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.

2 minute read

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

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Digital drawing of person holding city skyline with wifi symbols and lines indicating smart cities or data.

Cities Awarded for Data-Driven Projects

The What Cities Works Certification recognizes cities for using data to solve real problems.

8 seconds ago - Smart Cities Dive

The Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose, California.

Faith-Based Housing Movement Grows

More churches and municipalities are saying ‘Yes in God’s Backyard.’

1 hour ago - Vox

Close-up of red and white BUS LANE sign painted in street lane.

Why BRT Can Benefit Cities More Than Rail

Bus rapid transit lines offer a less expensive, quicker-build alternative to rail that can bring other infrastructure improvements with it.

2 hours ago - Governing

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.