Feb 14, 2023 - Real Estate

For residents, Chicago's downtown is rated top-notch

Photo of a street with a big sign that says "Chicago"

Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Chicago's downtown ranks among the nation's best for residential living.

  • The rating comes from a recent analysis by self-storage company StorageCafe.com, which looked at living options, safety and lifestyle amenities balanced by cost.

Why it matters: Recent Chicago downtown narratives have focused on crime (which is rising again) and fading retail districts rather than its residential awesomeness, which, according to this analysis, tops the rest of the country outside of Dallas and Austin.

What they're saying: "Downtown Chicagoans get to enjoy top-notch living conditions while playing their part in saving the planet," the report says, noting that 23% of downtown apartments are LEED certified for sustainability.

Of note: Only Austin and Boston do better in that category.

  • Top-ranked cities just behind Chicago include Seattle, Nashville, Houston, Columbus and San Diego.

By the numbers: The residential population of the Loop grew by 45% from 2010 to 2020, per the census.

  • According to the report, about 67% of the downtown apartment units are considered "high-end."
  • 90% of rental buildings offer access to fitness centers.
  • There are about 11 restaurants and 2.6 theaters per 1,000 downtown residents.
  • 83% of downtown residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

What's more: Downtown renters are "generally able to keep their housing expenses below the threshold of 30%," according to the report.

Yes, but: This rise of high-income renters may also reflect Cook County's growing income disparity, checking in at almost double the national average.

Incidents of theft and violent crime in downtown Chicago
Data: City of Chicago; Note: Data includes crimes labeled as battery, robbery, theft, criminal damage, assault, motor vehicle theft and homicide in the Near North Side and Loop; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

The intrigue: Downtown's reputation has taken a beating in recent years due to crime, retail vandalism and pandemic closures. But a less obvious factor driving fear may be the loss of regular downtown exposure due to remote work, according to nonprofit Chicago Loop Alliance.

  • The Alliance recently surveyed visitors to its "Sundays on State" downtown events before and after they attended. Before, 28% worried about downtown safety, but afterward 98% said they felt "safe or extremely safe."

What we're watching: With office occupancy still lagging way behind pre-pandemic levels, the city is considering several proposals to create mixed-income housing in former LaSalle Street office buildings.

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