Is there an invisible wall keeping $1 million homes east of Western Avenue in Chicago?

One person in Chicago real estate argues $1 million homes on Chicago’s North Side stay east of Western Avenue.

It’s as if there is an invisible wall running through the middle of Chicago, along Western Avenue all the way south of Montrose. When buyers of million dollar homes specify their search criteria they will often specify that they want to stay east of Western Avenue – or if they specify Ukrainian Village, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Roscoe Village, or St. Ben’s those neighborhoods technically stop at Western Avenue so again you are staying east of Western. And it almost doesn’t matter anyway because over the last 7 years there have been very few homes above $1 MM for sale west of Western anyway as you can see in the map below. It’s pretty dramatic isn’t it?

What could be behind this?

Well, for one you are typically getting further away from public transportation options as you move west. But then again public transportation isn’t really that much more accessible just east of Western than it is just west of Western. If you can’t walk to the el stop in 10 minutes in January you may not feel like you have good access to public transportation regardless of which side of Western you live on.

The other thing that happens as you cross Western Avenue is that you cross into a few lower income census tracts. For example if you look at the heat map from you will see that there are are a few sections of Western Avenue where the median household income drops pretty dramatically as you cross the street. In the map below as the color transitions to darker green median household income goes up and as it transitions to darker red it goes down. From Fullerton to Armitage the median income is $66K on the east side of the street but $35K on the west side of the street. And from Armitage to Bloomingdale it’s $107K vs. $66K. And then from Division to Chicago it’s $67K vs. $42K.

Might this change in the future?

There is no question that eventually the area west of Western will become populated with million dollar plus homes but at that point the disparity between the east and west sides of the street may persist and the east side may just be populated with homes priced well above $1 MM. And, regardless, it looks like that day is still several years into the future. In the meantime, if you are willing to be a pioneer you can definitely find cheaper living just a couple of blocks further west.

My interpretation: neighborhoods west of Western Avenue aren’t trendy or gentrifying yet and have different demographics. In other words, there isn’t demand yet among the creative class or young professionals for nicer housing west of Western.

This could lead to some discussion about the limits of gentrification on Chicago’s north side. Just how much can it expand? What happens when it moves out of hipper neighborhoods and comes up against more lower-class or non-white neighborhoods? Right now, there are some gentrifiers who want to live on that edge between the expensive homes and poorer neighborhoods, places they might consider more gritty or authentic. But, would large numbers of people move further west? And are there enough of them? (This, of course, doesn’t even consider the negative effects of gentrification which include making housing more unaffordable, a problem in a region that needs much more affordable housing, and white residents pushing out non-white residents.)

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