America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Chicago


Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee

Contributing Writer

Jeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

Published May 24, 2018|4 min read

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Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

Excellent timing, apartment hunter. Getting a rental in the Windy City is a little easier on the wallet, compared to the past year or two. Pricey pads are still plentiful in Chicago, but average rents for the city have actually dipped by about 5% since last spring, according to rental site Zumper.

How much does renting cost in Chicago?

One-bedroom apartments are currently going for around $1,470 a month, making the nation’s third-largest city only the 14th-most-expensive for tenants. Renters insurance, meanwhile, runs residents between $6 to $30 a month. (You can find the best renters insurance companies in Chicago here.)

You’ll pay primo rent in central neighborhoods like the Loop, River North and Streeterville, where one-bedrooms average $2,000 to $2,200 a month, Zumper says. That's partly due to wealthy families buying up multiple rental units to make larger homes.

“The trend of homeowners converting Chicago’s traditional affordable housing stock — namely, two- and three-flat apartment buildings — into single family homes has removed affordable housing from many of the city’s most attractive neighborhoods,” says Rory Keane, director of marketing communications for Domu, a Chicago-based apartment search site.

The recent migration of skilled professionals and affluent retirees is driving up prices in the city’s center, too.

How to find affordable rent in Chicago

Still, rents across the Windy City pale in comparision to rents in Los Angeles and New York City. And, with a little knowledge and pluck, tenants can easily adhere to the widely accepted rule that rent represent no more than one-third of their income.

Budget-conscious tenants need to navigate to the pockets of Chicago where the relative bargains are. We asked three rental market experts to recommend the most interesting alternative neighborhoods with good apartment values in the Windy City these days.

1. Lakeview is the new Lincoln Park

If tony Lincoln Park is your ideal home but your budget falls short, check out its neighbor directly to the north.

“Lakeview is ‘discount Lincoln Park’ and offers a similar vibe,” Jeremy Jackson, a senior real estate broker with Zumper in Chicago, says. The average rent for a one-bedroom in Lakeview is $1,350 — about $250 lower than Lincoln Park prices. That’s affordable for individual renters with annual incomes around $50,000.

(Curious about what renters are savviest about their housing choices? Check the Policygenius Renters Index.)

Lakeview is easy accessible by public transportation and popular with young professionals and couples.

“The neighborhood amenities and attractions include access to Lake Michigan, lots of green space and parks, all the excitement surrounding Wrigley Field, boutiques and upscale shops along the Southport Corridor,” says Keane.

2. Logan Square is the new Wicker Park

Similarly, renters chasing the expensively-gritty aesthetic of Wicker Park should investigate Logan Square.

“Near the California or Logan Square stops on the Blue Line — that’s the discount version,” Jackson says. The neighborhood offers the seven-acre Palmer Square for green space, and the housing stock is an eclectic mix of historic greystone buildings and new construction.

The median rent for a one-bedroom place is $1,495 — about $200 lower than prices in Wicker Park — but friends could save a bundle if they don’t mind sharing a unit. A 1,300 square-foot three-bedroom with hardwood floors, close to the bike trail, recently listed for $1,500 a month. Split three ways, that’s a bargain.

3. Another alternative: Pilsen in the Lower West Side

South of the Loop and a little off-the-beaten path is the affordable neighborhood of Pilsen.

“People are moving there to avoid the North Side and save on rent,” Mike Catanese, director of leasing at Apartment People, an apartment-search company in Lakeview, says. “It’s like Logan Square 20 years ago.”

Located between Little Village and Chinatown, a wave of new construction in Pilsen hasn’t zapped its unique traditional character, with interesting features like Thalia Hall, a music venue dating back to 1892, and the acclaimed National Museum of Mexican Art.

East Pilsen, near Halsted, is an up-and-coming neighborhood with an artsy vibe, says Jackson. A bright three-bedroom apartment near the Pink Line recently listed for $2,000 a month, a great deal for three roommates.

4. Magical working-class Avondale

Working-class Avondale, on Chicago’s northwest side, was called both “scruffy” and “magic” by Lonely Planet last year. It offers a hipster mix of inexpensive eateries, coffee roasters, craft breweries — and cheaper rents for anyone who can handle the slightly longer commute on the Belmont Blue Line. (Close proximity to job hubs, after all, are one perk of expensive city living.)

“This northwest side neighborhood is a bit further out than the uber trendy hoods of Logan Square or Bucktown, but it comes with a lower price tag,” Keane says.

One-bedrooms average $1,200 a month, but a nice apartment with large windows and lots of natural light was recently listed for $1,000.

Bargain before you sign

Given the soft rental market in Chicago, it’s worth bargaining a little with prospective landlords. The abundance of new construction going up has some property managers playing defense, Keane says. So there may be room to negotiate a month or two of free rent — if not a lower monthly bill — before signing a lease.

We can't curb burgeoning rents in big cities, but we can help you save on coverage for your stuff. You can quickly compare renters insurance quotes here.

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