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Chicago housing construction lags behind other cities, says report

Out of 53 large metros, Chicago ranked ninth-last for new housing per capita in 2019

Formwork holding reinforced concrete during the construction of a new building. Getty Images

The Chicago area is playing catch-up to the majority of the nation’s big cities when it comes to new housing per capita. According to a recent study from Construction Coverage, Chicago metro built 19 housing units per 10,000 residents in 2019. The figure was well below the national average of 41.9 units per 10,000 residents and puts Chicago ninth-last among the country’s largest 53 metropolitan areas.

While certain pockets of Chicago are booming—namely downtown and adjacent neighborhoods such as the West Loop—the report notes that Chicago’s population has decreased by 0.4 percent over the past five years, based on census data. That decline in residents—along with rising construction costs and unfavorable property taxes—certainly factors into the housing equation.

The study’s findings are even less encouraging on the state level. Illinois added just 16.4 new housing units per 10,000 residents last year, which was the second-lowest in the country (behind only Rhode Island). During the same five-year period, the state saw its population decline by 1.1 percent, according to the data.

The bad news is that the report doesn’t yet take into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residential construction continues to operate as an “essential service” under Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, but the potential economic fallout of the health crisis has the industry concerned.

This week, construction consultancy firm Rider Levett Bucknall released its quarterly Crane Index for North America report. The firm says the number of operating construction cranes in Chicago is up from the previous quarter, but it expects the COVID-19 crisis to have a prolonged impact on construction and the economy as a whole.

“We expect, given the impact the virus is having on financial markets, that there is a good chance it will trigger a recession, which will eventually drive construction costs down as contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers compete to win the reduced number of projects in development,” said Julian Anderson, president of RLB North America, in a statement.

The crisis arrives as the country continues to grapple with a nationwide housing shortage—especially when it comes to affordable units. Though Chicago is generally considered more affordable than its pricer coastal counterparts, many renters and homeowners find themselves cost burdened. The city’s demand for affordable housing outpaces the supply by a staggering 120,000 units.