A four-story, 59-unit residential development is coming to Pilsen — and unlike many new properties in the neighborhood, you can find a spot there for a relative bargain.
At Common Addams, which broke ground at 1407 West 15th Street in November and is slated to open in 2020, rent will start at $975 a month for a one-bedroom apartment — a price tag well under the neighborhood’s average of $1,445 for a comparable unit. That price includes all utilities, WiFi, furniture, and a variety of amenities, including a gym, movie room, wet bar, bike storage, roofdeck, and onsite parking.
The rub? The 223-bed building is a co-living space, meaning residents will lease a private room in a three- or four-bedroom unit, sharing a kitchen and living room. And, odds are, you won’t know who your roommates are until you’ve moved in.
That’s not the only point of concern for some. Though Common Addams is being marketed as a liveable option in an increasingly pricy neighborhood, many in Pilsen would rather see resources go to affordable housing geared toward families.
“This new coliving space phenomenon is something I personally have skepticism about,” says Jose Requena, a community organizer with the Pilsen Alliance, a grassroots group that fights gentrification in the Lower West Side neighborhood.
Requena’s chief concern is that the complex risks catering to residents who will move in and out of Pilsen. Though the cost of Common Addams’s units are cheaper than the neighborhood average, he says that doesn’t necessarily equate to affordable housing. “It sounds like it’s very expensive dorm living for 30-something-year-olds. It’s a way to have density without really gearing toward what people want.”
Pilsen Alliance director Byron Sigcho aired similar concerns to Vice last year, when the same developers behind Common Addams opened another coliving space in the neighborhood. “In Pilsen, the median household income is $34,000, and they’re asking people to pay $1,000 for a room,” he said. “It’s gross inequality.”
Increased housing prices in Pilsen have rapidly gentrified the area. Research shows that between 2000 and 2013, more than 10,300 Hispanics had left Pilsen, representing a 26 percent drop. Concurrently, the number of white people in the neighborhood grew by 22 percent.
According to its developers, Common and City Pads, Common Addams will be the largest co-living space in the Midwest in terms of square feet and beds. The pair of developers previously collaborated on another co-living space in Chicago — Common Racine, also in Pilsen. Common also maintains the co-living space Common Damen, in Ukrainian Village, and similar developments in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Co-living spaces, of course, have existed for centuries. But as demand for high-density housing in cities increases, there’s been an uptick in shared urban developments, particularly in luxury residences geared towards millennials.
Sandy Albert, a senior director of real estate at Common, sees co-living as an option for “young professionals strapped with student debt who may not be able to afford to buy their own home.”
He adds that across all properties, nearly 70 percent of Common residents are new to the city in which they’re living, and almost 30 percent are international. The average tenant age is 29, and most work in an office downtown.
Those numbers are slightly lower at Common’s Chicago properties, according to the company’s own figures. Sixty percent of residents at Common Racine come from other cities; at Common Damen, it’s 40 percent.
Still, says Requena, drawing this demographic further into Pilsen is not a priority of many longtime residents.
“New developments are always great and building things could be great,” says Requena. “What we have been asking for is an affordable rent ordinance. We wanted a better system for new developments to make sure affordable housing got built hand-in-hand with luxury. As we fight for more affordable housing, we want family-sized units.”
Albert counters that while the units in his properties aren’t traditionally family-sized, they do foster a familial atmosphere.
“I would argue that co-living is [family-oriented],” he says. “It’s really about knowing your neighborhoods and creating community. I think now the definition of family has changed. People are getting married later and having kids later and living with roommates longer.”
He adds that he thinks Pilsen is the perfect place for co-living, because it is so family focused.
This isn’t the first time Common and City Pads have met friction in Pilsen. Their first collaboration in the neighborhood, Common Racine, located two blocks north of a rapidly changing stretch of 18th Street, took over the space of a former Pilsen community center, Casa Aztlan. During construction in 2017, City Pads painted over a beloved mural, sparking outrage among locals. Later, City Pads had the mural repainted, and promised to develop a children’s art program on site.
Albert says Common Addams is different than Racine because they’re building it from the ground up, “to fit in to the existing fabric of the community.”
Jenn Chang, Common’s Director of Architecture, hopes the design of the building will make it more welcoming. “We’ve oriented our design so that our most exciting community spaces are looking outward and connected to the street,” Chang says. “We’ve anchored our community lounge on the corner so that it has a storefront feel. Our goal was to visually remove the boundary between pedestrians and the residents.” These community areas, though, are for residents only.
Common is also hoping to involve local artists in the project.
“We’re currently searching for a Pilsen-based artist to create a mural for the entire side of Common Addams that reflects his or her experience of the city and community and the bright young creatives behind them,” Albert says.
Co-living, for some, is an alternative to unaffordable housing. Albert says that the company’s houses, nationwide, receive applications from more than 1,400 people a week. As this type of housing continues to expand, it will only become more apparent how these developments impact existing residents, particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods like Pilsen.
“To see gentrification be framed as a normal process is one of our concerns and one of our fights for social justice,” Requena says. “This trend is not meant for existing Chicagoans, it’s meant for new people with the promise of capital coming their way.”