What Craigslist Can Tell Us About Rents in Chicago (2024)

A lot of different data sets get used to report rent prices in a city. Apartment-listing and real estate sites promote widely shared lists; the government has a couple different ways of going about it, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Census. Daniel Kay Hertz has a nice evaluation of the pros and cons of these data.

There's no perfect way of going about it, but the private-listings data tendto self-select for apartments listed on their services, which tend to be in pricier neighborhoods, so their numbers can look unrealistically high for bargain-hunters like me. Hertz shows one map putting the median one-bedroom apartment in Chicago in February 2016 at $1,940 a month.

Very few listscapturedata from the place where lots of us go apartment hunting: Craigslist.

On one hand, it's an incredibly rich data source for what people actually pay for rent. On the other hand, it's an incredibly messy data source. So two researchers at Berkeley, Geoff Boeing and Paul Waddell, scraped and cleaned 11 million listings from all over the country for three months in 2014. And what they found seems to line up with what we know about Chicago.

One caveat: their numbers are for metropolitan statistical areas, which are huge regions that can cover multiple large and very different cities. Seattle's MSA, for example, includes both Seattle (median gross rent per U.S. Census: $1,266) and Tacoma ($980).

The Chicago region shows a curious pattern. It has a relatively high median rent per square foot, especially compared to Sunbelt cities, but it's still considerably less than the cities that are known to be expensive. (Seattle proper is likely more expensive than Chicago proper, but again, these are metro areas.)

What Craigslist Can Tell Us About Rents in Chicago (1)

So the rent burden is also on the higher end for big metro areas.

What Craigslist Can Tell Us About Rents in Chicago (2)

Here's the surprise. Chicago's in the second tier of metro areas when it comes to apartment cost per square foot and rent burden (7th and 6th, respectively). But it's behind only Boston and New York, much more expensive cities, for the availability of cheap apartments as defined by the "fair market rent" level.

What Craigslist Can Tell Us About Rents in Chicago (3)

"Fair market rent" isa number calculated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that isthe 40th percentile of rent prices based on its own data (i.e., 60 percent of apartments in the area are more expensive than this number).Hertz has a good explanation of FMR, if you want to learn more.

The authors found that, across the entire United States, 37 percent of Craigslist listings were below HUD FMRfor the country, meaning that, on the whole, HUD did a pretty good job with its estimates. But in some cities, there appear to be few units for rent below that city's HUD FMR. In Chicago, HUD's FMRfor 2018is $1,014 for a one-bedroom apartmentand$1,794 for a four-bedroom. The Craigslist data shows that just sixteen percent of Chicago-area apartments are below that level.

They list some reasons for this, a couple of which Hertz touches on: The FMR calculation tends to be behind the market and extrapolates from Census estimates, so itcan be slow to capture rapidly changing markets like Chicago. (As the authors note, Craigslist postings are advertised rent, not necessarily paid rent, so that's another factor.)

Still, Chicago's ranking comes asa surprise. Itreminds me of something I found when I was looking at Chicago rents using American Community Survey data:

And the spectrum of median apartment rents in Chicago is, relatively speaking, pretty narrow. There aren’t a lot of census tracts with rents below $600 or above $1,700. The median rents in the tracts surrounding my last apartment—a small three-bedroom that was $1,130 with heat in a great neighborhood—run from about $900-$1,100. In the heart of Englewood, it’s about $670-$750.

In short, the floor for rents in Chicago is pretty high; it’s hard to find a genuinely cheap apartment if you don’t make much money. (The ACS estimates don’t capture subsidies, but there are a lot of people on that waiting list in Chicago.) Conversely, the ceiling is pretty low; you can pay a lot of money, but you don’t have to, so if you’re upper-middle-class, it’s easy to find a place that gives you a comfortable cushion for everything else.

Why are Sunbelt cities so affordable? Back in 2007, Edward Glaeser and Kristina Tobio found that "since 1970, the greater expansion of Southern housing supply has been particularly important. We estimate that housing supply was increasing by at least 20 percent more in the South than elsewhere in the country in the 1970s and 1980s…. [O]ur estimates suggest that faster housing supply growth in the South has been as big a factor as economic productivity in driving the rise of Sunbelt population."

Why is Chicago so (comparatively) expensive, given that parts of the city have seen substantial population losses—which means, theoretically,increasedhousing supply? The Tribune's Gail MarksJarvis had a good piece on this last year: The housing bubble wiped out a lot of rental landlords—particularly small two- to four-flat owner/landlords, a building size that represents much of Chicago's affordable housing—while simultaneously creating a lot more renters. Then in the aftermath of the recession, lending got extremely tight. Meanwhile the condition of the apartment buildings declined, making them more expensive to rehabilitate.

The result is a region that's both affordable and not: For residents who make a decent salary, it offers good housing at rates favorable to other desirable regions. For those who don't, a high floor on rents makes them more likely to seek more affordable cities, pushing population decline where the city can least afford to lose more people.

What Craigslist Can Tell Us About Rents in Chicago (2024)


What is the rent outlook for Chicago? ›

Overall, the Chicago apartment market is set to witness a 3.9% increase in rents by the end of 2024, with all submarkets expecting positive growth in the range of 3.2% to 4.5%.

Are rents going up in Chicago suburbs? ›

At the end of 2023, year-over-year asking rent growth in the Chicago metro area was 3.1 percent. The national average had gains of only 0.9 percent, according to CoStar. The Chicago area absorbed about 8,200 units over the last 12 months. The vacancy rate currently stands at 5.7 percent.

What percentage of Chicago houses are rented? ›

Chicago, IL Occupied Housing Units

End of interactive chart. 604,772 or 54% of the households in Chicago, IL are renter-occupied while 507,809 or 46% are owner-occupied.

Is rent in Chicago high? ›

As of June 2024, the average rent in Chicago, IL is $1,841 per month. This is 21% higher than the national average rent price of $1,517/month, making Chicago one of the most expensive cities in the US.

What months are rents cheapest in Chicago? ›

That is why fewer people look to rent during that time of year. And fewer renters means lower rent. Data shows that rents in Chicago tend to drop to their lowest levels in March and April, after winter has chilled the rental market. Rents usually peak around the end of the summer and early fall.

How much can a landlord raise rent in Chicago? ›

In Illinois, there's no cap on rent hikes for landlords. However, it's against the law for landlords to use rent increases as a form of retaliation or discrimination against tenants. Since there are no rent control laws, landlords can raise the rent as much as they want.

What is the rent crisis in Chicago? ›

Housing affordability is a big problem in Chicago, where almost 90% of low-income households are burdened by housing costs of at least 30% of their income. Two-thirds are severely burdened – paying over 50% of their income for housing, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Do you have to make 3x rent in Chicago? ›

What is the 3x rent rule in Illinois and how does it affect renters in Chicago? The 3x rent rule typically requires renters to earn three times the monthly rent in gross income. This rule helps landlords ensure that tenants can afford their rent while managing other expenses.

What is considered affordable rent in Chicago? ›

A: The law requires affordable units to be occupied by households with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income (AMI) and rents charged not to exceed 60% AMI and consistent with the Illinois Housing Development Authority's rules.

What is a good income to live in Chicago? ›

According to SmartAsset, this is how much money a single adult needs to make in Chicago to not live paycheck-to-paycheck: Hourly wage needed: $47.38. Salary needed: $98,550. Total salary needed for two working adults with two children: $241,280.

Can you negotiate rent increase Chicago? ›

In Chicago, there are no specific caps on rent increases unless specified in your lease agreement. What can I do if I think my rent increase is unfair? You may negotiate with your landlord or seek legal advice if the increase seems unjustified or excessively high compared to market rates.

Is Chicago a tenant friendly city? ›

Most residential tenants in Chicago are protected by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”), which grants many rights and remedies to those who rent within the city. The Chicago rental market is highly regulated; landlords must obey city ordinances, state law, building codes and federal law.

What is the outlook for Chicago real estate? ›

Chicago Real Estate Market at a Glance

Median Home Price: According to projections for December 2024, the median home price in the Chicago Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA) is expected to hit $324,200, marking a substantial 12% increase from the previous year. (source: Norada Real Estate)

Why is there no rent control in Chicago? ›

Unless the State of Illinois lifts the ban on local rent control or stabilization or the law is overturned in court, Chicago's City Council cannot enact local rent control. In short, Chicago renters have no rent control protections because Illinois law prohibits municipalities from enacting rent control measures.

Is Chicago a good place for rental property? ›

The city's diverse neighborhoods and strong rent growth provide a range of housing options, making it a desirable location for renters. With our expert property management services, you can capitalize on Chicago's strong rental market and generate steady income from your investment property.


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