Rising city rent prices hurt students, artists

By Editorial Board

Chicago has always enjoyed a reputation for being one of America’s largest cities still offering a lower cost-of-living and affordable rents. However, Chicago was recently ranked the seventh most expensive city in the world by the Swiss global financial firm UBS. Tokyo and Paris  trailed Chicago, while New York City topped the list. The rankings, published every three years, evaluate 71 international cities based on the cost of rent, goods and services in dozens of categories, like haircuts, public transportation and electronics. 

An abundance of taxes, which increase the cost of goods in Chicago, could be contributing to this ranking. Soda, bottled water, groceries and streaming services are among the various goods and services currently taxed by the city, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a number of new and increased taxes and fees in his Sept. 22 budget address. Among these are a significant property tax hike and a monthly trash removal fee proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for certain Chicago residents. Both are likely to affect renters. 

Rent has also been rising throughout the city. The average cost to rent an apartment of “typical size and location” is $2,210, according to the UBS rankings. Leasing a furnished, two-bedroom apartment in Chicago costs $2,520. The average rent for an unfurnished, three-bedroom apartment was reported to be $2,960, compared to $4,320 in New York City and $2,180 in Miami.

A contributing factor to Chicago’s rising rent costs is the city’s large population of renters, particularly in neighborhoods that attract young tenants. Zillow reports that when a city’s median rent exceeds 30 percent of its median household income, it is no longer considered affordable for millennials. According to Bloomberg, Chicago’s median rent exceeds that at 30.3 percent of a renter’s median income. The cost of rent in various Chicago neighborhoods has risen by almost 12 percent from 2012–2015. For instance, the cost to lease a two-bedroom apartment has increased 11.6 percent in Avondale and 9.9 percent in Logan Square, according to an analysis by domu.com. These neighborhoods have generally been considered cheap alternatives to areas such as River North or Lincoln Park, which are known to attract affluent buyers and renters. 

New York City was once affordable for artists, students and the middle class. In mid-2004, the median rent surpassed 30 percent of median household income. Today, median rent is 41.7 percent of a young resident’s income in New York. If Chicago continues to follow in New York’s steps, the city may see a decline in its population of renters.

Chicago’s active music, art, theatre and comedy communities have long attracted creative types at all stages in their careers. However, these careers are generally less lucrative. Wicker Park,  Logan Square and Avondale have reputations for being artist- and student-friendly areas, but if rent prices continue to rise, artists and students alike will no longer be able to afford to live in these neighborhoods and could be pushed farther from The Loop.