One thing’s for sure: As the current transit-oriented development boom unfolds along Milwaukee Avenue it’s bringing major changes to the affected neighborhoods. Many people agree that adding dense, low-parking development near Blue Line stations is a good strategy for reducing car dependency. But there’s been debate about whether the new wave of high-end TOD buildings is fueling the displacement of working-class residents in these areas, especially Logan Square, or if the increase in housing supply will take pressure off the existing rental market.
A recent article in Curbed provided a snapshot of the changes that are taking place as thousands of new apartments, virtually all of them in TOD buildings, are being built along the Blue Line. It noted that as Wicker Park continues to gentrify, small businesses along Milwaukee are being replaced by chain stores than can afford higher rents.
Meanwhile, hundreds of units are being built in Logan Square with rents ranging from $1,400 for a studio in the Twin Towers to $3,900 for a upper-floor three-bedroom in the “L” building. Ten percent of the apartments in these building will be affordable units, as defined by the city’s standards.
But Curbed noted that, despite the fact that many Chicagoans would never be willing or able to spend thousands of dollars a month on rent, well-heeled folks seem to be lining up to sign leases. A 40-unit TOD at 1515-1517 West Haddon in Wicker Park is over 70 percent leased, two and a half months before it opens, according to developer Mark Sutherland of Wicker Park Apartments.
The building, located a block from the Division Blue Line station, will have 41 apartments (none of which are affordable units) and 21 parking spaces, and rents are similar to the Logan Square TODs. And like the Logan buildings, the Haddon building will include plenty of upscale amenities and perks to partially justify the high rents, including 45 bike parking spaces and a CTA Transit Tracker screen in the lobby.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the rents in these new TODs are expensive not because of the fact that they’ve got relatively few parking spots but in spite of it. Garage spots cost tens of thousands of dollars each to build so, in theory, by providing fewer spaces developers should be able to pass on the savings to their tenants.
But while we know that new construction is expensive, we don’t really have a way to judge whether the companies are charging premium rents in these buildings because they have to in order to turn a profit, or simply because they want to make as much money as possible. Developers like Rob Buono of the Twin Towers have told me that, were it not for the easing of parking mandates brought about by the city’s new TOD ordinance, they probably wouldn’t be building these projects.
Similarly, when anti-displacement activists like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square have pushed for the percentage of onsite affordable units in local TODs to be increased from 10 percent to 30 percent and the developers have argued that this would prevent them from attracting investors or making a profit, we have no way to tell if this is true. Somos also wants the definition of “affordable” for these units to be changed so that they’re within reach of residents making 30 percent of the Chicago region’s Area Mean Income, rather than the 60 percent mandated by the city.