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Chicago may be more affordable than other cities, but leaves many cost-burdened

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But many residents are still rent-burdened

A row of brick residential buildings standing two and three stories high on a street with trees and grassy lawns.
A street of two- and three-flat residences in Chicago.
Shuttestock

As rents in Chicago increase faster than average wages, residents begin to dedicate more of their incomes to cover the cost of housing.

So, how many hours of work does a renter in Chicago need to make rent? On average, 48.4 hours, says a recent study by Smart Asset. The question is another way of looking at how housing costs are burdening renters.

The report analyzed average annual take-home pay, average hours worked per year, and the median monthly rent—all based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018. For Chicago, the median rent of $1,100 was divided by an estimated average hourly wage of $22.75 to arrive at the 48-hour figure.

There are a few issues with that methodology—it doesn’t address different sized units, family-sized households, or low-wage workers.

Compared to the other 25 cities in the study, Chicago ranks reasonably well. The only metros that required a person to work fewer hours to afford rent were El Paso (47 hours), Indianapolis (46 hours), and Detroit (41 hours). At the other end of the spectrum, San Jose topped the list at 76 hours.

The biggest issue: All 25 cities experience rent burden—this is when the cost of rent exceeds 30 percent of a person’s income.

Chicago may be in better shape than some other big cities, but it is not immune to the nationwide housing crisis. In Chicago, the availability of affordable housing is shrinking.

Recent initiatives to fix the systemic problem include the reinstatement of the city’s Department of Housing and the creation of an affordable housing task force to explore policy solutions.