“Already disappearing before COVID-19, Chicago’s two-, three- and four-flats, long seen as sources of affordable homeownership and rental opportunities, may emerge from the pandemic with an identity crisis.
“The uncertainty of the past two years could alter some of the signature benefits for renters as landlords change their management style to adapt or consider selling altogether, a recent study found.
“That would mean one more hurdle for tenants, and one more challenge for communities as the city looks to combat a shortage of affordable housing.
“The findings were outlined in a December report by researchers from the American Bar Foundation and the University of Illinois at Chicago, which examined small, independently-owned rental properties in Chicago, such as two- and three-flats. The buildings make up a large portion of the country’s supply of unsubsidized affordable housing, and many of the landlords manage their properties in ways that benefit tenants, such as limiting rent increases, forgoing fees and being more flexible on partial or late payments, according to the study.
“But the basis for that management style might be more precarious than it once seemed. As small landlords grapple with financial challenges during the pandemic, some are considering reining in that flexibility.
“The findings follow a 2021 study from the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University that detailed how Chicago’s two-, three- and four-flats were disappearing even before the pandemic, often replaced with single-family homes or empty lots. The researchers fear the pandemic could hasten the loss of small rental housing and make two- and three-flats less appealing as a path to homeownership.
“‘This sector of the rental market is really important because: one, it is more affordable, and two, there’s an understanding, somewhat supported by previous research, that landlords have these more flexible, lenient, tenant-friendly practices in this sector,’ researcher Anna Reosti said.” (Freishtat, Chicago Tribune, 3/5/22)