Harris Poll: High cost of housing is making Chicago inhospitable

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Americans are often advised to keep housing expenses at or below 30% of their monthly income. However, few Chicago residents can secure a low enough price to stay within these guidelines: Almost half (47%) of city residents spend more than 30% of their annual household income on housing. Even more concerning, 22% spend more than half of their annual household income on housing. This makes it difficult for families to afford other basic necessities, including food, clothing and transportation.

Chicago’s minimum wage sits at $15.40 an hour. While that is higher than the rest of Illinois ($12 an hour), the city’s housing wage—the amount one needs to earn to be able to afford basic housing—is $24.98. That gap signals that many of Chicago’s lower-income workers cannot find reasonably affordable housing. And while the need for rental assistance is high, only a quarter of households who qualify actually receive it. Others remain on waitlists for years in a fruitless effort to secure financial support.

Seven in 10 city residents (71%) agree that Chicago lacks sufficient low-income housing. There were 442,175 extremely low-income renter households in Illinois last year, according to a 2021 study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Housing Action Illinois, but there are only 174,086 affordable rental homes. The number of households living below the poverty line, in other words, is more than double the number of affordable rental options.

Chicagoans are not optimistic that housing affordability will improve in the near term: Almost half (45%) of city residents think it will be worse five years from now. This year, average rents in the city of Chicago increased 9.4% from 2021. Residents’ pessimism will ring true if this foreshadows what’s to come.

Despite the rising rents, the grass is not always greener, or less expensive, elsewhere. More than half (60%) of city residents think that housing affordability is worse in Chicago than it is in other U.S. cities. Despite this perception, however, Chicago is not in the top 10 most expensive U.S. cities for housing. According to Consumer Affairs’ city rankings (based on median housing costs), Chicago ranks 13th, with a median monthly housing cost of $1,356. This is roughly half of the median housing cost in San Jose, Calif., ($2,463 per month), the most expensive city on the list.

Regardless of how the city ranks, Chicagoans are ready for their affordable housing crisis to end. Eighty percent of city residents support developing additional affordable housing, and 70% support establishing more low-income housing in the city. The question is, who will ensure that new affordable housing is available to those who need it?

Chicago residents primarily look to city leadership (40%, making it the top response) to take the lead on issues related to housing affordability. Mayor Lori Lightfoot seems to understand Chicagoans’ exasperation with steep rent, recently announcing a plan to bring more affordable housing to LaSalle Street in the Loop, for example. As part of the project, private developers would be granted taxpayer dollars and tax incentives if 30% of the residential units are leased at affordable rates.

With Chicago’s mayoral election just months away, Lightfoot is smart to respond to her constituents’ needs. As is often the case when our political system works, good policy—in this case, addressing the city’s affordable housing problem—aligns with good politics.

Will Johnson is CEO of The Harris Poll, a global public opinion polling, market research and strategy firm.

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December 19, 2022 at 07:29AM

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