Affordable Rental Housing Difficult To Come By In Cook County: Report

11/16/2011 10:56 am ET

Though demand for affordable rental housing in Cook County is on the rise, the number of moderately-priced rental units available has failed to keep pace with the number of individuals trying to make ends meet.

A report [PDF] released Tuesday by the DePaul University Institute for Housing Studies detailed the state of Cook County's rental housing market and found that the countywide affordable housing shortage currently stands at roughly 180,000 units -- an increase of nearly 10 percent since 2005.

Additionally, rental prices in the county have increased over five years ago and that increase has had the largest impact on the lives of lower-income renters. The study found that more than three-quarters of households making less than $35,000 per year pay out more than 30 percent of their income to rent.

The study further reported that the gap between the number of affordable housing units needed and the number that actually exist is likely to balloon to 233,000 by 2020.

Geoff Smith, the institute's executive director, told the Chicago Tribune that the report's findings "should be a concern for the region."

"The access to housing that people can afford at 30 percent of their income, there's not enough there," Smith told the Tribune. "These are folks that work in all sorts of jobs and contribute to the economy in different ways. It's important that we have an affordable rental stock for them to live in."

The study also reported that the number of renters in Cook County -- 40 percent of all residents -- is on the rise while the number of homeowners in the county is decreasing. Cook County renters earn substantially lower incomes than owners, are younger than owners and are earning much less on average compared to a decade ago. Between 2000 and 2009, real income for the county's 25-and-under renter households declined by over 25 percent.

Smith told WBEZ that one major problem impacting the affordable housing shortage is that banks have grown increasingly cautious in making loans to individuals who buy apartment buildings smaller than 100 units.

"Those make up much of the affordable housing stock in Chicago and Cook County, but they tend to be the types of buildings that are more challenging to finance," Smith explained.

Demand and prices across the board, of course, are up for rental apartments. Earlier this year, a new report released by Appraisal Research Counselors found that prices for high-end apartments in the city's downtown area had surpassed their pre-recession boom as more and more people turn away from home ownership. Development this summer was underway on five projects offering up some 1,700 new units of premium downtown apartment dwellings, apparently targeted toward young professionals.

But few new developments await low- or middle-income renters because such projects are also deemed to be risky investments, John "Jack" Markowski, president and CEO of Community Investment Corp., explained to the Tribune.

"Ultimately it's all driven by employment, Markowski said. "The driver of the rental market is the employment of the people who live there. ... People are worried that they won't make their money back."

Cook County renters: Has the recession made it harder for you to find an affordable place to live? We would love to hear your story. Contact us at

Photo by Zol87 via Flickr.

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