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A Renters Guide to Scorching Hot Pilsen

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There's a ton brewing in Pilsen all of sudden, with the weakening of real estate's painful slump and the never-ending quest of the young, artistic, and/or upwardly mobile to find a reasonably safe environment they can afford. The neighborhood's demographics point to continued out-migration of Hispanic peoples (mainly Mexican descent) and gradual in-migration of non-Hispanic Whites. The trajectory probably won't change for many years, and that growing, more affluent set is approaching one-quarter of Pilsen's makeup. That means, for better or worse, the area is on the real estate map. These things are always a blend of sincere interest among some outsiders in moving to a mixed ethnic and mixed income community; altruistic enterprise that weds profits to other causes like local job creation, charity, or historic preservation (see Thalia Hall); and less noble real estate development that often has the sole objective of driving up rents, assessments, and commissions. That tide is creeping in, which some recent proposals attest to, though on-the-ground reports show a gradual infill of housing and a more accelerated retail boom. Pilsen is lively, not touristy, art-filled, restaurant-filled, and a consensus favorite as one of the next three neighborhoods to 'pop'.

Rental Units: Small landlords predominate with very few large buildings in play across the neighborhood. The 2- and 3-flat and single-family cottage are your primary infill except on main drags like 18th Street and Halsted where old mixed-use walk-ups intermingle with daintier stuff. If you want substandard, there's an abundance of that. If you want lofts, conversions (some live/work or strict artist studio) almost form a perimeter around the neighborhood with the aid of rail yards and downtrodden industry. The glitzier ones are at the neighborhood's north and east edges.

Rent Range: There's a good amount of parity in pricing between loft and small house rentals. As with Noble Square, Logan Square, and other renter-happy nabes, you'll find many lets and sublets are not listed on the MLS. Poke around local realtor offices, laundromats, or Craigslist—if you must—to get leads. A quick search shows rock bottom rents at around $500/month for small one-beds west of Ashland (atypical), but it's also not hard to pay $1,500+ for two-beds in the eastern part of the neighborhood or in those long banks of lofts hovering over the Metra & Freight tracks (technically University Village). Just try not to get caught up in East Pilsen/West Pilsen branding battle— if you're west of Damen, it ain't Pilsen.

Neighborhood Highlights: The single best place to start a Pilsen tour coming off the 18th Street Pink Line is at the National Museum of Mexican Art, a wide-ranging yet small collection of old and contemporary Mexican-American creations. Grab a budget lunch afterward at Nuevo Leon and then walk 18th east to Halsted, perhaps hitting Knee Deep, Pilsen Vintage & Thrift, and Revival a GO-GO along the way. Then there's the aforementioned Thalia Hall, with a restaurant, bar, retail, and a forthcoming music/theater venue. Or, scrap all of the above and start drinking early and heavily at Simone's, Skylark, or Los Tres Dias, a comfy Spanish-speaking dive. Once the money's gone, you'd do well to check out galleries and events at Lacuna Artist Lofts or peruse Pilsen's scores of murals— stuck to random buildings or along the 16th Street rail embankment.

Sample Listings:
·1610 S Halsted; a one-bed "penthouse" for $1,750.
·1061 W 16th St #310; a 2/1 loft for $1,500.
·1919 S Racine Ave #1R; a 2/1 apt for $1,000.
·1843 S Allport St; a two-story coach house for $1,300.