DNAInfo has a story about two proposed developments across the street from each other on Diversey, the border between Lincoln Park and Lakeview, and only a few blocks from the lakefront park. One would have 50 units, the other 78. Some residents aren’t pleased:
“Traffic’s going to be horrendous,” said Cheryl Cornell, who’s lived in the area for 33 years. “You’re putting 50 units where none existed. They’re going to put 78 units where none existed. … That area is horribly congested already. Just drive down Diversey on a weekend. It’s scary.”
The “50 units where none existed” line made me think: I bet Ms. Cornell’s neighborhood actually has fewer housing units now than when she moved in. And I bet it’ll still have fewer units, even if they build 128 “where none existed.”
So I went to the numbers. Story checks out:
And what about population? Is the neighborhood pushing towards unprecedented density?
For reference, here is the area in question:
So no. Since 1980, the neighborhood has actually lost roughly 800 housing units – or about 3% of the total – and its population has declined by about 1,600 people, or a bit over 4%. If we moved the start date back – to 1960, say, or 1950 – the decline would almost certainly be more dramatic.*
In conclusion, the idea that building 128 housing units on Diversey would be pushing the envelope into uncharted territories of congestion is simply a lie. In fact, the area was notably denser within very recent memory. And, of course, in the interim, the demand to live in this area has skyrocketed; median income family income is now well over $100,000 a year, or more than twice – and pushing three times – the metropolitan area average. Housing costs are correspondingly high. And Chicago’s housing policy has led to a situation in which fewer people are allowed to live there. Dear alderman, who have the power to approve this and other housing projects (and, while we’re at it, a rational inclusionary zoning ordinance): fix it, please.
* Why did it decline? The longer answer is you should read this. But the basic story is that Chicago has laws that prohibit buildings over a certain density all over town; in fact, they generally prohibit anything denser than what’s already there. As a result, when buildings get redeveloped, they’re usually either built at the same density as before – a two-flat replaced by a two-flat, for example – or at a lower density – a two-flat replaced by a mansion. That makes the total number of housing units fall, which also makes population fall. On top of that, over time people have been taking up more space – instead of a five-person family in a two-bedroom, you get a three-person family, or a childless couple – and so population often declines even if the number of units hasn’t. To make up for that space issue, the city would have to let people build more. But it doesn’t.