Take a quick snapshot of Chicago and you’ll capture an engaging blend of shiny new skyscrapers interspersed with lovingly-preserved 20th century architectural gems. Downtown continues to attract the corporate headquarters of large companies, as well as high-end retail and gourmet restaurants. The city’s cultural and entertainment venues thrive, and the people look happy and prosperous.
Yet behind the outward signs of prosperity lurks a less cheerful statistical reality: Chicago's recovery from the Great Recession has progressed at less than half the pace of other large American cities. The balance of real-estate development downtown has shifted from condos to rental apartments, reflecting insecurity in the job market and financing problems for the growing segment of self-employed entrepreneurs who can’t show the bank a W-2 form to secure a mortgage.
Slow but Sure
Outside the central core, most neighborhoods have an aging housing stock, and property values haven’t rebounded from the nadir of the mid-aughts. Better schools and lower housing costs continue to lure young families with children out to the suburbs, but employment remains concentrated in the heart of Chicago, so the tradeoff is a longer commute for those who leave the city proper.
These are just some of the reasons why Chicago’s population grew just 0.9 percent between 2010 and 2014, ranking an anemic 44th among U.S. metropolitan areas of more than one million people, says Erik Doersching, executive vice president and managing partner of Tracy Cross & Associates, Inc., a Schaumburg-based residential market-research and consulting firm for homebuilders, developers, and their financial partners.
By contrast, he says, New York City ranked 37th with 2.5 percent growth, Los Angeles 33rd at 3.2 percent, and Seattle 11th at 6.5 percent. Houston took first place with 10.5 percent growth, a consequence of burgeoning employment, which Doersching calls “a bellwether for new housing growth.”