Ho Ho Ho! It’s Christmas season and that means it’s time for our annual tradition of calling out the year’s worst and best landlords. This is now the fourth year in a row that we’ve done the annual N&N list.
We had an easier time this year finding landlords for the “nicest” list. Unfortunately this is because the large number of natural disasters that plagued the country in 2018. Of course, as always, we had a huge number of “naughty” landlords to choose from so your favorite villain with a vacancy might not appear. Notably we have chosen to omit the parties involved in the Ghost Ship fire as we don’t think that matter is truly settled yet.
But you’re not here for the intro. You’re here for the best and worst landlords of the year. Let’s get to it. Continue reading The Naughtiest and Nicest Landlords of 2018
The Chicago Public Library offers access to the online scanned archives of the Chicago Tribune to all cardholders via ProQuest. We made use of our access to this treasure trove of information when researching our series on the history of renters’ rights and for our history of Moving Day. I recently had to renew my library card, which brought me back to the Trib archive but this time I wasn’t looking at the articles. Much like the Super Bowl, I was there for the ads, specifically the “For Rent” section of the classifieds.
News articles record the major events of history, but to find out about the daily lives of individuals the classified ads can sometimes be more important. Ads reflect the wants and needs of a given generation. Watching videos of old TV ads from the 1980s can be a real trip down memory lane for Gen X folks. But today I’ll be taking you back in time almost two centuries, starting with the earliest classifieds I could find, cherry picking through the decades before the fire in 1871. All ads included below are transcribed verbatim from the Tribune archive at ProQuest, including capitalization and abbreviations. Continue reading Classified History: Housing Ads in Chicago, 1849-1871
There are very few occupations that have housing set aside just for them. There are military barracks, but those are only for active duty military. There is specialty housing for religious devotees such as convents, monasteries and rectories. For college student there are dorms of course and a subset of landlords that cater to students, with an even smaller subset catering to medical residents and interns.
In Chicago there’s also a handful of buildings dedicated to artists with rooms in the building set aside for music practice and studio use. Until recently, all of these niche markets have been gussied up ways of making low-income, run down housing acceptable to build in otherwise hostile neighborhoods due to the innate but socially acceptable poverty and traditional whiteness of these select groups of people.
But lately the “artist apartment” has seen a renaissance with new communities popping up across the south side. These buildings are still low income housing, but underwritten by grants and spearheaded by community champions they are not your average run down fleabag artist communes. They’re brand new construction and quite fancy.
The rebirth of artist apartments in Chicago led me to think about other job and interest based niche communities that might do well to have apartment buildings created just for them. After all, if the often outrageous artistic temperaments can get along living together in a single building, certainly some other groups can find enough common ground to share an address as well. Here are some of our ideas and how to make them happen. Continue reading Brainstorming Apartments for Niche Markets
Apartment buildings, much like human bodies, contain a lot of complex things that most people do not understand hidden beneath a thin covering. Most of us only understand how to work with that covering, decorating it and accessorizing, while trusting a handful of highly trained specialists to keep the rest of the system running smoothly. In both cases, sometimes regular visits to these specialists can detect hidden problems before they become major catastrophes.
But sometimes coincidences and outside forces sneak up on us in ways we don’t expect and things rapidly spiral out of control. We put too much sudden strain on a bone and it breaks. Our office has a round of layoffs and we start getting stress headaches. Our kids go back to school and bring home new viruses, causing the entire family to get the sniffles. Engineers at a skyscraper replace connecting hardware in an elevator, perhaps slightly different from the old hardware, perhaps slightly out of alignment, and three years later the rope breaks causing the elevator to fall with people trapped inside. Continue reading Falling Elevators and Other Unforeseen Apartment Catastrophes
In January 2016, local Chicago newspapers ran the obituary of a Chicago landlord. His name was Jay Michael and he had died at the age of 34 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had made his name by investing in unused real estate in struggling neighborhoods. In October 2018, local Chicago newspapers ran the obituary of another Chicago landlord. His name was Louis Wolf and he had died at the age of 94 after years of failing health. He had also made his name by investing in unused real estate in struggling neighborhoods.
Michael’s obituary contains words such as “brainchild,” “creative,” and “forward-thinking.” Wolf’s is peppered with more sinister terms: “cautionary,” “ruthless,” and always in the same sentence with his name, “notorious slumlord.”
Two famous figures in the local rental industry, of the same faith, race and gender, working in the same neighborhood. One, born into wealth in the 1980’s is praised as a hero, although not without his critics. The other, born into poverty in the 1920’s, is condemned as the “worst landlord in Chicago history,” but was also a proud grandfather who is remembered by those close to him as a quiet and kind mentor. What can we learn about being a landlord from the divide between the two? Continue reading Wolf and Jay: Two Landlords’ Approaches to a Troubled Neighborhood