in 2016. It was assessed at $2,133,303. The Target store generated $1.88 per square foot of lot area.

The Logan Theatre building occupies 25,472 square feet of space and generated $76,732 in revenues in 2016. It was assessed at $383,106. This building generated $3.01 per square foot in 2016.

I’ll analyze a couple more selected buildings in the Logan Square community area, with their 2016 property tax statistics that I easily looked up on Chicago Cityscape (it requires a Pro membership):

I also looked at two other “sprawly” properties in Logan Square: the Family Dollar and its parking lots next to the California ‘L’ station and the Liberty Bank and its parking lots just up the street. They generate even less money by lot area than the Target!

The Target, Family Dollar, and Liberty Bank occupy a lot of space with their parking lots (the parking lots are larger than the buildings), but those don’t contribute much to the assessed value. Of the “dense” buildings, only The L has on-site parking. All properties except Target are near a 24-hour subway station. Chart created by Chicago Cityscape with data from the Cook County Assessor.

The denser buildings in this analysis generate significantly more taxes for the county, city, parks, schools, and other services than the “sprawly” buildings.


Which generates more property taxes: A big box store or a dense building? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The City of Chicago started publishing the energy usage of a few thousand different buildings — all reported by their owners — 16 months ago. Today you can use Chicago Cityscape to easily explore that data.

If you live or work in a very large building, look it up here, or keep reading.

The table above shows that City Hall is the more energy intensive side of the building it shares with Cook County. In 2016, the City of Chicago reported that City Hall consumed 17.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot (kgco2e/sqft) in electricity and natural gas usage. The same year, Cook County reported that its administration building (the other side of what’s more commonly known as City Hall) consumed only 13.7 kgco2e/sqft.

City Hall is somewhat of an energy hog compared to the Cook County Building which shares the same structure. Photo via MAP Strategies.

City Hall’s reported energy consumption has gotten worse between the first and third years of reported data. In 2014, the first year of data reporting to comply with the energy benchmarking law, City Hall reported 12.44 kgco2e/sqft and 18.0 kgco2e/sqft in 2015.

The Cook County Building, on the other hand (and on the other side of the same structure) has gotten progressively better from 2014 to 2016, starting at 15.23 kgco2e/sqft, dropping to 15.1 kgco2e/sqf tin 2015, and reporting 13.7 kgco2e/sqft in 2016. (Did you know that the green roof on the building is only on the City Hall side?)

Chicago’s City Hall and the Cook County Building are two sides of the same building (nominally, at least). Notice how they’re not equal halves!

The energy benchmarking law requires owners of buildings with 50,000 square feet of floor area, or larger, to measure and submit their energy usage for electricity, natural gas, district chilled water, district steam, and any other fuel use. Energy use data for 2017 must be reported by June 1, 2018.

Start exploring the data yourself! (By default, only reports in 2016 are shown. Use the filters to compare energy usage amongst all data reporting years; however, not all buildings have reported for all three years.)

You can also look up an address and view data for nearby buildings.

And read about which buildings have the highest energy losses.

Pro members can easily download the data for Google Earth, GIS, and spreadsheet analysis.

A couple caveats

Our maps don’t show all of the reported data points yet; we’ll add more as we receive feedback from you about what in particular you want to see. For example, there’s information about “weather normalization” that compares energy usage in a single reporting year with what usage might have been based on weather patterns over the last thirty years. And there are Energy Star scores, which is a way to compare buildings with buildings nationwide.

Keep in mind that some of the building locations are erroneous, and we’ve alerted the city data portal manager to this issue.


How energy efficient is your building? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bring back the coach houses

Biking on the Bloomingdale Trail last spring I spotted a “modern” coach house on Talman Avenue: It was new construction on the same lot as a new construction townhouse.

That didn’t make sense because coach houses are illegal in Chicago*. The city’s current zoning code was adopted in 2004 at which point existing coach houses were considered legal, nonconforming uses. It bans new coach houses, but the ban probably started before then.

Update: This post may change as I receive new information from others who have dealt with the Chicago zoning code. To summarize, coach houses are not a banned building type (although they’re definitely banned in R districts), but were banned through many different changes to the zoning code. It’s clear, though, that existing coach houses are at risk because the zoning code inhibits their occupancy and use.

Two attached “modern coach houses” (a.k.a. non-paying guest house without a kitchen) built in 2001 in Logan Square, prior to the 2004 zoning code rewrite that banned this kind of structure.

I noticed they were new construction, but I wasn’t sure how new they were really were. The building permit was issued in 2001 which said “ERECT A ‘NON-PAYING GUEST HOUSE’ ABOVE A 2-CAR PRIVATE MASONRY GARAGES AS PER PLANS”. (It’s not on Chicago Cityscape because we only have building permits from 2006 to now.)

A coach house is a typical kind of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Chicago that were built at the rear of lots. In the majority of cases, a principal use like a single-family house or 2-4 flat was built in the front of the lot. In rare cases, a coach house is the only building on the lot as a house up front was never built.

Cover of the 2002 Chicago zoning code overlaid with the description of the “non-paying guest house” allowed accessory use.

That zoning code recognized that an accessory structure could be built as a “non-paying guest house” that wasn’t allowed to have a kitchen. The code said that the house would be for guests of the occupants of the principal structure and “not for permanent occupancy by others as housekeeping units”.

This language wasn't carried into the 2004 zoning code. In addition to banning new coach houses and non-paying guest houses, existing ones cannot be expanded and there’s a rule that can cause their disuse. Maintenance and repairs to keep a coach house in “sound condition” are the only allowed kind of construction.

Matt Nardella, principal architect at Moss Design, said that coach houses are not an approved rear yard encroachment (garages, tool sheds, and required parking are approved). Outside of residential-only districts (meaning B and C districts), a coach house could still be built, he said, as long as the density of your zoning lot is high enough to allow for it, and that it’s not taller than 15'.

Nardella suggested that coach houses aren’t allowed because they block light into people’s backyards, and we should update the zoning code to eliminate the front yard requirement in residential-only districts to make larger rear yards and then have coach houses approved for rear yard encroachment.

I would add that these units shouldn’t count against the density limitations. So, a single-family residential district (RS-3 is the most common) essentially becomes a two-family residential district. (Also, zoning is full of super complicated rules about everything: currently, no allowed building in the required rear yard can occupy more than 60 percent of that rear yard, but a car garage can, up to 480 square feet.)

A drawing of the “modern coach house” on Talman Ave. which according to the building permit in 2001 is a “non paying guest house” and has no kitchen. The zoning code at the time said such a place could not be rented out.

The current zoning code has this to say about coach houses (I’m paraphrasing) given their nonconforming status: If the coach house is unoccupied by a renter or family member for longer than a year, it can never be occupied or rented again.

If it’s demolished, it can’t be rebuilt If it’s accidentally destroyed, however, it can be rebuilt as it was — do it quickly, though, as it must be done within 18 months.

Got zoning questions and need to hire an expert? Contact MAP Strategies

Bring them back

What’s great about coach houses and ADUs (including basement units), and why we should legalize existing ones and allow for the construction of new ones, is:

  1. They restore** population density in a neighborhood without affecting “neighborhood character” because coach houses and basement units can’t be seen from the street (this is one sense of “neighborhood character”, which is the way new buildings are often larger and look different)
  2. They create an additional income stream for the property owner
  3. They provide more affordable housing; existing coach houses are cheaper to rent because they’re older; this would stem the continuing loss of existing affordable housing in the region; if Chicago allowed prefabricated housing, new construction costs could be a lot cheaper

In California, ADUs are legal statewide and last year several bills were passed that made it cheaper and easier to obtain a permit (for example, a sewer utility can no longer charge a fee for hooking up an ADU). They’re legal in dozens of other cities in the country. Evanston City Council is considering allowing coach houses to increase affordable housing options although it’s still in committee.

*I don’t know exactly when new coach houses became illegal; I researched older zoning codes at the Municipal Reference Library in the Harold Washington Library Center and found the same “non-paying guest house with no kitchen” language in the 1957 zoning code
**Many neighborhoods in Chicago have thousands of fewer residents now than at their peak.

Thank you Tim Barton, a zoning specialist who contributed to the 2004 zoning code rewrite, for helping me understand zoning rules in Chicago and lending me the 2002 zoning code book.


Bring back the coach houses was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The federal reserve bank of St. Louis has an interactive economic data portal called FRED.

The chart above shows the quarterly average of new construction housing units (excluding public housing) in “Chicagoland”. I switched it from monthly unit count to the quarterly average to lessen the number of peaks shown in the graph. The data is not seasonally adjusted, and it doesn’t look like FRED can automatically adjust the data for seasonality.

The actual region measured is the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is an enormous area covering the City of Chicago, all of its suburbs, and then some exurbs like DeKalb, Illinois, and what I would tenuously call suburbs in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana.


Housing production in Chicagoland is below half the peak in 2005 was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The shrinkage slowed, however, from 2015 to 2016

The Chicago Cityscape mission statement has included the phrase “We emphasize development near transit of affordable housing” on our About page since 2015. (By the way, we turned four years old this month.)

We frequently post on social media the individual building permits which indicate the loss of small apartment buildings (mostly 2- and 3-flats) through deconversions to single-family houses, and teardowns (demolitions frequently replaced by single-family houses).

A nearly identical graystone attached to this one in Humboldt Park was demolished. Photo by Gabriel X. Michael

We’ve also shared maps and analysis showing where the Chicago zoning map bans those same small apartment buildings. For example, significant portions of the walkable area around CTA ‘L’ stations (up to 51 percent, depending on the line and station) ban apartment buildings.

The Institute of Housing Studies released its “State of Rental Housing in Cook County” report for 2018 last week. It analyzes data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2016.

Here’s what IHS had to say about the loss of 2-4 flats:

Despite a slight increase in the number of rental units in two-to-four unit buildings [in Cook County] between 2015 and 2016, the overall number and share of total rental units in two-to-four unit buildings remains significantly below historic levels.
Between 2013 and 2016, the number of rental units in two-to-four unit buildings [in Cook County] dropped by 6,832 units or 2.4 percent and is the only building type to see declines in units during this period.

IHS is sure to note the “importance of two-to-four unit buildings to Cook County’s stock of affordable rental housing” in a 2012 report. At the time, a majority of apartment units in low- and moderate-income areas of Cook County were in 2-4 unit buildings. Many of these buildings were “destabilized” by being part of a foreclosure filing.

The share of rental units that are in 2-4 unit buildings in Cook County is lower in 2016 than at any time from 2000 to 2016. Data from Institute of Housing Studies, with additional years 2009 and 2010 included. Source is American Community Survey 5-year estimates; year 2000 is from the decennial Census.

We cannot track current or real-time permitted construction and demolition projects by the unit count, in Chicago, because the city doesn’t post these numbers on its data portal, where we obtain building permit data.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, on the other hand, posts new construction permits by grouped unit count on a slightly delayed monthly basis, for all municipalities. However, it has too few groupings to track buildings that have 6 units, which is another common apartment building size in Chicago. It also doesn’t track demolished units.


The number of 2-4 flat buildings in Cook County is at an historic low was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Friday, April 06, 2018

Manage your email notifications

Turn them on and off, or view them all at once

Chicago Cityscape can keep you informed of construction and violation activity by email or without email by glancing at the new notifications dashboard.

The website can notify you if a contractor you’re monitoring pulls a new Chicago building permit, if a building you’re watching gets a new building violation, or if a Place you’re tracking has either a new building permits or new violations.

With our refreshed My Notifications dashboard on your My Account page, you can easily unsubscribe from notifications, pause emails for particular notifications without having to unsubscribe, and see, at a glance, if new building permits were pulled or building violations were issued.

Access the “My Notifications” dashboard on your My Account page, which is updated multiple times a day as new Chicago building permits and violations data comes in.

Start getting notifications by clicking the “Subscribe to updates” button on any Company Profile, Address Snapshot, or Place page.


Manage your email notifications was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


When we launched our Flood Guidance feature in January, it excluded advice for properties in DuPage and Will Counties. We didn’t want to, because that’s where 929,000 and 689,000 people live, respectively, but the flood maps weren’t finalized for those counties.

We’ve added the preliminary maps for DuPage and Will Counties. Click the image to look up your address.

Flood maps in the two counties are still not finalized, actually, but we didn’t want to wait any longer. The flood maps were completed last summer and entered a “preliminary” status.

We’ve gone ahead and added the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) for every property and address lookup in DuPage and Will Counties, so there’s no gap in our suburban expansion.

Flood Guidance is viewable to our users with a Cityscape Permits membership (ideal for contractors and homebuyers) and Cityscape Pro membership (ideal for developers and other real estate professionals).

You can view the status of other flood maps in Illinois on a University of Illinois website aptly named Illinois Flood Maps.


Flood Guidance expanded to DuPage and Will Counties was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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