There are many excellent inner-city alternatives to high-priced lakefront living. Here are five Chicago neighborhoods where housing is affordable, available, and attractive.
This far Southwest Side neighborhood attracts city lovers who yearn for suburban spaciousness because of its distinctive old houses and gracefully curving boulevards. It also possesses one of Chicagoland’s most precious natural resources: a hill. Well, at least a slight rise in the landscape. Families with school-age children enjoy the double advantages of a long-established private school, Morgan Park Academy (kindergarten through 12th grade), and a strong network of parochial schools. Current real-estate prices range from the mid-50s to about $300,000, with a median of $85,000 for a three-bedroom house. Local realtors report that comparable housing in the surrounding suburbs runs at least 35 percent more.
This Far South Side community offers a unique opportunity to architectural-history buffs. Not only can they work to restore their own architecturally significant homes, but they can also participate in the community’s restoration of the Florence Hotel and other surviving monuments of George Pullman’s experiment in city planning. Migrants from such south suburbs as Harvey and Park Forest have recently moved into the community even though the housing market is unusually tight. Pullman is one of Chicago’s smallest neighborhoods, with a population of only 3,000, and rarely do more than 20 houses go on sale each year. Pullman’s residents have excellent transportation to the Loop on the IC line; some also use that railroad to send their children to the University of Chicago Lab School. Current prices range from $20,000 for a two-bedroom townhouse to $105,000 for the largest house in Pullman.
Boosters of this Near Northwest Side community say that it’s perfect for suburbanites or high-rise dwellers who are tired of architectural and ethnic homogeneity. Everything is not as spic and span as it is in Park Ridge, for example, but there are a number of advantages: eight minutes to the Loop by rapid transit; a diversity of peoples, each of whom has dotted the community with distinctive restaurants and stores; and fine old mansions that date from the time when Wicker Park was the ethnic millionaires’ Gold Coast. “People are coming into the neighborhood now who would never have even looked here a few years ago!” residents report. Currently, single-family homes range from $30,000 for a three-bedroom cottage that needs work to $200,000, with a median price of $80,000. Two- and three-flats cost from $55,000 for a building needing rehab to $175,000.
A bit farther northwest, this neighborhood is becoming a second stopping point for former suburbanites. Local real-estate dealers report that many of their customers grew up in suburbia, came to Old Town and Lincoln Park right after college, and house shop in Logan Square when they realize that most high-rises near the lake are too small and too expensive for raising a family. Other buyers don’t wait that long: One agent says that in recent years he’s sold a lot of houses to single people who are planning for the future. Of course, this migration has sent prices soaring in the neighborhood’s most fashionable sections. Along Logan Boulevard, apartments that were renting for $175 a month a year ago are now going for about $500; and one home near Kedzie and Palmer, which sold for $30,000 three years ago, is now worth $150,000. Older residents, and the community’s Latino working class, sometimes complain that this gentrification is squeezing them out. Historically, the community has been a diverse one: Blue-collar sections stand alongside middle-class areas. There are still plenty of bargains to be found: Comfortable bungalows that would have a price tag of $65,000 or more in the suburbs sell here for $35,000.
This North Side community is also picking up new home buyers who have lived in Lincoln Park and the suburbs. Long-time residents note that their area has always been a “kind of island within the city,” its streets lined with old Victorian homes out of the Bobbsey Twins. Boosters say that a friendly, small-town atmosphere, an intense community spirit, and easy access to the city’s cultural amenities are its chief virtues. The strength of the local housing market supports that view. Houses rarely stay on the market for longer than a few months, and many sell within a week. The current range is $30,000 to $40,000 for houses needing rehab and $65,000 to $90,000 for those in first-class shape. Dealers say that the prices are about a third below those of the suburban market.