Chicago Sun-Times: Housing Advocates Push to Preserve Two Flats in Chicago

“As Korey Bilbro walked through Roseland on a recent afternoon, he called everyone he came across his neighbor as he handed out green plastic bags stuffed with information about housing assistance. His efforts are part of a goal to reach 10,000 homes — primarily two-flat buildings — as advocates try to preserve this type of housing stock in Chicago they say provides affordable apartments while also generating wealth for homeowners in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Their initiative comes as residents are still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and weeks away from the eviction moratorium ending.

“In predominantly African-American census tracts in Chicago, apartments in 2 to 4-unit buildings made up nearly 30% of the residences in those neighborhoods , according to research from the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. In majority Latino census tracts, apartments in these types of buildings make up nearly 46% of the units in these communities.

“Housing advocates started talking about how to preserve two-flats about two years ago and in recent months have launched the Chicago Flats Initiative, said Donna Clarke, the chief operating officer for the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.

“Two-flat buildings could be found in the neighborhoods they were working in, but some were deteriorating because of years of deferred maintenance while others were going into foreclosure, Clarke said. The outreach Bilbro and others are doing this summer are part of that initiative.

“Clarke said tenants and owners of these types of buildings are vulnerable, pointing out that an eviction could destabilize someone for a decade. And if an owner is unable to pay their mortgage, that results in the homeowner losing a wealth asset and the community possibly losing an affordable rental unit.

“‘So it’s a lose-lose for both,’ said Clarke, who said the groups want to create holistic solutions. ‘There needs to be resources for the small-unit landlord. It’s a wealth-building opportunity for a lot of them. It also provides affordable housing for the renter. One is putting market pressure on the another; we wanted to make sure that we had solutions for both.’

“Owners of these type of buildings often use rent generated from the units to pay the mortgage, Clarke said. Research conducted by DePaul on this type of housing stock found 34% of rental units with rents under $900 were in two to four unit buildings.

“Two-flat buildings in Chicago date back to around 1910 and 1920, said Adam Rubin, the director of interpretation at the Chicago Architecture Center. Two-flat buildings are as recognizable in Chicago as bungalows, he said. Bungalows are part of the city’s single-family housing stock, according to the Chicago Bungalow Association.

“These buildings have been particularly useful for immigrants who were able to pay a mortgage by renting out one or two units in the building to a relative or another immigrant, Rubin said.” (Malagón, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/17/21)

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times

Housing advocates push to preserve two-flats in Chicago, A door-to-door campaign is part of a movement to preserve affordable units while helping homeowners build wealth, according to housing advocates, Elvia Malagón, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/17/21


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