Chicago’s Affordable Housing Drought Finally Gets a Sip of Water

It’s not a secret that Chicago has an affordable housing problem. And while Chicago is not alone among large (and small) American cities in this fashion, it’s Chicago that we’re most interested in here. Which is why it was interesting to see a few affordable housing projects pop up on the Chicago Plan Commission’s meeting agenda last week.

In recent years, affordable housing has come to Chicago is dribs and drabs. Five units here. Three units there. Nothing compared to the thousands of units that have been lost in the last decade, leading to all of the economic, social, and business problems that always follow this kind of trend. We’ve been to this rodeo before, but forgotten how to ride.

December, 2021 rendering of 4737 North Sheridan
December, 2021 rendering of 4737 North Sheridan

But on Plan’s list for its most recent meeting was not just one, but five projects of a scale that they may actually do some good. And four of them even passed!

Here’s a look at what’s coming:

  • 1203 North California in Humboldt Park: 64 units at the corner of California and Division
  • 835 West Wilson in Uptown: 73 units for senior citizens
  • 4737 North Sheridan in Uptown: A 28-unit S.R.O.
  • 9619 South Cottage Grove in Pullman: 70 units for senior citizens

In addition, a 95-unit S.R.O. at 3150 North Racine in Lake View was initially expected to be presented to the Commission, but got delayed at the last minute.

That’s 235 new units of low-income housing coming to Chicago, assuming the rest of City Hall’s cogs continue turning in the right directions. Plus another 95 that might surface again next month.

December, 2021 rendering of 835 West Wilson
December, 2021 rendering of 835 West Wilson

A lot has been written about garage conversions, basements, casitas, granny flats, Accessory Dwelling Units and such being the solution to the city’s housing woes. But so far, it’s been mostly words words words. Very few permits have been filed to convert very few small spaces into new places to live.

Granny flats and other small conversions are a good start, and part of a larger solution to the housing puzzle. But they aren’t a magic wand that will instantly flood the city with places to live on the salary earned by a barista, or a cleaning lady, or a shoe shine guy, or a doorman, or a courier, or a food delivery guy, or an Uber driver, or any of the thousands of other human beings the skirts-and-suits crowd relies on every single day to make their lives bearable. We say, bring back the S.R.O.’s. Bring back the boarding houses. Bring back the solutions that worked, but got a bad name for no other reason than they were from a generation past. Just put people in homes so the City That Works can go back to working as a city once again.

December, 2021 rendering of 1203 North California
December, 2021 rendering of 1203 North California

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

Share This Post On