Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative


See You at the Farmers Market!

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative will be out and about this summer spreading the word about saving Chicago's workers cottages. Look for our table at the Austin Town Hall Market on June 13, the Logan Square Farmers Market on June 16, 35th Street Block Party in McKinley Park on July 27, and Wicker Park Farmers Market on August 4.

Farmers Market

These community events are a great way to increase awareness of workers cottages. Some passersby are simply interested to learn a name for a kind of house they had not paid attention to previously. Others are excited to tell us all about their own cottages and how they have made them their home.

If you are able to spend an hour or two of friendly conversation with neighbors, please volunteer to help at our table on any of the dates above.

Workers Cottage Neighborhood Tours

Put on your comfortable walking shoes and join us to learn about historic workers cottages in Chicago. We'll be offering our popular Logan Square and McKinley Park walking tours again on two weekends in June. Both tours last about an hour and a half and tell stories of workers cottages and their former residents.

Workers Cottage Walking Tour

Tickets to tours at 2pm on Sunday, June 2 and Saturday, June 8 are available for a pay-what-you-wish donation to the CWCI to help us further our efforts to preserve Chicago's workers cottages. Reserve your ticket today!

Chicago's Neighborhood Divide

In May, Chicago PBS station WTTW aired the four-part documentary "Shame of Chicago, Shame of the Nation" which tells the story of how Chicago's neighborhoods and housing became divided by race and wealth. A variety of real estate practices driven by racist policies extracted wealth from Black homeowners and neighborhoods over many decades. The effects of these policies can be seen even today in the large number of "emergency" demolitions of workers cottages in south side neighborhoods.

Cottage Teardowns

Many homeowners in these areas were subjected to exploitive contract-buying agreements decades ago. Money that could have gone to home upkeep was instead sent out of the neighborhood to real estate brokers. After years of deferred maintenance, many of these homes are just a step away from a repair or tax bill too large for the homeowner to afford. Missed tax payments or failed inspections can cause these houses to end up abandoned and owned by the city, which eventually tears them down them in an "emergency" demolition.

The documentary, created by producer Bruce Orenstein, tells the story of homeowners and community organizations who fought against these unfair policies. The series is essential viewing to understand Chicago's real estate and neighborhood history and is viewable online or streaming on WTTW.

Cottage Teardown Slowdown

Workers cottages continue to be demolished throughout Chicago in 2024. However, a count of the number of demolition permits issued for cottages in the last six months is about a third less than at this time a year ago. The federal interest rates that were raised to curb inflation in 2023 and remain a challenge to homebuyers may be slowing house demolitions, at least for the time being. If developers find it more challenging to borrow money to build luxury speculative housing, perhaps there is less incentive to tear down existing housing.

While we don't know all the details of the cottages pictured below demolished in the past six months, typically teardowns are in decent condition and demolished simply to build newer, larger houses. Workers cottages are most often replaced by larger single-family homes, not by multi-unit housing which might address the current need for more affordable housing in Chicago. In most cases, cottage teardowns result in more square footage per house, but decreased density per neighborhood.

1Qtr 2024 Teardowns

Images from Cook County Assessors Office via Chicago Cityscape

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