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Chicago Residents Utilizing Gentrification Index to Identify At-Risk Neighborhoods

Transit-Oriented Development being built in the Logan Square neighborhood. A large residential building is under construction.Transit-Oriented Development being built in the Logan Square neighborhood.

Long-time residents of Chicago's Pilsen, Logan Square, and Bridgeport communities have complained anecdotally that their neighborhoods are gentrifying. John J. Betancur and Youngjun Kim, researchers with the Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, agree. They also have the research to back it up. They analyzed the impact of gentrification on the city's South Side with the help of their Gentrification Index, a scale that measures traditional markers of gentrification. These markers include the level of private school attendance among neighborhood children, changes in racial and ethnic makeup, median household income, home value, and education attainment for the neighborhood's residents. These rates are compared against data from 1970. Soon, Toronto's Neighborhood Change will partner up with the Voorhees Center to release similar data.

They identify gentrification as coming from a dearth of options for middle-class residents – when there isn't housing stock for their income level, they'll gravitate to lower-priced housing instead. Their stated goal is not to stop gentrification. Instead, they want to see integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods that don't price out lower-income residents. According to Betancur, the key to integration lies in "partnerships among all stakeholders and interested parties." This means involving residents, city officials, and developers.

This updated research comes on the heels of several new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) apartment buildings open to leasing over the past couple of months in Logan Square, a roughly half-white half-Latino neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. These buildings, many of which are located along Milwaukee Avenue, in close proximity to the CTA Blue Line, are in what might be identified as prime territory for gentrification, according to Betancur and Kim. This is because they are convenient to transit, they are in a neighborhood with lower property values than the surrounding areas, and they are in a neighborhood with interesting architecture and an arts and cultural presence.

Transit-Oriented Development being built in the Logan Square neighborhood. This building is closer to completion.Transit-Oriented Development being built in the Logan Square neighborhood.

One such luxury apartment building is L, a 6-story, LEED-certified residential building a short walk away from the California Blue Line stop. The building is on an up-and-coming stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, a main street that runs diagonally alongside the Blue Line that is peppered with recently opened restaurants and bars. Rent starts at $1,200 per month for a single bedroom with a shared living space, or higher for private units. The building has been met with anti-gentrification protesters. Their primary complaints centered around a rising rent trend in Logan Square and the fact that the project was given a green light without much consultation among community members.

Currently, the Affordable Requirements Ordinance ensures that residential projects that utilize a zoning increase or public land set aside 10% of their units to be available to low- to moderate-income families that earn up to 60% of the Area Median Income, or $43,440 for a family of four. This includes L and the twin towers projects in Logan Square. However, this guarantee isn't enough, according to the anti-gentrification protesters in Logan Square. To understand their concerns, Logan Square received a five on the Voorhees Center's index, indicating an increase in the traditional markers of gentrification at that, if they were to continue, would indicate gentrification. This means the index scores showed an increase, but the overall socioeconomic makeup of the neighborhood remained indicative of a lower-income neighborhood. The neighborhood is surrounded by community areas that indicated gentrification in the last 10 years. Logan Square is on the upswing, and its surroundings have seen unsustainable development, the protesters worry, so what is to prevent the neighborhood from seeing a similar transformation?

Betancur and Kim have also developed a toolkit to help long-time residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. This toolkit covers multiple strategies for ensuring a sustainable supply of secure housing. One such strategy is to build coalitions among nonprofits, local businesses, and community members; creating a network of education and people ready to take action. But most of these strategies are preventative, rather than focused on adaptation: they suggest creating community land trusts and to instate protections against condo conversions.

How can a neighborhood enjoy luxury apartments without displacing its low or middle-income residents? Does your city have any mixed-income neighborhoods? Are areas of your city being gentrified? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credit: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.