Discover more from Fred Klonsky in Retirement
My affordable housing fetish.
Neighborhoods are living things. They change.
If you live in one neighborhood long enough it’s not hard to see and feel the change.
We have lived in our northwest side Chicago neighborhood for nearly 50 years.
We moved here as renters, just four blocks from the house we live in now.
50 years ago the neighborhood was working class, white and Puerto Rican.
There were mainly four kinds of housing:
Large apartment units, usually with a courtyard.
Small wood frame single family homes.
Two and three flat greystones.
Brick single family workingmen’s cottages.
Along our Burnham designed boulevards are hundred-year old “mansions,” which were once the homes of German merchants, not quite wealthy enough to live by the Lake.
Thirty years ago we bought our first and only house. A 100 year old (at the time) workingmen’s cottage.
It needed work, but we took our time. Life isn’t like a HGTV make-over where they transform a house in a couple of days.
What has changed the most about our neighborhood is that it is not so affordable anymore. We certainly couldn’t afford to buy our house now.
Like a lot of Chicago, housing affordability is changing the city in ways that I don’t think are so good.
It is not a problem that the City can fix by itself.
Take Emmett Street.
I’ve written about it before. For ten years we supported the building of a totally affordable apartments on a rarely used City parking lot near the CTA Blue Line station.
It will open for rentals any day now.
It will have 100 units. One, two and three bedroom apartments at below market rates and managed by Bickerdike, a local non-profit housing organization.
It’s great. But not even close to meeting the need. Thousands of families, mainly Puerto Rican, have been priced out of the neighborhood over the past two decades.
It is estimated that there is a national need for seven million units of affordable housing.
A need like this requires a federal response.
Meanwhile, houses like mine and hundreds of beautiful, affordable three-flat greystone multi-family buildings have been demolished, replaced by million dollar single family homes.
I was disappointed to read this in the recent issue of The Atlantic, entitled Stop Fetishizing Old Homes by UCLA researcher M. Nolan Gray.
In the meantime, we’re stuck with a lot of old housing that, to put it bluntly, just kind of sucks. A stately Victorian manor in the Berkshires is one thing. But if you live in a Boston triple-decker, a kit-built San Jose bungalow, or a Chicago greystone, your home is the cheap housing of generations past. These structures were built to last a half century—at most, with diligent maintenance—at which point the developers understood they would require substantial rehabilitation. Generally speaking, however, the maintenance hasn’t been diligent, the rehabilitation isn’t forthcoming, and any form of redevelopment is illegal thanks to overzealous zoning.
Funny how our “cheap” brick cottage has stood for 140 years.
In fact, it is the million dollar shoe boxes that have replaced the solid greystones that are cheaply made.
My fetish isn’t so much about preferring old to new.
It’s about preserving a city for the working folks who built it and about affordability.
I’m all about fetishizing that.