Several dozen Rogers Park and Edgewater residents gathered in a brightly lit middle school cafeteria on a weeknight, many responding to an email blast by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore. Some voiced concerns about the changes they said they see in the neighborhood, from rising rents to an increase in luxury apartments.
The meeting, which took place on Aug. 23 in the Chicago Math and Science Academy on North Clark Street, was an attempt to create more transparency about transit-oriented developments (TODs) — a type of development which has grown in Rogers Park in the last year.
“My biggest fear is Rogers Park becoming Andersonville,” said 25-year-old Rogers Park resident Gabrielle Schreiber. “Andersonville is a great neighborhood … but it’s expensive.”
Transit-oriented developments are buildings, often mixed-use — meaning they include both residential and commercial space — that are within walking distance of public transit, such as a train, bus or bike station.
The Chicago city zoning ordinance creating TODs was enacted in 2013 to allow for buildings with higher density, more height and reduced parking.
TODs have been promoted as affordable and greener alternatives to traditional commercial or residential buildings, but it’s questionable if the people who are supposed to reap the most reward from the developments are seeing many of their benefits.
The recently proposed Loyola Gateway development, which would replace the nearly century-old Woodruff Arcade Building at North Broadway Avenue and West Sheridan Road, would be a TOD.
Near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, the recently approved Concord at Sheridan development — which includes affordable and market-rate housing and a Target store — also qualifies as a TOD.
Kyle Whitehead, a campaign manager for the Active Transit Alliance, said the relationship between TODs and environmental conscientiousness is self-fulfilling.
“Rogers Park already has a lot of transportation assets that help support alternative modes [of transportation],” Whitehead said.
What this means is TODs go best in areas where public transportation, biking and walking are popular. In turn, Whitehead said, the presence of a TOD fosters an environment in which alternative transit modes grow and allow for more TODs.
An amendment to the 2013 ordinance was passed in 2015 to allow for zoning changes such as changes to floor to area ratios, increased building height and reduced parking.
A separate ordinance, called the Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) mandates a TOD requesting a zoning change from the city to designate 10 percent of its residential units as affordable units, a quarter of which must be on-site. That mandate gets bumped up to 20 percent if the development receives financial assistance from the city.
The ARO helps ensure that people with lower incomes have access to TODs, as they can benefit most from them, according to Metropolitan Planning Council manager Lynette McRae.
“We talk about the benefits [of TODs] in access to jobs, access to different amenities, services and if you are lower-income, and you don’t have a car, having that proximity to the things that you need — that’s a very key asset,” McRae said.
Low-income families typically don’t own cars and rely heavily on public transportation to commute to work, which is why TODs — with their reduced parking and close proximity to public transit — fit their needs well.
“The folks that aren’t able to afford cars, this could really make the difference between them being able to get to work,” McRae said.
However, developers can pay an ‘in-lieu’ fee to the city and develop the majority of its affordable housing off-site, which can nullify the effect of the ARO — a trend which McRae said she’s seen.
“In the higher cost areas where developers could get more for market-rate [housing], there’s a greater likelihood that they would decide to opt out,” McRae said.
Opting out can create more opportunities for people who can afford to buy high cost, market-rate units, while it can leave low-income people who need to rent affordable places with less.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” McRae said. “Through all the benefits [of TODs] we talked about … also carries with it the opportunity to ensure low-income people are part of the beneficiaries.”
Affordable housing data shows a correlation between the drop in renters in Rogers Park and Edgewater and a rise in homeowners. Data by the Chicago Rehab Network — which analyzed 2010 U.S. Census data — showed a 40.5 percent increase in homeowners with a 25 percent drop in renters from 2000-2010 in Rogers Park.
Edgewater experienced both an 11.9 percent increase in homeowners and an 11.9 percent drop in renters in that same time period.
Average rent in Rogers Park rose consistently since 2000, while the number of people considered “housing cost burdened” — meaning more than 30 percent of their income goes to rent — more than doubled and minority populations declined, leading some to fear Rogers Park is gentrifying.
David Zegeye, a 20-year-old Rogers Park resident and Haverford College student, said he’s interested in the benefits TODs can provide, but for him affordability is definitely always on his mind.
“My family is low-income, and Rogers Park is my favorite neighborhood,” Zegeye said. “I’m very much interested in development in the city, as well as affordability and equity … and how that can be better addressed.”
While some Rogers Park residents in attendance were cautious about the wave of change discussed at the event, others said they were more optimistic.
Resident Peter Normand, 38, said he hoped skeptics were able to have their questions answered and that the event increased transparency about TODs.
“I think people are looking for an excuse to be opposed to any kind of change in their neighborhood, especially change that brings new people,” Normand said.