Housing Affordability a Tale of Two Cities in Chicagoland

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Housing affordability is a major problem, and new research has added an additional wrinkle to the crisis.

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Housing affordability (especially in the new home market) may be worsening nationwide, but it has nothing on the affordability squeeze facing renters – and nowhere is that more true than right here in Chicagoland.

That was the key finding in a new analysis by Zillow, which compared the percentage of monthly income area residents devote to mortgages and rents. The findings were hardly encouraging. Here in Chicagoland, homeowners devote 13.9 percent of monthly income to mortgages, compared to 31.1 percent of renters; that means the average rental payment is 2.24 times that of the average mortgage payment.

Beyond “Better to Buy”

Although such numbers would appear to suggest that owning is simply more affordable than renting, there are two patterns behind our housing market that are embedded in the trends:

Firstly, let’s remember that lending standards remain tight, and Zillow’s analysis assumed a 20-percent down payment – and we certainly know, based on our recent reporting on income disparities, that not many Americans can afford such a down payment.

Secondly, there are two distinct reasons that rents are so high:

  1. Because of those aforementioned income disparities, fewer and fewer Americans can afford down payments and buy homes. As a result, more consumers have rushed to rent in recent years, and with rental housing stock low (during the boom, most construction had been geared for single-family homes), rents have soared throughout the country. Rental construction has skyrocketed in response to that demand, but given the extended timelines required to complete multifamily buildings, its’s done little to alleviate rental increases.
  2. Also, given the upfront costs of homeownership, lower income residents will inevitably concentrate in rental housing, and given our current levels of inequality, it makes sense that rental payments would be so high.

Those are the trends at play in housing right now, and they are defining the market as we know it. See our graph below for more perspective on Zillow’s analysis.