New Policies to Preserve Two-to-Four-Unit Housing in Chicago

Author: Elizabeth Burton
Date Posted: June 5, 2023

Two- to four-unit residential buildings account for a quarter of Chicago’s housing units and compose a substantial share of unsubsidized affordable housing, particularly in Black and Latino communities. Community organizations witnessed the deconversion of these buildings into single-family homes, which often raised the cost of housing in the market. The Institute for Housing Studies (IHS) at DePaul University quantified this issue to document the loss of these buildings and found that from 2013 to 2019, 11,775 rental and owner-occupied housing units were lost. Of all the multiunit properties, 47.5 percent were converted to single-family homes. The remaining properties became vacant land, were refurbished for nonresidential use, or became other residential property types. The IHS found that this loss of affordable housing stock affected communities facing gentrification as well as neighborhoods with historical disinvestment.

In July 2022, Chicago’s City Council passed the Connected Communities Ordinance to overhaul Chicago’s transit-oriented development policies. The ordinance includes a ban on converting two- to four-unit properties to single-family homes in areas near transit or zoned for higher density without a zoning change request. The IHS partnered with Elevated Chicago, whose members led the coalition of more than 80 organizations that wrote and advocated for the ordinance, to provide data and technical assistance on two- to four-unit buildings. The IHS created risk maps that showed displacement and deconversion in transit areas and produced data on the price and affordability of the two- to four-unit housing stock. To include community members’ perspectives, IHS worked with Elevated partner Rudd Resources to incorporate quantitative data analysis with resident stories.

The Connected Community Ordinance followed other important policy changes also based on the IHS analysis that preserve Chicago’s two- to four-unit affordable housing. In January 2021, the Chicago City Council passed two anti-deconversion ordinances to prohibit the construction of single-family homes and the conversion of multifamily-unit buildings to single-family residences in two areas dealing with rapidly increasing housing costs and displacement pressures: the 606 trail, including the Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods, and Pilsen, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the Lower West Side of Chicago. The IHS shared insights to inform the types of buildings covered by the legislation and the criteria for the restricted areas. The two anti-deconversion ordinances were informed by a temporary six-month moratorium on demolitions of residential buildings surrounding the west part of the 606-trail that passed in January 2020. The legislation cited the IHS’s research on how the destruction of multifamily two- to four-unit buildings led to hundreds of displaced households. The council also enacted a pilot program for Pilsen that imposes a $15,000 surcharge when a detached house, townhouse, or two-flat building is demolished and a $5,000 surcharge per dwelling unit when a multiunit residential building is demolished.

The IHS was able to influence local policy because of long-term partnerships with community organizations and policymakers built from rigorous housing analysis and ongoing engagement. The IHS’s recent research on two- to four-unit buildings examines the potential of homeownership and wealth-building opportunities for Black and Latino homebuyers. The IHS will continue to collaborate with community-based organizations and provide data to ensure affordable housing is preserved for people with low incomes, seniors, and residents of color.

In May 2023, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) conferred the G. Thomas Kingsley Impact Award to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. This award recognizes an NNIP partner organization that has demonstrated impact using data to improve local policy and practice to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods. This story was written by Elizabeth Burton at the Urban Institute, with the support of Geoff Smith from the Institute for Housing Studies, Diane Limas from Communities United, and Roberto Requejo from Elevated Chicago. NNIP is a learning network, coordinated by the Urban Institute, that connects independent partner organizations in more than 30 cities. The Institute for Housing Studies is the partner organization for the city of Chicago.

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