OPINION

Is Boystown getting less gay?

A spike in rent prices may be driving gay residents out of Boystown.

Gay rights activists line Halsted Street during a gay rights rally June 26, 2013, after the day's two Supreme Court rulings related to gay marriage. (Anthony Souffle/Tribune) (Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune / June 26, 2013)

A few weeks ago, I toured Halsted Flats, the latest housing development to dot the rainbow streets of Boystown, with two recently engaged friends.

Our first stop, a two bedroom, two bathroom unit, featured stunning views of the lake, the skyline and Wrigley Field. As my friends looked around, imagining what life would be like there, I turned to the building rep and asked, “How much a month?”

“Oh, this one is only $3,300 a month,” he said, leaning against the marble countertop. I chuckled and shook my head because a) I would NEVER pay that much to live in Lakeview, and b) I realized Boystown’s rainbow flags could soon be coming down.

A new study led by University of British Columbia sociologist Amin Ghaziani argues that gayborhoods across the country—including Boystown—are starting to lose their “gay.” Ghaziani found an 8 percent decline of gay men living in areas like Boystown and San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in the past 10 years, and a 13 percent decrease for lesbians.

Many people have suggested the decline is due to the growing acceptance of LGBT people around the country, and that the group doesn’t feel the need to live in gayborhoods anymore. I’m not buying it. Acceptance of LGBT rights may be partially responsible, but the bottom line lies in the dollar signs. 

Chicago saw a 5 percent increase in overall rent prices in 2014, and that hike is hitting some ’hoods harder than others. The 2012 Trulia Price Monitor report found that areas populated by more than 1 percent same-sex male and same-sex female couples saw at least a 13.8 percent and 16.8 percent rent increase, respectively, compared with the average national increase of 10.3 percent. Translation: The gayer the block, the faster the value will rise.

But, wait! Aren’t gay people supposed to be rich? 

Nope. According to an analysis from UCLA’s Williams Institute of U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000, same-sex families earned, on average, $15,000 less annually than opposite-sex families. The wealth gap remained in the 2010 data, and 20 percent of same-sex families were found to be living in poverty compared with 9 percent of their opposite-sex counterparts. 

But don’t worry. Gayborhoods are not gone forever, they’re just shifting to new places. Areas like Rogers Park and Uptown in Chicago are becoming denser with LGBT folks due to their affordability and location.

So don’t cry too hard at the thought of Lakeview being less gay. Instead, pity the people paying $3,300 a month to have an IHOP in their parking lot.

Zach Stafford is a RedEye special contributor.

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