CHICAGO — For years, this brown-brick building near Wrigley Field housed people who had nowhere else to go. It had peeling walls and broken smoke detectors. But its tiny one-room apartments offered homes to residents too poor for a one-bedroom, too risky to pass a credit check, too vulnerable — on the perpetual edge of homelessness — to sign a one-year lease.
Today, from the outside, the building looks the same: six stories, with tall windows and an elaborately carved entryway that still announces the property by its pre-World War II name, the “Hotel Carlos.” But it now contains studios remodeled with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and hardwood floors. Rent reaches $1,125 a month. The ad in the window promises “vintage charm.”
In buildings like this one on Chicago’s North Side, the shrinking pool of affordable housing — a problem facing many thriving cities — is playing out in a particularly vivid way. Often, gentrification displaces the poor through less direct means: Wealthier residents move in, businesses catering to them follow, property values rise, the economics of a neighborhood change, and longtime residents are priced out. But here — and in other former “single room occupancy” hotels in Chicago — the displacement is much more literal.
It is one unit for one unit, one single, living alone, for another single, living alone. Young professionals are moving in to occupy the very same — and very small — spaces recently home to people living on less than $1,000 a month. In their remodeled homes, sometimes as small as 250 square feet, what was once deteriorating becomes “vintage.”