The Woodlawn Housing Data Project

Developed by WECAN in 2019, the Woodlawn Housing Data Project provides demographics, the results of a complete parcel survey of Woodlawn, and articulates five key findings and a set of policy recommendations around housing affordability and reducing the risk of residential displacement.

Until now, perceptions of neighborhood change have been largely anecdotal and based on resident observations. This project has resulted in extensive data collection and analysis, enabling WECAN to better understand Woodlawn’s current conditions, while also confirming some perceptions and identifying some unanticipated housing issues. The data and analysis also provide essential context and a solid foundation from which WECAN was able to develop a set of housing policy recommendations.

Key Report Findings

  • High vacancy: An estimated 27 percent of properties in Woodlawn are “inactive,” including vacant buildings and vacant land.
  • At-risk renters: Woodlawn is predominately (78%) a neighborhood of renters, many of whom are low-income and rent burdened. They face uncertainty regarding their ability to stay in Woodlawn.
  • At-risk homeowners: Many longtime Woodlawn homeowners are financially vulnerable. As cost-burdened homeowners face rising property taxes and home repair costs, they are at risk of losing their homes.
  • Increasing market activity: Development activity is accelerating in Woodlawn. Without intervention, this activity will continue to put more financial pressure on longtime residents – both homeowners and renters.
  • Inadequate resources: Over time, housing assistance programs that served Woodlawn have been reduced or eliminated, leaving inadequate resources to address the issues noted above.  

Key Policy Recommendations

The following policy recommendations are designed to prevent resident displacement in Woodlawn while welcoming the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and contributing to the growth of its host neighborhoods:

To ensure adequate housing resources are available and accessible to current Woodlawn residents:
  1. Fund a centralized Housing Resource Center to serve residents of Woodlawn, with the possibility of later expansion to serve residents in surrounding neighborhoods.
  2. Establish a new 5-year $25 million Housing Fund to invest in the needs of current residents.
  3. Conduct a Community Census to better understand the housing and other needs of current residents.
To bring vacant land back to productive use in Woodlawn in a way that benefits current Woodlawn residents:
  1. Implement a collaborative community process to establish a collective vision for utilization of vacant land in a way that supports the needs of longtime residents.
  2. Repurpose the Woodlawn TIF, with priority uses to include investment in affordable housing and home repairs.
  3. Decide on the mechanism to preserve and maintain affordable housing units permanently in Woodlawn. This could include partnerships with the Chicago Community Land Trust and other emerging local land trusts.
To protect long-time homeowners at risk of displacement:
  1. Establish property tax relief for income-eligible residents who have owned a home in Woodlawn for at least ten years, through state legislation or another funding mechanism.
  2. Provide property repairs assistance, and pro bono legal assistance and property tax assistance.
To protect long-time renters at risk of displacement:
  1. Collaborate with the Preservation Compact to develop and implement a focused Woodlawn strategy, utilizing a variety of tools to preserve existing rental housing units.
  2. Ask the City of Chicago to monitor condo and single-family home conversion activity and protect longtime residents of Woodlawn from displacement.