Who Let All These Housing Folks Into the Federal Reserve Bank?
It was a real event. Gathered together at the Federal Reserve Bank, just a few floors above vaults containing 7 to 10 billion US dollars, were representatives of nearly every major sector invested in the future of housing in Chicago. On the one side there were tenant leaders, directors of grassroots and advocacy organizations, service providers and a host of affordable housing developers. On the other side of the equation was the coalition of powerful institutional actors working for or in partnership with the City of Chicago, those bearing the most responsibility for current housing conditions and trends. Their ranks included representatives from the Chicago Housing Authority, the Department of Community Development, and the Local Initiative Support Council.
Everyone in the large auditorium was there to hear results from the release of ‘The State of Renters in the City of Chicago,’ a new report by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO). The report officially confirmed what many in the room had known for years, gentrification has dramatically changed the face of the Windy City. Armed with data from both the census and their high-volume housing hotline, MTO analysts demonstrated how Chicago’s rental housing market has been pushed away from the central city and the North side. As the report demonstrates, renters have been forced deeper into the South, West and Southwest sides, where they have less access to vital amenities like jobs, healthy food, and public transportation.
What made the report unique was not just what it said, but how it said it. Amazingly, the primary data was compiled from over 150,000 calls from tenant’s to MTOs housing hotline. Why is this amazing? Because it shows that powerful research can come from providing direct services to people in need. When organized correctly, the service work going on in the city can systemically inform how people understand what’s going on in the city. That is pretty cool, though without real follow-up action it does not give renters the affordable options they so desperately need. What matters now is how we all use this research to improve the housing outcomes for the thousands and thousands of Chicagoans who’ve been pushed away from the city’s center.