As rent costs rise, some residents of one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods are afraid their community could face the start of gentrification as more middle-class people move in and lower-income people and minorities are pushed out.
The rent in Rogers Park rose an average of about 3 percent per year since 2011 — a total of 18 percent — according to American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates from 2015.
“There isn’t a lot of work, and each year they increase the rent,” said Otilia Blanco, local parent and six-year resident whose 6-year-old son translated for her. “It has quite an impact.”
Rising rent and subsequent changes in demographics can indicate a neighborhood is gentrifying, although measuring gentrification can be complicated, according to sociology professor Peter Rosenblatt, who studies housing policy and urban inequality at Loyola.
“We think of gentrification as a change in the class composition of the neighborhood,” Rosenblatt said. “That’s certainly the leading concern about gentrification: that as more middle class people move in, you have a rising rent and rising property taxes, and that makes it hard for people who are in the neighborhood to stay.”
While the median rent in Rogers Park has somewhat increased, the changes here aren’t as severe as those in neighborhoods like Logan Square, which saw rents rise as much as approximately 10 percent in 2015, according to Chicago housing site Domu.
In March 2017, the median rent price for a one-bedroom apartment in Rogers Park was $950 per month. That number was as much as $2,000 or more in places like Wicker Park or River North, according to the most recent report by Zumper.
While the rent increases may not be as severe as some of these gentrified neighborhoods in Chicago, another way to measure the impact of housing costs is by measuring the “housing burden,” or the number of people who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The number of renters in Rogers Park who earn between $20,000 and $50,000 per year and pay more than 30 percent of income on rent more than doubled from about 24 percent between 2000 and 2010. For homeowners in the same income category, the percentage jumped from approximately 37 to 86 percent. At the same time, there are more upper-middle class households in the neighborhood: the number of households making more than $75,000 per year increased dramatically, according to analyses of the 2010 and 2015 censuses by the Chicago Rehab Network, which tracks community development and displacement.
That means more and more people like Blanco are struggling to pay rent.
“I have had to limit myself in other things just to fulfill the rent, because it’s necessary,” Blanco said. “I don’t have another option.”
But while some people may be pushed out by the rising costs, there’s another effect of Rogers Park’s possible gentrification: a decrease in crime rates.
While crime in Chicago decreased since 2000, the changes were somewhat greater in Rogers Park. Chicago crime decreased by about 47 percent over the last 10 years, while the total crime reduction in Rogers Park was almost 52 percent, according to City of Chicago crime reports.
“On one hand, things are getting more expensive, but on the other hand, I haven’t seen a drug deal outside my window in years,” said Erin Simmons, 30, who has lived in Rogers Park for the last eight years.
Some residents fear reduced crime and increased housing costs will push minorities out of the neighborhood. Gentrification is often characterized by an increasing middle-class white population and decreasing minority populations, according to Rosenblatt.
While the population of the neighborhood has decreased since 2000, minority populations in Rogers Park have dropped significantly. The African-American and Hispanic populations decreased by more than 23 percent each, while the white population increased by about 10 percent, according to a 2016 report by the Heartland Alliance’s Social Impact Research Center.
According to Rosenblatt, urban universities can sometimes drive up housing costs in nearby communities, contributing to gentrification.
“There was an example from Baltimore of a university medical campus [at] Johns Hopkins, which, for a long time, was bordered by very poor neighborhoods,” Rosenblatt said. “For a long time they would buy up vacant houses and sort of sit on them for a while, and eventually, after a long time, owned enough of that property to completely tear down and redevelop that whole 10 square blocks adjacent to the university.”
Like Johns Hopkins, Loyola has been in the area since the late 19th century, and owns much of the property around the Lake Shore Campus. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Loyola is causing gentrification, according to Jennifer Clark, associate vice president of Campus and Community Planning.
“While an individual student may only stay in Rogers Park for four years, the demographic of 18 to 22-year-old college student has been the most stable demographic for the last 150 years,” Clark said. “While Rogers Park more broadly has changed from being Irish and Italian immigrants to Jewish immigrants to Bosnian immigrants to Haitian immigrants to now Syrian refugees, the 18 to 22-year-old college student is the longest standing demographic in this neighborhood.”