No, your paychecks haven't been getting smaller—and neither has your kitchen. If it seems like it's getting harder to find an affordable, spacious rental in Chicago, that's because it is.
Rents are up and vacancies are down as the economy continues to tread water.
Net rent prices increased 14 percent from 2005 to 2010—the latest data available. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of Cook County residents are renters, according to a 2011 study released by the DePaul University Institute for Housing Studies. The percentage of people renting is the highest it's been in a decade, said the institute's executive director, Geoff Smith.
"Either by choice or by circumstance, more people are choosing to rent," Smith said. "That's had the effect of increasing rents in the county and the city."
For some people, like Karl Hunsicker, 33, of Jefferson Park, enough is enough.
"I feel like renting is throwing money away," Hunsicker said. "The way the market's going, it's a good time to buy now." Hunsicker cited the high prices in popular neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, where he used to live, saying landlords there "can get away with charging more than it's worth."
Maurice Ortiz, marketing director at The Apartment People brokerage firm in Chicago, said now would be a good time to buy for anyone who is going to be in one place for at least five years.
"The prices are low, interest rates are historically low, the inventory is out there," he said. "You really can get an amazing deal if you're looking to buy right now."
But not everyone is in that situation financially. For people still looking to rent, Ortiz points to the neighborhoods surrounding trendier spots like Lakeview, Lincoln Park or Wicker Park/Bucktown as offering more availability and better values. Two he suggests are Logan Square and Lincoln Square.
"You're still able to walk to some of the fun things to do [in adjacent neighborhoods] and yet pay a little bit less in rent," he said. And making this move, he explained, is becoming more common. "Because the rents are skyrocketing in just about all the neighborhoods, people are starting to move outward."
With that in mind, RedEye took a look at the rental picture in Chicago to find out which neighborhoods are hot, which are not and which ones will put the smallest dent on your wallet.
VIBE: Boutique-y, park-heavy, lakeside convenience
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $1,600-$3,000
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Houses, condos and luxury high rises
AVAILABITY: Very low
VIBE: Gay-friendly and sports-friendly nightlife mix with families
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $1,300-$3,000
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Walk-ups, two-flats, three-flats, high rises
AVAILABITY: Very low
VIBE: A quirkier, artsier nightlife and shopping hub
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $1,250-$2,600
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Walk-ups, two-flats, three-flats, lofts
VIBE: Business-like home to high rises, colleges and museums
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $1,800-$3,200
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Townhouses, high rise and mid rise condos
RIVER NORTH/GOLD COAST
VIBE: Upscale nightlife and shopping mix with bustling downtown business
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $2,000-$4,000
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Townhouses, luxury mid rise and high rise condos
VIBE: Quiet, residential area with lived-in, small-town charm
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $1,000-$1,800
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Houses and three-flats
VIBE: Increasingly hip businesses and clientele add to lively family 'hood
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $900-$1,600
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Three-flats, walk-ups and houses
VIBE: Strong historical legacy fuels an active community and commercial area
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $800-$2,000
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Two-flats, three-flats and houses
VIBE: Diverse, engaged community with major entertainment destinations
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $950-$2,000
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Walk-ups, houses, three-flats and high rise condos
VIBE: An urban version of the quiet, historic college town
AVERAGE RENT 2 BEDROOM: $850-$2,100
TYPICAL AREA PROPERTIES: Two-flats, three-flats, walk-ups and mid rise condos
Sources: The Apartment People, Chicago Apartment Finders and Apartments.com
WHERE IN THE USA?
Apartments.com and CareerBuilder recently ranked the best cities for recent college graduates. Rankings were based on data for unemployment, new hires, median starting salary and average rental prices. Chicago clocked in at No. 7. Here are the ratings and average rents for one-bedroom apartments in various cities.
2. New York $1,789
3. Boston $1,814
4. Minneapolis $974
5. Dallas $912
6. Atlanta $855
7. Chicago $1,224
8. Houston $910
9. Philadelphia $1,070
10. Baltimore $1,235
11. Denver $1,089
12. Salt Lake City $772
13. San Francisco $1,653
14. Seattle $1,199
15. Oklahoma City $676
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor.