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The State of Renters in the

City of Chicago

A Report by

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization

Ann K. Barnds, MUPP and Mirabai Auer, MUPP
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization
2150 S Canalport, Suite 2-B2
Chicago,IL 60608

Data Graphics and Analysis Prepared by:

3110 N Bernard
Chicago, Illinois 60618

For a full copy of The State of Renters in the City of

Chicago, please visit
Letter from the Executive Director
Recently, a renter called The Metropolitan Tenants and rental housing. Part of the reason their problems
Organization’s (MTO) citywide Hotline because have persisted and escalated is that policy makers
despite repeated verbal requests, her landlord have failed to recognize the importance of stable
was unresponsive to her requests for repairs. Her rental housing and have an insufficient understanding
apartment needed major plumbing work. After of the perspective of renters.
learning about her rights from a Hotline counselor, she
wrote a letter to her landlord detailing the problems Data from the MTO Hotline contextualizes renters’
and informing him of his obligations and her rights calls relative to Census data on Chicago renters
should he fail to fulfill them. Within days of the and rental housing stock. In combination, these
landlord’s receipt of the letter, he was busy making data sources provide deep insight into the current
repairs. environment facing renters, and the interconnection of
renters and homeowners, renters and neighborhoods,
With funding from the City of Chicago, MTO’s renters and thriving communities. By bringing to
Hotline has been a key resource to the nearly 1.3 light the factors impacting renters’ ability to access
million renters living in Chicago. It has helped many and afford stable housing, these research findings
thousands of renters find constructive ways to address underscore the need for policy changes.
problems with their rental housing. The information
renters have received has allowed them to play an We would like to thank all of the volunteers whose
important part in preserving Chicago’s housing stock. countless hours of assistance and advocacy for
and with Chicago’s renters allow this organization
The Hotline has also served as MTO’s eyes and ears to educate, organize and empower tenants to have
into the lives of renters. Since its inception in 1994, a voice in decisions that affect the affordability and
the MTO Hotline has fielded more than 150,000 calls, availability of decent, safe and accessible housing.
carefully collecting information and tracking data Certainly, we thank the City of Chicago and all of our
on housing issues. In collecting this data, Hotline foundation supporters for seeing the ongoing value of
counselors have spent thousands of hours listening this Hotline.
to the stories told by Chicago’s renters. The story of
renters in Chicago is that they are increasingly facing In the end, we need to view housing as a right. If we
unpredictability in the rental housing market, financial want a healthy, educated and employed society, then
stress, and deteriorated living conditions. Their lives housing must be recognized as a critical component in
are and have been in tumult for years. achieving these goals. Absent livable, affordable and
stable housing, individuals and families will continue to
In the past decade, market changes – such as face conditions that make them vulnerable to financial
condominium conversions, which displaced thousands stress, illness and injury from home based hazards,
of renters – have taken their toll, making the lack absence from school and missed work. Armed with
of stable, affordable housing for renters a critical the findings in The State of Renters in the City of
issue. We decided to commission this report prior to Chicago, we are well-positioned to catalyze much
the collapse of the housing bubble and crisis in the needed local policy change and bring an informed
financial markets in fall 2008. But these events have voice to the important national discussion of how to
brought about a broader recognition of what low- and ensure that all our citizens are adequately housed.
moderate-income renters have known all along – the
John Bartlett
problems in Chicago’s housing market are systemic.
Executive Director
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization
For years renters have needed and wanted a new
national housing policy that balances homeownership September 15, 2009

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago 1

Executive Summary
The time is right for a U.S. national housing policy development and implementation of affordable rental
that focuses on affordable and stable housing for housing policies.
To lay the groundwork for an informed discussion,
Chicago is home to nearly 1.3 million renters and The Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO)
rent is a key economic engine for the city. While the analyzed both its own Tenants-Rights Hotline data
number of wards dominated by renter households and U.S. Census data to examine specific conditions
has been on the decline, rental units remain the Chicago renters have faced over two decades,
majority of housing in most parts of the city. including changes in the geographic distribution
and household conditions of renters. The State of
Mirroring national trends, the city has a shortage of Renters in the City of Chicago is intended to help
affordable rental housing units. Between 1990 and policy makers, providers of affordable housing, and
2005, Chicago lost more than 125,000 affordable others understand the housing market from the
rental housing units. After a decade of rising perspective of the renter. This can be critical to
household rent, many low- and moderate-income solving the housing crisis.
renters must seek housing in neighborhoods with
housing markets that may already be under stress. For almost two decades, national policies have
Often renters in these neighborhoods are facing pushed Americans toward homeownership. While
the risk of involuntary moves, many as a result of homeownership rates have increased during the last
foreclosure. decade, there continues to be substantial numbers of
renters, both nationally and in Chicago. As we move
For too long, national housing policy has relied on through the current housing and foreclosure crisis,
moving Americans toward homeownership. The it can be anticipated that the number of renters will
current housing and financial crisis suggests that increase.
during the last decade, growth in homeownership
rates and increases in the numbers of owner- Changing Patterns in Rental Housing
occupied units were unsustainable. Prior to the Data from the U.S. Census confirms that while there
foreclosure crisis and the economic downturn, was a decrease of almost 10 percent in the number
thousands of renters were forced to move as rental of rental housing units in the City of Chicago from
units were converted to condominiums. Renters 1990 to 2007, rental housing still constitutes the
have been in an affordable housing crisis for some majority of housing in most parts of the city. We also
time, many paying an increasing amount of their found:
income to housing and subject to market conditions
that marginalize them. • Relative reduction in the proportion of rental
units in the North lakefront area of the city, which
In August 2009, President Obama indicated he will has long been dominated by rental housing.
depart from the policies of previous administrations However, this area still contains large total
which prioritized an “ownership society” to focus numbers of rental units.
on the needs of renters and owners alike. As this
change in the focus of national policy plays out in the • Growth of rental housing in neighborhoods
Chicago area, local government entities and non- associated with homeownership, many located
profit organizations will likely be tasked with funding, toward the periphery of the city; there has been
producing and sustaining affordable housing. Local- an increase in the number of rental units on the
level insight into the rental market, and especially the Northwest, South and Southwest sides of the
conditions faced by renters, is essential for both the city.

2 The Metropolitan Tenants Organization

Executive Summary

• Increase in the number of rentals in an area Changing Patterns in Hotline Call Data
extending from the South Loop to the near West
MTO’s Hotline data broadens the picture of changing
side; some of the sub-areas within these regions
conditions facing renters. This report maps total
of the city have changed rapidly, with strong
requests, as well as specific types of requests,
markets that encouraged new construction and
including those pertaining to foreclosure, physical
speculative development.
conditions and high-risk situations. Between 1995
• Few new units with hard subsidies in some and 2007, the geography of Hotline requests
of the areas where the number of rental changed dramatically. Importantly, the movement of
households are increasing; many Low Income renters and renter stress captured by MTO Hotline
Housing Tax Credit Properties (LIHTC) calls corroborated what was seen by selected data
properties are located in areas traditionally sets from the U.S. Census and the Department of
dominated by renters. Housing and Urban Development.
Changes in Total Requests:
• More renters are living in properties with three
to four units and relatively fewer are living in • The number of requests from the North side,
properties with 10 to 49 units. with the exception of pockets in high-density
rental neighborhoods, has decreased. From
Increasing Rent Burden 2004 to 2007, the Hotline experienced a new
The inadequate supply of affordable rental stock, trend with the emergence of a large area of the
in the face of flat wages and incomes, has resulted West side generating requests at a high level.
in increased rent burden for many Chicagoans. • A large area of the South side continued to
Specifically: generate significant numbers of requests.
• Between 2000 and 2007, the percent of However, requests shifted away from the mid-
households allocating 30 percent or more of South lakefront area and toward the Southwest
their income towards rent grew from 40 to 53 side of the city.
percent; moreover, the percent of renters who
paid 50 percent or more of their income to rent Changes in Physical Conditions Requests:
grew from 20 percent of renter households to • Changes in the geographic distribution of
nearly 30 percent. the rental housing stock were reflected in the
pattern of calls regarding the physical conditions
• Household median gross rent increased of rental housing stock to the MTO Hotline.
significantly, at a rate outpacing inflation, while Many of these calls were generated from
incomes stagnated. In 2007, renters at higher neighborhoods on the South and West sides
income levels were also experiencing 30 to 50 where there had been growth in rental housing
percent rent burden. and/or stress from foreclosure. Requests
• Increased rent burden makes renters vulnerable regarding the physical condition of units
to adverse economic events which challenges continued to generate the largest number of
their ability to remain housed. This is calls to the Hotline.
underscored by significant growth in the number
Changes in High-Risk Requests:
of rental households who reported at least one
• Many renters were at high-risk of an involuntary
problematic physical or financial condition on the
move as a result of living in a property that was
South and West regions of the city.
under or entering foreclosure. Renters and

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago 3

Executive Summary

owners were sharing in the foreclosure crisis, makers have the opportunity to review up-to-date
both in the risk to possession of their housing data and make adjustments to existing programs
and in the physical deterioration due to lack of that may be falling short of addressing the current
funds for maintenance. challenges renters are facing. Using this type of data
can also ensure that programs and policies under
• Between 2004 and 2007, much of the West development recognize the entire nation’s housing
and South sides generated high numbers needs, and specifically, the needs of renters.
of requests related to this report’s high-risk
measure. Additionally, renters in isolated areas For years, renters have needed a new national
of the North side continued to be at high-risk of housing policy that seeks to balance homeownership
involuntary moves. with rental housing. The State of Renters in the
City of Chicago documents the crisis facing renters.
Requests to MTO’s Hotline regarding foreclosure and Using this information, we can begin to see how to
physical conditions positively correlated with HUD’s better fulfill their housing needs. Understanding the
foreclosure estimates and U.S. Census selected conditions of renters and rental housing can help
conditions data, respectively, underscoring MTO’s policy makers and advocates take action to address
Hotline as a valuable resource to policy makers. issues that renters face and help renters to access
MTO’s Hotline data is consistently collected and and maintain housing in stable neighborhoods. Any
available almost in real time, giving policy-makers the comprehensive housing policy will need to focus
opportunity to make adjustments to programs and on renters and use a variety of tools including
respond to current challenges facing renters. incentives, regulation, and government subsidy.
Driven by the findings of the analysis, the following
Importantly, over 70 percent of Hotline callers are key areas need to be addressed at both the policy
women. They play a key role in household decision- and programmatic levels:
making. Women may face gender-specific housing
problems, such as familial status discrimination, National Housing Policy
as well as economic conditions that make them The Obama Administration should convene a
vulnerable in the rental market. New housing policies national housing summit, bringing together federal,
and programs should specifically consider and target state, and local government officials, representatives
this population. from the non-profit housing community, housing
advocates, property owners and managers, and the
Recommendations: What is Needed business community. The goal of this summit should
Rent is undoubtedly the largest monthly expenditure be development of a comprehensive plan to fully
for a household. Renters make significant and direct house the residents of this country.
investments in neighborhoods, and their needs
must be recognized. If we are to be successful at Affordability
building neighborhood health and vitality, it is critical Congress and the Administration should re-commit
to conceptualize renters as investors in, rather than themselves to funding, building and preserving
simply transient occupants, of the city’s communities. affordable housing. The private market on its own
has not produced sufficient affordable housing. The
By comparing call data and housing trends over results are increases in the number of homeless and
time, MTO provides a valuable tool for developing, number of renters who are moderately to severely
analyzing, and evaluating preservation strategies and rent-burdened and living in distressed conditions.
targeting interventions to assist renters in maintaining A renewed commitment to affordable housing can
stable housing. With MTO as a resource, policy

4 The Metropolitan Tenants Organization

Executive Summary

be demonstrated by providing supply-side solutions to balance the cost of making repairs with keeping
through the increased production and one-for-one rents affordable. Specifically, the problems of small
replacement of subsidized units, as well as on the owners need to be taken into account in developing
demand side by expanding voucher programs. Local programs.
government and non-profit housing developers can
and should play a critical role in expanding affordable Women in Rental Housing
rental housing options. Among the actions needed: Expanded research into the housing needs of women
and their vulnerability to particular types of stress in
• Fully capitalize the National Housing Trust the rental market is needed. The lack of affordable
Fund. This is a permanent source of funding not rental housing is an issue for women. There is a
subject to the annual appropriations budget. It need for more programs to meet the housing needs
will provide housing for extremely low- and very of women; we would hypothesize there is a particular
low-income households. need for programs that are geared to female-headed
• Increase the HUD budget to stimulate building
of social or subsidized housing. Project-based Foreclosure
subsidized housing provides long term stability
Policy efforts should seek to protect renters who
for low-income renters.
live in properties under threat of or in foreclosure.
• Re-enact federal legislation requiring the one- Renters continue to be affected in great numbers
for-one replacement of public housing units as a result of buildings going into foreclosure. Even
to stop the continued loss of units through with recent federal law that allows renters to live out
demolition. their lease during and after foreclosure (or providing
them with 90 days of notice if they have no written
• Increase the use of non-for-profit developers lease), renters still are not secure that their tenancy
(CDCs) in owning, building and managing social will not be affected by foreclosure. Foreclosure
housing. The non-profit housing movement has also may force renters to live in substandard
established itself as a credible partner in efforts conditions as building maintenance deteriorates
to maintain and expand the supply of affordable or stops entirely. Funding from the Neighborhood
rental housing. Those CDCs that have endured Stabilization Program (NSP) can be an important tool
have extensive knowledge of local market to counteract the impact of foreclosures on renters.
conditions that should be used.
• Increase the number of vouchers available to Both neighborhood and household stability should
low-income renters. It will take years to build be a goal of national policy. At the household level,
sufficient social housing and renters need help renters need expanded protection from retaliation
now. It is unsustainable, even over the short and unjust evictions. At the neighborhood level,
term, to have significant numbers of renters where physical conditions problems are widespread,
dedicating 50 percent of their income to rent. interventions to ensure that housing quality
standards are met and maintained can be designed
and implemented. Detailed analysis of local markets
Poor housing conditions are the largest complaint that have been identified as stressed can also ensure
of renters to the MTO hotline. Often owners need that programs created are assured of success.

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago 5

Change in the Geography of Renters

2000 to 2007: % Change in Number

of Rental Units by Ward
Not incorporated within Chicago
-60.8% - 0%
0.1% - 20%
20.1% - 138%

2000-2007 Percent Change in Rental Units by Ward

2000: Rental Units 2007: Rental Units

as a % of Total Units by Ward as a % of Total Units by Ward
Not incorporated within Chicago Not incorporated within Chicago
17% - 50% 13.6% - 49%
50.1% - 55% 49.1% - 55%
55.1% - 81.6% 55.1% - 67.2%

2000 Rental Units as a Percent of Total Units by Ward 2007 Rental Units as a Percent of Total Units by Ward

6 The Metropolitan Tenants Organization

Change in Hotline Conditions Requests

1995-1999: Conditions Requests

as a % of Total City Conditions Requests by Ward
Area not incorporated within Chicago
0.4% - 1.5%
1.6% - 2.4%
2.5% - 5.2%

1995-1999 Conditions Requests as a Percent of Total City

Conditions Requests by Ward

2000-2003: Conditions Requests 2004-2007: Conditions Requests

as a % of Total City Conditions Requests by Ward as % of Total City Conditions Requests by Ward
Not incorporated within Chicago Not incorporated within Chicago
0.4% - 1.5% 0.3% - 1.5%
1.6% - 2.4% 1.5% - 2.4%
2.5% - 4.4% 2.5% - 3.8%

2000-2003 Conditions Requests as a Percent of Total City 2004-2007 Conditions Requests as a Percent of Total City
Conditions Requests by Ward Conditions Requests by Ward

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago 7

Foreclosures: Impacting Owners and Renters

2000 to 2007: % Change in Number 2008 MTO Foreclosure Requests

of Owner-Occupied Units by Ward vs. HUD Foreclosure Estimates by Ward, 2007-2008
Not incorporated within Chicago Not incorporated within Chicago
-52.9% - 0% MTO Foreclosure Calls
0.1% - 20% 167 - 497
20.1% - 191.2% 498 - 818
819 - 1,565

2000-2007 Percent Change in Owner-Occupied Units by Ward 2008 MTO Foreclosure Requests vs. 2007-2008 HUD Foreclosure

8 The Metropolitan Tenants Organization

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago has a “renters’ market.” But years of inattention to the
attempted to underscore the increased burdens needs of low and moderate-income renters, which
facing renters as a result of the changing conditions have only been exacerbated by stagnating incomes,
in the housing market. Areas that have long been suggest that these renters may be the last to benefit
dominated by rental properties now have relatively from increased overall vacancy rates. They continue
fewer renters than in the past; meanwhile, renter to suffer from an acute shortage of affordable rental
household levels have grown in neighborhoods units.
at the city’s periphery that have traditionally been
occupied by homeowners. In addition, many hard Local governments face severe constraints on
subsidies and renter services remain in areas that resources that prevent them from adequately
traditionally contained large numbers of rental units. addressing these problems. Rental markets and
Other communities, where reports of problems in problems can also span jurisdictional boundaries
rental housing are concentrated, are experiencing that render strictly local solutions ineffective. The
foreclosure distress. Finally, the number of scope of problems in the housing and financial
affordable rental units in the central parts of the city, markets requires leadership at the federal level.
where services, jobs, and transit are concentrated, The nation needs a comprehensive housing policy
has decreased; this spatial de-concentration makes to support renters and owners alike in accessing
it more difficult to reach renters with targeted and maintaining themselves and their families
interventions. in safe, decent, and affordable housing in stable
neighborhoods. If the current housing and economic
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s Hotline not crisis has taught us anything, it is that simply turning
only helps individual renters address challenges, it renters into owners is no guarantee of household or
also can be used to analyze market trends impacting community stability.
renters and can contribute to development of
effective programmatic responses. As the maps
clearly show, requests made to MTO’s Hotline have
proven to be indicators of issues facing renters
throughout the City of Chicago. Detailed analysis
of MTO’s Hotline data can help policy-makers
understand conditions facing renters, ensuring that
programs are developed which effectively target and
anticipate renters’ needs. Since data is collected
on an ongoing basis, this gives policy-makers
the opportunity to make real-time adjustments to
programs and respond to new challenges as they
appear. It allows the voice and needs of renters to
be included in policy decisions.

The primary goal of housing policy should be to

find ways to keep both renters and owners stable in
their homes. The impact of the current housing and
financial crisis on renters requires that the Obama
Administration be sensitive to their conditions and
the problems they face in the rental housing market.
Some higher income renters may be experiencing

The State of Renters in the City of Chicago 9

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