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Who Can Live in Chicago? Investigating Housing Affordability Trends Using 2020 Census Data

The release of the 2020 5-year American Community Survey (ACS) data provides an opportunity to explore how Chicago and its neighborhoods have changed over the past 5 years and a first look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected housing affordability.

Housing affordability pressures have continued to affect low-income households disproportionately, leading to out-migration of vulnerable residents as they seek more affordable places to live. Concurrently, Chicago has experienced an increase in household median income, though median income for renters has continued to stay well below both the city median and the median income for homeowners. Rental vacancies have declined as well, while rents and home values have increased by almost 20% over 5 years. These changes likely contribute to the continued decline of Chicago’s Black population as housing affordability pressures hit low-income households of color the hardest.

Population, Household Size, and Demographics

2015 2020 Change
Households 1,035,436 1,081,143 45,707
Population 2,717,534 2,699,347 -18,187

Chicago experienced a net loss of an estimated 18,187 residents between 2015 and 2020, yet it gained an estimated 45,707 households during that same time. As such, household size has shrunk from 2.62 to 2.49 people, which is lower than the national average of 2.66.

Demographically, Chicago has seen declining percentages of  groups identifying as White, Black, Hispanic, and Other (a category that includes anyone identifying as neither White, Black, Asian, or as two or more races) while groups identifying as Asian and two or more races saw increases. People identifying as two or more races saw the largest change in Chicago’s population, growing from a 2.4% share in 2015 to 5.2% in 2020.

Race/Ethnicity 2015 2020 Change
White 48.70% 47.73% -0.97%
Black 31.31% 29.22% -2.09%
Asian 5.96% 6.84% 0.88%
Two or More 2.43% 5.28% 2.86%
Other 11.32% 10.58% -0.74%
Hispanic 29.09% 28.63% -0.47%

Renters, Cost Burden, and Displacement

Chicago saw a 1% decline in its share of renter households. The percent of renter households that were rent burdened, meaning households with housing costs at or above 30% of their household income, decreased by 4.5%. Median gross rent increased by 19% ($189) and the median home value grew by 20% ($44,700). The median income for Chicago increased by 27% ($13,575). Median income increased by 31% ($10,417) for renters and 22% ($16,711) homeowners. The rental vacancy rate decreased from 5.9% to 4.8%, indicating a tightening rental housing market. While a rising median income among renter households might have led to fewer rent burdened households, it is very likely that these changes indicate an inflow of higher income households as low-income minority renter households are forced out due to a lack of affordable housing and other pressures.

2015 2020
Percent Renter Household 55.7% 54.7%
Percent Rent Burdened Household 49.2% 44.7%
Median Gross Rent $965 $1,154
Median Home Value $222,900 $267,600
Rental Vacancy Rate 5.9% 4.8%
Median Income $48,522 $62,097
Median Income (Renters) $33,174 $43,591
Median Income (Homeowners) $73,969 $90,680

Displacement and affordability pressures become more apparent when we look at how family households have declined. Chicago saw a decrease of 46,595 families between 2015 and 2020. The share of those families living in poverty dropped by 8%, also indicating an out-migration of low-income families from the city. The loss is primarily in low-income renter families.

2015 2020
Families 571,039 524,444
Families Below Poverty 32.5% 24.2%
Percent Renter Families Below Poverty 14.7% 11.2%
Percent Homeowner Families Below Poverty 3.46% 3.55%


There has been a significant increase in incomes, rents, and home values over the past 5 years in Chicago. With growing concerns about gentrification, displacement, and housing affordability the question of who can live in Chicago has never been more relevant. Without direct intervention to support the preservation and development of affordable housing alongside efforts to make the city more inclusive and accommodating, low-income families will continue to be displaced.

The trends noted in this post, as well as others that will be explored in future posts, indicate that economic burdens will continue to disproportionately impact minority communities. The Voorhees Center continues to conduct research to support these communities, including our gentrification index and additional research on Who Can Live in Chicago, as well as our work as an EDA University Center to ensure equity in the growing Green Economy.

This blog is the first in a series exploring housing affordability trends in Chicago and starts with an analysis of city-wide trends. Please note that this post will be using the ACS 5-year estimates, which uses different rules and survey methods than the decennial census. Part two of this series will explore changes at the neighborhood level.