Bronzeville is rich with Black history and culture, and the neighborhood has produced some of the nation’s most influential figures like Ida B. Wells and Louis Armstrong.
Known as the “Black Metropolis,” the neighborhood became a hub for African American businesses in the early 1900s and has remained a popular place to live, especially for Chicago’s Black community.
Now, a recent construction boom is replacing vacant lots with high-priced homes. The transformation is the focus of a new podcast series created and produced by Crain’s Chicago Business real estate reporter Dennis Rodkin.
“There has been a boom in the sale of homes at $500,000 and up, and in the several years I’ve been watching it that number has risen. We’re now looking at a lot of sales at over $700,000 and $800,000 and there are some coming on the market this year at $950,000,” said Rodkin. “That’s not everything that sells in Bronzeville, but that is a real indicator that there’s a luxury market that is filling up formerly vacant lots, lot by lot by lot throughout Bronzeville.”
Investment in Bronzeville has picked up over the years. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) led an initiative in 2017 to turn vacant land into single-family homes. Bronzeville is also currently one of 10 priority communities selected as part of the city’s INVEST South/West strategy.
“I think that ever since the Chicago Housing Authority developments were torn down in the late 90s, early 2000s, that kind of got rid of what was a huge social mistake in terms of the warehousing of people there,” said Pete Saunders, an urban planning consultant. “I think that there’s been a great turn towards new housing coming into the area, more interest in the area and more investment.”
While the revitalization of Bronzeville and the building of high-value homes continues, some would also like to see more affordable housing in the area.
“I'm not impressed with 100, 200 new houses being built that start in the market of $500,000 or above,” said Sherry Williams, founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society. “There is existing housing that certainly has value way beyond that, and this would have been even before 2008. I guess what would be impressive is if it was more than 100 homes or so that were being built simultaneously, but for my heart, it’s always been the needs of those who have been not represented well in new construction and not just in Bronzeville, so certainly when we look at the plan for transformation, the promises that were made for residents who have been three or four generations in the community, none of that has been met, not nearly met in 20 years. And so when I see vacant lots, I see the potential for inclusion, and that means anyone who wants to live in the community and not those who have the money to purchase properties.”
With any redevelopment there’s always going to be a concern of people being displaced or forced out of the community, but there is the potential of finding a balance of both revitalization and affordability, Saunders said.
“I think that if left unchecked, that there will be people who will be forced out, or who won’t be able to afford living in the community, however, I would say the flip side of that is you would end up with a community that does not get the investment that it deserves, that does not have the amenities that it deserves, and that's one thing that's happening right now,” Saunders said. “I think we need to find a balance between making this a safe, secure, sustainable community that appeals to people across the income spectrum, but also is a leader in affordability.”
Rodkin said he hopes listeners of his podcast will also be able to learn about Chicago’s housing history and how that’s played out in Bronzeville. The three-part series debuted Jan. 24.