Redevelopment Threatens Iconic, Affordable Chicago Homes

The ‘workers’ cottages’ are being replaced with larger, more expensive homes, threatening one of the city’s original forms of affordable housing.

May 16, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

“Workers cottages are ubiquitous in Chicago, though they’re perhaps not as well known by name as their younger sibling, the bungalow.” Writing for WTTW, Nick Blumberg describes this commonly overlooked form of housing. “They’re simple homes of four to six rooms with a gabled roof at the front of the house and an entrance off to one side – usually one story, sometimes two.” According to Blumberg, “The Workers Cottage Initiative estimates there are as many as 60,000 of these homes around the city. The earliest date back to the 1860s, but construction really started to take off in the 1880s.” A quarter of the parcels surveyed in McKinley Park are workers’ cottages, and the Initiative plans to complete more studies next year.

This iconic form of early affordable housing faces destruction as many of the homes are demolished to make way for new houses. “The Workers Cottage Initiative tracked demolitions in Logan Square and Avondale between 2006 and 2020. In Logan Square, 46% of buildings knocked down were workers cottages. In Avondale, 40%.” 

“In many places where workers cottages are knocked down, the new homes are larger and more expensive – meaning preservation isn’t just about history, it’s about holding onto the city’s rapidly declining affordable housing.” Elizabeth Blasius of Preservation Futures says the cottages are more than a historical curiosity. “There’s still such a potential for workers cottages to fulfill our housing needs today.”

Thursday, May 12, 2022 in WTTW

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