Affordable living space in popular enclaves such as Andersonville, Logan Square and Wicker Park is rare, so how can young urbanites on a budget determine what neighborhoods are on the cusp of cool?
"Look for the halo effect, which is the impact a successful urban neighborhood can have on the areas that surround it," said Jane Hunter, owner and managing broker of Jane Hunter Real Estate Sales and MGMT.
Nicole Moraga, a broker with @properties, said finding an alternate neighborhood is not just about proximity, but characteristics shared by the 'hoods, like a vibrant shopping district or a thriving restaurant scene. "The rental market is incredibly hot right now—there's lots of competition in all of the popular neighborhoods," she said. "Renters should be ready to act quickly. That means having all the information you need to fill out the rental application at your fingertips."
What qualifies a neighborhood as "up-and-coming" may be up for debate, but one thing these areas all have in common: a small community vibe with urban amenities, plus rents for a few hundred less than more popular 'hoods. –Tony Peregrin
Urban pioneers in-the-know shrug off the allure of hipster haven Logan Square in favor of nearby Avondale due to its emerging cultural scene, abundant ethnic cuisine and cheaper rents. "You still have access to the craft cocktail scene happening in Logan Square or the Logan Square Farmer's Market— without paying the price that comes with renting in a hipster 'hood," said Hunter. In addition to dining destinations such as Kuma's Corner and Honey Butter Friend Chicken, Avondale also has a bevy of mom-and-pop eateries serving authentic—and affordable—Latin American and Polish fare. "If you work in the Loop, Avondale is a great option because you have two Blue Line stops and you're close to the highway," Moraga said.
Much like the over-looked middle child, Bronzeville is sometimes overshadowed by the chic environs of the South Loop on one side and the leafy allure of Hyde Park, home of the University of Chicago, on the other side. "Bronzeville is a great alternative to the South Loop," Hunter said. "You have an improved infrastructure, including the multi-million dollar upgrade of the Red Line South completed last year, and new developments in the works like the Park Boulevard located just four miles from downtown." Lake and skyline views from nearby 31st Street Beach are a sweet bonus.
Selected as one of this year's top 10 "hottest" neighborhoods in the country by online real estate brokerage Redfin, budget-friendly Humboldt Park is quickly becoming a mecca for young renters for three reasons: location, location, location. "When people say they want to rent in Bucktown, Wicker Park or Logan Square but can't afford it, I take them to look at east Humboldt Park," said Moraga. "Because of its close proximity, you can just walk or bike to both neighborhoods." Already named for its 200-acre public park, Humboldt Park is about to get even greener with the city's first elevated public park space. Originally known as the Bloomindale Trail, The 606—a nod to the 606 zip code prefix shared by most city residents—will connect Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Bucktown and accommodate both pedestrian and bike travel.
If being near a thriving art scene is essential, be careful not to paint yourself into a corner by looking at pricey Wicker Park or the West Loop. "You can usually tell a hot new neighborhood by the number of artists living and working in the area," Moraga said. "Artists are obviously creative and look at things a little differently than the rest of us do, [so] they typically spot an area's potential before anyone else does." Anchored by the Bridgeport Art Center and the Zhou B Art Center across the street, Bridgeport is the new epicenter of Chicago's emerging art scene.
Chicago's flourishing foodie culture draws both locals and tourists to the West Loop's popular Restaurant Row, as does its close proximity to downtown. University Village, also known as Little Italy, is a good alternative neighborhood for young renters, said Moraga. Family-owned Italian eateries along Taylor Street mingle with newer restaurants and bars tethered to the University of Illinois at Chicago, making for a vibrant something old-something new mix.
When it comes to Chicago's gayborhoods, Boystown (Lakeview) and Andersonville are the hot 'hoods to drink, dine and dance the night away, but Uptown is where locals—straight and gay—find affordable living space. "Uptown is definitely catching renter spillover from Andersonville, Wrigleyville and Lakeview because you have access to the surrounding areas' amenities without the price tag," said Hunter. "But Uptown is not without its own charms. There's the Green Mill, the ionic jazz club and home of the Uptown Poetry Slam, and for dining, there's Argyle Street or Little Vietnam with lots of pan-Asian options," she said.
Which Chicago 'hood has the competition all sewn up when it comes to style? According to racked.com's 2013 "Neighborhood Style Showdown," Lakeview's Southport Corridor, with its mix of locally owned boutiques and popular chains, is the city's fashion-forward enclave. Runner-up Pilsen, however, has a bohemian-chic vibe and a growing scene of vintage and resale shops. "Pilsen—known for its vigorous arts community— is less touristy and more affordable than Lakeview or anywhere near the Southport Corridor," Hunter said. "What could be more chic than that?"Copyright © 2015, CT Now