Chicago's Disappearing Multi-Unit Buildings

The city is seeing a rapid loss of its signature two-, three-, and four-flat residential buildings, which historically served as affordable housing for working-class families.

Read Time: 2 minutes

May 20, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Chicago, Illinois

D Guest Smith / Shutterstock

"A report from the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University released Thursday shows Chicago has lost more than 4,800 two- to four-unit buildings since 2013, representing 11,775 rental and owner-occupied housing units," writes Hannah Alani in Block Club Chicago. But wealthy and poor neighborhoods are losing this housing stock "for starkly different reasons."

Across the city, 47.5 percent of demolished two-, three-, and four-flats "were replaced with a single-family home through conversion, or demolition and new construction, with the work being done mostly in North Side neighborhoods." But "about one-third of the city’s flats gave way to vacant land, with that happening mostly in South and West side neighborhoods dealing with disinvestment, long-term population loss and a foreclosure crisis."

Neighborhoods like Lincoln Park are quickly losing what was once "ample housing stock for working-class families," writes Alani. According to the DePaul research, "1,150 two- to four-unit buildings have been lost in lower-cost communities since 2013. Of those, 80.6 percent were converted to non-residential land uses. And of those, 89.1 percent are classified as vacant land." 

To slow the conversion trend and preserve affordable multi-unit housing, city leaders are enacting ordinances that limit redevelopment or ban demolitions. "For example, the demolition ban along the Bloomingdale Trail prevents owners from tearing down two-flats and building single-family residences. An anti-deconversion ordinance in Pilsen aims to interrupt the loss of cheap housing stock in the gentrifying neighborhood. There’s also a new ordinance permitting a pilot program for Accessory Dwelling Units."

Friday, May 14, 2021 in Block Club Chicago

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of Bend, Oregon with river and old mill district

Bend Eliminates Parking Minimums

The city is complying with an Oregon state mandate that some cities have challenged in court.

January 20, 2023 - KTVZ

Aerial view of dense single-family homes in neighborhood still under construction

How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

January 23, 2023 - The Virginia Mercury

Concrete building wth Department of Housing and Urban Development sign

How Federal Policy Can Support More Affordable Housing in Exclusionary Communities

The recently funded “Yes In My Back Yard” federal grant program provides support for local and state governments to implement housing policy reforms, but it doesn’t go far enough to undo the exclusionary practices of wealthy communities.

22 minutes ago - Urban Institute

Two buses pull up to a station on a snowy day.

Increased Service, Employer Tax Breaks Entice Transit Ridership in Montgomery County

Montgomery County, Maryland transit planners are hoping workers returning to the office in 2023 will rediscover the benefits of a public transit commute.

1 hour ago - Bethesda Magazine

New York City skyline with construction cranes in foreground

NYC Mayor Adams Proposes Ambitious Housing Agenda in State of the City Address

Housing is one of four “pillars” proposed by Mayor Eric Adams in his “Working People’s Agenda.”

2 hours ago - NYC Office of the Mayor