NIMBY concerns about affordable housing even when it is not adjacent to single-family homes

A proposed project in northwest Chicago that would include some affordable housing units has raised concerns from residents…who do not live adjacent to the property:

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But the plans have not been embraced by all in the 41st Ward and its neighborhoods filled with postwar bungalows and ranch-style homes. Though the complex would be located in a far stretch of the city next to offices and hotels bordering Park Ridge, residents say they fear it will congest traffic and overcrowd schools.

John Frano, who lives about a mile away in Oriole Park, said the apartment complex will create too much bustle in a section of the city known for being more serene and spacious…

Retired Chicago police Sgt. Salvatore Reina, a longtime owner of a two-flat in Oriole Park, said he opposes the Glenstar tax break partly because it feels unfair to smaller landlords like him. He added that he worries about having to bid against the potentially lower rents in the future complex…

“These neighborhoods are not made for massive multiunit buildings,” Reina said. “When you bring more people in, other issues are going to arise with that too. Who knows what they are? Some could just be quality-of-life issues.”

While there is more at play here – the role of aldermanic prerogative and how exclusion shapes residential patterns – these are common NIMBY concerns: traffic, the effect on schools, large buildings, and how might move into the new units. At the same time, if you cannot build affordable housing units here, where can they be constructed? Even the location of affordable housing units in a building similar in size to adjacent buildings and not adjacent to single-family homes leads to such responses.

The reason I emphasize the proximity of residents is that I found when studying proposals for land or buildings from religious groups (here and here) proximity of residents to the property appeared linked to the concerns raised. Those who have purchased a home or housing unit often do not like the idea that someone wants to significantly alter the building or property next to you.

This is not the case here. Affordable housing is so undesirable in the United States for established homeowners and residents that it is difficult to construct. There are other barriers at play as well but consistent and loud opposition from residents in the community is common. They view affordable housing as a threat rather than as housing that could help local residents or workers, let alone help the larger city or region.

Local residents oppose a casino at three proposed Chicago sites

As Chicago leaders consider where a new casino in the city might be located, local residents expressed their concerns:

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Earlier this month, the city held town hall meetings for each of the three proposals and got an earful from neighbors opposed to a casino being built close to their homes. Their overwhelming message: Not in my backyard.

“This casino does not belong in a neighborhood,” said Antonio Romanucci, a resident of River North, where the Bally’s casino would be built, if approved. “You are putting a square peg into a round hole.”

Others at the Bally’s meeting raised concerns about traffic, crime and noise from concerts…

And while The 78 is marketed as an entirely new neighborhood, residents from the South Loop, Chinatown and Pilsen spoke in opposition to including a casino in the already approved megadevelopment.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t blow it on a casino,” said an 11-year-old named Sean, who spoke at the town hall for the Rivers 78 proposal. “A casino does not make a neighborhood. Things that attract families are what make a neighborhood.”

Last week, Lightfoot responded to the community blowback saying there is always “a level of NIMBYism” with large development projects.

Generally, communities and cities tend to like developments that will generate significant revenues. People spend money at casinos and using the property to generate revenues is preferable to having vacant properties or ones with limited revenues.

However, a casino is not a typical land use. They are relatively unusual. They can attract a lot of visitors. They can be viewed as encouraging vice and unsavory activity.

So, the mayor’s claims that this is just NIMBYism might not work with a more unusual land use like this. Sure, residents tend to complain about changes to traffic, lights, noise, and property values with a new nearby development, but does anyone want to live next to a casino?

Watching the decision-making process on this one might just make a fascinating case study for urban scholars for years to come.

The winners when communities fight over sports teams are the team owners, not the communities

The Daily Herald editorializes about who will win as Chicago, Arlington Heights, and other taxing bodies consider where the Chicago Bears might end up:

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In a pair of radio interviews last week, Lightfoot poo-pooed a potential move, saying Arlington Heights can’t match the offer Chicago will make — or its tourist trade…

While the prospect of reelection is much more imminent for Lightfoot than where the Bears end up, any signs that she is relenting to Arlington Heights would be the death of her political career.

It was just a few months ago that Lightfoot was overtly dismissive of the Bears’ purchase agreement for the 326 acres at Arlington Park Racecourse — enough land for a world-class stadium plus all manner of ancillary entertainment businesses from which the team could profit…

If Lightfoot thinks she can keep the Bears at Soldier Field — even with a dome — she’s nuts. The constraints of the NFL’s smallest and oldest stadium won’t allow Soldier Field to host a Super Bowl or, as is important to the team, to allow the Bears to do what has become commonplace around the league: develop the stadium as an entertainment complex that generates more cash…

The only sure winner in this tug of war will be the football team.

The research consistently finds that team owners are the biggest winners in the battle to provide tax breaks, monies, and other benefits for sports teams who consider relocation. Yes, it would be a PR and status blow to Chicago to lose the Chicago Bears to a suburb – even a denser Arlington Heights – but people will still spend money in the city and the team will still be in the region. Do not go into taxpayer debt just to enrich a private football team.

It will be very interesting what kind of “best offer” Chicago will provide. And how public will this all get as the city tries to avoid losing the team?

The Chicago region has a lot of human capital…and the workers have a stronger work ethic?

A recent article discusses the potential workers in the Chicago region and how hard they work:

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“Probably the strongest work ethic of laborers is the folks in the Midwest,” the Houston-based founder of SparrowHawk Real Estate Strategists said, definitely not rhyming. “They’re just, I don’t know what they put in the water there, but they’re hard workers. And so you’ve got a good labor force.”…

Illinois Manufacturing Association president and CEO Mark Denzler recalls a businesswoman who recently moved her small manufacturing operations of about 50-70 workers to Mississippi with the goal of saving on costs. She regrets the decision, he said…

“When I’m around the warehouse workers in the Midwest — Chicago and all these other Midwestern cities — they’re different than the folks in the southeast and the folks in the West Coast. They just have a different work ethic,” he said…

“It would be really hard. I’d be suspicious of anybody who said they can do it,” Bruno said. “But there is this strong experience with work in the Midwest that it’s part of your development. It’s connected to your health and well-being.”

Contrary to the final paragraph above, I bet this could be measured. But, what would it show? And how would workers in Boston or New York City or Atlanta or San Francisco respond to the argument that Chicago workers have a stronger work ethic? Or, within the Midwest and Rust Belt, how about workers in Milwaukee, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh?

This is part of a bigger narrative about Chicago. it is part of its character. Even as it is a global city with an important finance sector and many professional and white-collar workers, it imagines itself as a blue-collar city relying on manufacturing. The loss of manufacturing jobs in the last sixty years hit Chicago hard, as it did many cities, yet the narrative continues.

I would be interested in a more recent study that looks at how residents of the Chicago area think about the purported work ethic. Does the narrative hold across locations, groups, and occupations? Does the idea of “the city that works” extend throughout the region and different kinds of workers?

Imagining St. Louis as the capital of the US

It is fascinating to consider (1) a different capital in the United States in the center of the country and (2) a different center to the Midwest:

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In some ways, Arenson says, St. Louis was at the heart of these questions. Geographically, it was located where North, South and West came together. It had been a slave state, but had not seceded. It was central to many railroad lines. And it was growing at a remarkable place—it would rise from the country’s 24th most populous city in 1840 to the fourth biggest in 1870.

No one was more convinced of the importance of St. Louis than local businessman and booster Logan Uriah Reavis. Reavis was a remarkable man, with a remarkable appearance. He wore a long, messy red beard and walked bent over a cane due to a childhood illness. Born in Illinois in 1831, he failed in his early career as a schoolteacher “when the students ridiculed him ceaselessly,” according to Arenson’s book. In 1866, he arrived in St. Louis intent on starting a newspaper and elevating the image of his adopted hometown.

Reavis wasn’t the first to suggest the city as a new capital for the nation. In 1846, St. Louis newspapers claimed that the move would be necessary to govern a country that grew significantly in size after the end of the Mexican-American War. But Reavis may have been the most outspoken supporter of the cause. He presciently envisioned a United States stretching not just out to California but up to Alaska and down to the Gulf of Mexico. And he saw St. Louis as the obvious place for the government of this mega-United States: “the great vitalizing heart of the Republic.” In contrast, he wrote, Washington was a “distant place on the outskirts of the country, with little power or prestige.”…

In response, between 1867 and 1868, three House representatives from the Midwest proposed resolutions to move the capitol toward the middle of the country. As historian and educational publisher Donald Lankiewicz writes for History Net, the first two of these stalled in the Ways and Means committee. But a third, introduced by Wisconsin Representative Herbert Paine in February 1868, came to a vote on the floor. Eastern congressmen saw the proposal to move the seat of government to somewhere in the “Valley of the Mississippi” as a joke. But it shocked them with the amount of support it received, ultimately failing by a vote of just 77 to 97.

This story sounds very American: local boosters combined with an expanding frontier and disorder after the Civil War to produce a vision for a new capital in a booming city. Even though this did not come to fruition, it sounds like there was a short window in which is could have happened. And then what would have happened to Washington, D.C., one of the most important cities today?

I also cannot help but contrast this to the fate of St. Louis after this era. I recently showed my urban sociology class the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. This documentary puts the infamous public housing project in the context of a city that peaked in population in 1950, lost residents in white flight, and is racially segregated. Add this to the competition with Chicago for the center of the Midwest and St. Louis might be a great story of a city that did not live up to its lofty dreams.

Benefiting from racial covenants several generations later

One white Chicago resident describes how racial covenants contributed to his ability to purchase a home in the city:

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I think that pride in accomplishment is healthy, but there’s another sense to my pride in homeownership that is, or was, harmful. It’s painful to admit this, but I think I had an unconscious sense that by navigating all the hurdles to home ownership, I proved myself to be “deserving.” That I am, perhaps, more clever, harder-working, more reliable, and somehow more “worthy” of owning my own home than others who haven’t accomplished that.

And to be clear, I knew that my ability to buy a house was, in part, the result of privilege, related to historical and ongoing racism. I have known for years, in an abstract, intellectual way, that my family had pathways to middle-class stability that were not available to others. That inequity was intentional, and racist. My family is white, and I know my grandparents benefited from subsidized mortgages and education benefits that were part of the GI Bill of Rights, which was structured in a way to exclude African Americans and other non-whites. I knew racial discrimination affected who gets jobs, compensation, or who gets mortgage loans.

But recently, when I became aware of an ongoing project by my WBEZ colleague Natalie Moore, my feelings about my house, and particularly that pride in homeownership, became more complicated. Natalie has been researching racially restrictive housing covenants in Chicago, and inviting WBEZ listeners to research their own home, to see if it was ever subject to racially restrictive covenants. Racial deeds and covenants have been getting a lot of attention recently, as more Americans are coming to understand this dimension of American racism. These deeds and covenants, which in most cases restricted white sellers to sell only to white buyers, enforced segregation, excluding millions of African Americans from living in certain neighborhoods. That exclusion limited their ability to access home ownership and the attendant opportunity to build wealth…

When I was seeking to purchase my house in McKinley Park, Linda and my father helped me with a gift that allowed me to afford the downpayment. It was a gift they may not have been able to make without the inheritance from Linda’s parents, which in turn began with her grandfather’s development that excluded Black people and Jews. The gift I received wasn’t enormous, but without it, I would have had to save for at least another year and may have missed the opportunity to buy into my neighborhood at a low cost, as prices are rising.

The Matthew Effect in action: homeownership and wealth begets more homeownership and wealth. More broadly, if you have wealth it can be invested to create more wealth while it can be difficult to start on a path to wealth with little or none to start with.

Even as Americans connect homeownership to responsible homeowners and hard work, those are not the only factors involved. Others include access to capital both for a down payment and for a mortgage and access to particular residential units and communities (whether through formal or informal reactions). And because homes can be expensive and institutions and communities can change slowly, it takes time to acknowledge, address, and change past patterns.

Illinois residents can now remove racial covenants from their deeds but this does not mean there is not more to do to address residential segregation and access to housing.

Chicago aldermen and affordable housing, public housing

HUD is examining the connection between the power of Chicago aldermen over zoning and development in their wards and affordable housing in the city:

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Housing activists and lawyers filed a complaint over aldermanic prerogative with HUD in 2018, alleging that allowing aldermen de facto veto power over most development proposals in their wards promotes housing discrimination by keeping low-income minorities from moving into affluent white neighborhoods.

The complaint against the city alleges that “aldermanic prerogative” helps residents who fear racial change pressure aldermen to block affordable housing projects by publicly raising concerns over school overcrowding, declining property values and other “camouflaged racial expressions.”

HUD officials continue investigating the matter and sent a letter to aldermen Dec. 1 asking them a series of questions about aldermanic prerogative, including how they define the term.

This reminded me of how aldermen helped shape the locations of public housing projects after World War Two. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

When Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949, which provided substantial funding for public housing, CHA was ready with a map of proposed sites for projects to be built on open land throughout the city, but the city council rejected this map altogether. White aldermen rejected plans for public housing in their wards. CHA’s policy thereafter was to build family housing only in black residential areas or adjacent to existing projects. This rejection explains the concentration of public housing in the city center on the South and West Sides.

In a city marked by residential segregation, numerous methods for keeping Black residents out of white neighborhoods, and white flight away from the city, the protection of certain areas has been a major emphasis. Affordable housing and public housing are typically viewed as unattractive land uses in whiter and wealthier communities with residents and leaders expressing concerns about property values, safety, and other matters with a sometimes stated and sometimes not underlying factor of race and ethnicity.

The need for affordable housing is great in Chicago, as it is in a number of major cities. But, who will compel neighborhoods or communities to accept that affordable housing should something everyone should bear responsibility for? Outside of some court cases and occasional legislative (Illinois and California as examples) or executive branch rumblings, the deck is stacked against affordable housing for multiple reasons. This includes an American emphasis on local government, particularly concerning local zoning and land use which is often set up to protect single-family homes. Americans often elect local representatives with the idea that they will protect the voter’s neighborhood and way of life.

Less clear from this article is what exactly HUD or others would if they find aldermen restricted affordable housing in the city.

Uneven development by neighborhood continues in Chicago

Examining both population change and development activity across Chicago neighborhoods between 2010 and 2020 reveals stark differences:

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Overall, the city’s population increased by about 50,000 during that decade. But aside from those top 10 communities — which are found mostly on the North Side or near downtown — the rest of the city actually declined in population by more than 40,000 people.

WBEZ conducted an analysis of growth in Chicago community areas within the past decade, examining growth in population, new construction permits, jobs, and licenses issued to new businesses. The analysis showed that majority-white communities, collectively, experienced high growth in all areas: population, jobs, new construction and new businesses. The same was true for areas experiencing significant growth in white population, like the Near West Side and the Near South Side…

When compared with majority-Black and majority-Latino communities, and communities with no majority racial or ethnic group, majority-white communities also had higher rates of job growth, new construction and new businesses…

“Race is a big factor in the growth and development and revitalization in Chicago communities,” said Saunders, who studies Rust Belt cities and urban dynamics. “It’s a big factor that many people do not want to acknowledge.”

Such disparities across Chicago neighborhoods and the role of race are not new. The 77 community areas and how many neighborhoods have had different reputations and resources available. For decades, Chicagoans have celebrated how these different communities can have a common identity while knowing that this did not mean they were treated the same.

What may be newer is that this issue has received more attention in recent years. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was criticized for efforts directed at downtown and wealthier areas. He was Chicago’s leader for a good portion of the decade. Chicago remained an important global city, but those benefits did not reach all residents or neighborhoods. Many called for this to change.

And this is not an issue limited to Chicago or just big cities. Uneven or unequal development is a prominent feature of communities in our current system. Within metropolitan regions, some suburbs are wealthy and continue to accrue residents and businesses (see the example of Arlington Heights in the Chicago news) while others struggle. These patterns often follow race-based settlement patterns and residential segregation.

This could be a critically important issue for the twenty-first century: how to encourage development and growth within places that historically have not attracted residents or capital. Without significant interventions, these patterns do not easily change.

Chicago starts new round of advertising battle with Texas

Chicago and Illinois have been part of advertising campaigns from other states – Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin – in recent years. Several weeks ago, a Chicago group countered with a full page ad in the Dallas Morning News:

World Business Chicago, the city’s public-private economic development arm, purchased the print ad, which opens with “Dear Texas” before jumping into reasons companies should consider moving north. It cites the Midwest city’s startup ecosystem, attraction of tech and engineering graduates and a top-ranked logistics and transportation sector as strengths.

Then it hones in on what it perceives as Texas’ new weakness.

“In Chicago, we believe in every person’s right to vote, protecting reproductive rights and science to fight COVID-19,″ the ad states.

“We believe that the values of the city you are doing business in matters more than ever before,” World Business Chicago CEO Michael Fassnacht told Bloomberg News Friday.

So goes on the ongoing battle between different cities and states in the United States with sizable differences. Certain locations stand out as outliers for the two sides; places like California, New York City, and Chicago for liberals and Texas, Florida, and other Southern locations for conservatives. Certain places do have sizable differences in culture and character but are they as easy to reduce to stereotype as their opponents often do? Many Americans live in more in between spaces – such as suburbs – compared to the ideal type locations often discussed.

The real question in all of this is whether such marketing campaigns work. Would a business or resident in Texas or Dallas see this ad and then make a move to Chicago? What factors prompt people and organizations to move? Multiple features of Chicago mentioned in the article could matter: human capital, a central location, a particular culture, certain regulations. Texas’ new abortion restrictions seem to have fired up many and some companies have announced plans to help their employees in Texas. At the same time, moving is not an easy task. Texas, like most places, has its own appealing factors.

Ultimately, is such marketing more about dunking on the opponent? I would be interested in checking back in with World Business Chicago to see how the advertising worked out.

An additional reason to dislike Chicago McMansions: contributing to lower population density

One Chicago observer suggests teardown McMansions impoverish the city in three ways: they suburbanize neighborhoods, they are poorly built and do not fit in with the architectural context of the city, and help lower the population density of neighborhoods. More on this third point:

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But Chicago’s density is declining, and some of the city’s most prominent neighborhoods have actually started to lose residents. Lincoln Par, once home to 102,000 people, barely housed 70,000 in 2020. Lakeview, once holding 124,000, was at 103,050 around the same time. North Center had decreased from 48,000 to 35,114, and nearby community such as West Town and Bucktown had similar fallen in scale.

These neighborhoods are becoming more expensive, and much of this de-densification may be due to a “spreading out” of sorts; wealthier people are moving in and are able to afford more space.

But there’s more to it than that. Previously, when a neighborhood in Chicago was in demand, builders capitalized, and the housing stock swelled. Chicago’s zoning laws, however, have changed, and while they allow for high-rise development in various downtown areas, they prohibit this same approach in neighborhoods. One thing is for sure, though: No matter how strict the zoning ode is in residential areas, single-family homes are pretty much always allowed.

One theory, termed “The homevoter hypothesis,” speculates that this is due to the control that homeowners have on urban development. Their interests have the most influence on local aldermen and, therefore, residential development. The good of the community and the city is not a factor in their agenda, which instead focuses on home value growth, and how to wield zoning changes in order to achieve it.

The argument seems to make sense: those who want to live in more well-off Chicago neighborhoods bring resources and an interest in larger homes. This could mean converting structures to single-family homes or tearing down older structures and starting over from scratch. If there is indeed an increase in larger single-family homes in Chicago, there should be data to support this. Anecdotally, my occasional travels in some of these neighborhoods suggests a good number of new homes nestled between two-flats and three-flats.

Additionally, there may be other forces at work that could also be leading to de-densification in Chicago neighborhoods:

  1. Chicago residents are leaving neighborhoods faster than people want to come in, regardless of what housing stock is available. The population is down in a number of neighborhoods across the city.
  2. The demand for new housing is higher in locations in and around the Loop because of the concentration of jobs and cultural opportunities plus the activity of developers. While Chicago has been known as a city of neighborhoods for a long time, the neighborhoods might not be as hot as the center.
  3. Developers and builders also want these new single-family homes because they can make a lot of money on each property.

Put all of this together and the new Chicago McMansions represent a change to numerous streets and neighborhoods.