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
Chicago has a finite amount of land where it’s legal to build apartment buildings. Not every area is zoned for housing, and only some of those residential zones allow housing structures with large numbers of units inside. Multi-unit buildings can be managed in one of three ways. Apartments are owned and managed by a single person or company, and occupants pay rent to that owner. Condominiums are individually owned, but the shell of the building is collaboratively maintained by the condominium association through dues collected from each owner. Cooperatives are owned collectively by all of the occupants together, who then are assigned sections of the building to live in. Chicago’s many multi-family buildings have shifted between all three over their existence. Some buildings such as Aqua are separated into two entities, with some floors run as apartments and others as condos.
Swapping from one management style to another is a pretty complicated process, as you can probably imagine, but when compared with constructing a brand new building it’s usually a much cheaper and less obnoxious process. Continue reading Questions to Ask Your Next Landlord About Condo Deconversion
Throughout history there have been any number of big ideas and discoveries that caused fundamental changes in human life worldwide. Nations have risen and fallen on the backs of these discoveries, from the wheel and the longbow to the airplane and nuclear fission. The Chicago apartment industry has also been visited by inventions that caused citywide changes to how we find, live in and leave rental housing. Today we’ll be looking at 10 of the most important of these innovations. Note that we will be skipping over some of the big ones that had a more global effect such as electricity and public transit. Rather we will be looking at far more specific moments in time that led to lasting changes in this particular industry.
1830: The Illinois-Michigan Canal
The Chicago as we know it starts here, with a federal grant from Congress to the state of Illinois to dig a canal between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. The state created a commission, which thought that it would be a good idea to have a city at the east end of that canal. So the commission hired a fellow to plan out the city that would become Chicago, and told him to do it in the latest fashion, which was a grid style with blocks and, more importantly, alleys. Continue reading 10 Innovations That Changed the Chicago Apartment Industry in a Big Way