by Mary Ellen Podmolik | email@example.com | @mepodmolik | August 23, 2014, 8:57 PM
Back in November, Open Communities, a Winnetka-based nonprofit advocacy group, started a Tumblr page called wearethenorthshore.
People were, and still are, invited to take pictures of themselves holding a sign that says “I am the North Shore” and sharing a little information about themselves.
The goal was to erase stereotypes, namely that north suburban residents are not just white and well-off.
So far, the pictures and short biographies include an interracial family that has been living in Evanston since 1970, a high school senior who tells people she is “NOT” African and two longtime residents who came to the North Shore as German refugees.
There have been some moves toward diversification along the North Shore. In Lake County, for example, 75 percent of the population was white in 2010, according to census figures. In 2000, 80 percent of residents were white.
“There is some growing diversity in our service area,” said Viki Rivkin, director of fair housing for Open Communities, which works in 16 suburbs in northern Cook and southern Lake counties.
But according to a three-year fair-housing research project by the group, a study funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while support is sometimes voiced for fair-housing initiatives, it doesn’t always translate into practice. The study found that few African-Americans and Latinos look for housing in the northern suburbs, and when they do, they continue to encounter problems in being advised of rental and homeownership opportunities.
Other classes of consumers also encountered problems.
The group sent testers of different races, national origins, disabilities and family compositions to various rental and for-sale communities to see how well their interest was received.
Among its findings were that African-American testers were subject to a more rigorous screening process than white testers before seeing a rental unit, and families with children were steered from certain neighborhoods and from certain types of floor plans in new-construction developments.
Testers with disabilities, meanwhile, received poor treatment in their attempts to see properties for sale and for rent.
While enforcement actions are taken by local fair-housing groups and the federal government, such studies serve an important purpose because they spread awareness about laws and help uncover any disturbing patterns, according to Rivkin.
“That’s the only way you can get an accurate picture,” she said. “The number of complaints that come in is a small percentage (of incidents.) Many times people don’t know they’re being discriminated against. The only way we can see if discrimination is occurring is doing testing and analyzing experiences. If we see bad actions, we do file.”
As the group made communities aware of its findings, some suburbs were receptive to results and requested more information and training sessions on fair housing for village personnel and building owners. Others, particularly those that don’t have fair-housing ordinances, were not so receptive.
Open Communities also said it got pushback from home-rule municipalities that said they had no plans to follow the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeals Act, which took effect in 2004 and was designed to encourage the development of affordable housing in communities.
Higher occupancies, higher rents. Apartment rents in nicer downtown Chicago buildings rose by 4.2 percent to 5.6 percent during the year’s second quarter, compared with a year earlier, on strong demand for rental units, according to Appraisal Research Counselors.
Analysts at the firm expect that in the downtown market, rents will be flat or only increase slightly for the rest of the year.
In the suburban rental market, a similar pattern took shape in larger apartment complexes, with year-over-year rent increases of 4.7 percent in newer developments and smaller increases at other properties.
Compared with 2013’s second quarter, the largest rent increases were seen in Lake County and in North Shore suburbs.
For the suburban market overall, the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit was $1,033 during the second quarter, representing the first time that measure has topped $1,000, according to the firm.
Rents are expected to continue climbing because of demand and a limited supply of new buildings.
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