Chicago's Cook County, which has been losing much needed affordable housing units since 1990, is on pace to lose another 78,000 units by 2020. A group of 100 civic, government, real estate, and business leaders wants to make sure that grim outlook doesn't become a reality.

The coalition, aptly named the Preservation Compact, launched a $100 million fund to preserve at least 75,000 units. The Compact, which to date has raised approximately $35 million toward the fund, is operating under the guidance of the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute and is supported by a $10 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

“The Preservation Compact is the most comprehensive approach to the preservation of affordable housing that I have seen in any city in the U.S.,” says John McIlwain, senior resident fellow at ULI and the institute's J. Ronald Terwilliger chair for housing. “With housing prices rising in the Chicago area and nationally, despite the recent soft markets, preserving the housing that is already affordable is essential and costs far less than building new housing to replace that which is lost.”

The Compact will provide capital to affordable rental properties at risk of either being demolished or converted to condominium communities. The coalition also plans to create a rental housing database at DePaul University, establish a council to coordinate the efforts of government agencies involved in affordable housing, and launch an energy savings program for property owners. The Compact is “a model most other cities could well copy,” McIlwain says.

CAUSE FOR ALARM Vital stats for Cook County, Ill.:

  • By 2020, the county's supply of low-cost rentals is expected to drop by 78,000 units.
  • The county is on track to lose two units of affordable rental housing for every unit built.
  • By 2020, more than 185,000 households will be unable to find affordable rental housing.
  • Source: DePaul Real Estate Center