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The combined Hyde Park/Bronzeville neighborhood submarket has the highest estimated number of employees vulnerable to layoffs as a result of COVID-19, according to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Housing Studies at Depaul University (IHS).

The study looks at the impact of the pandemic on Chicago’s racially and economically divided neighborhoods, seeking to provide “Chicago-area housing and community development practitioners” with neighborhood-level data highlighting areas most susceptible to housing instability resulting from layoffs.

Within the Hyde Park/Bronzeville eegion, which extends from 26th Street to 79th Street in the north-south direction and from the lake to the Dan Ryan Expressway in the east-west direction, an estimated 18,240 people work in vulnerable professions. This number constitutes 38.6% of renter households. Other neighborhoods, such as Englewood/Greater Grand Crossing and Auburn-Gresham/Chatham, have a higher percentage of workers in vulnerable professions.

These vulnerable professions include “cashiers, retail salespersons, janitors/building cleaners, cooks, waiters/waitresses, security guards/gaming surveillance officers, personal care aides, office clerks, construction laborers, and maids/housekeeping cleaners.” These occupations are considered vulnerable to layoffs because they are less likely to allow workers to work from home, and are therefore more affected by reduced foot traffic.

According to the study, the current spread of neighborhoods with a high concentration of vulnerable workers is a product of “Chicago’s history of segregation and distinct geographic patterns of rental housing stock.” In South and West Side submarkets, over half of renter households have at least one member working a vulnerable job, while the Loop and Lincoln Park/Lakeview submarkets have smaller shares of potentially impacted renter households.

Additionally, workers of color are more vulnerable than white workers: almost 40 percent of Latinx and 37 percent of African American workers in Chicago have vulnerable occupations, as compared to nearly 20 percent of white workers.

Concerning possible city-led responses to the disproportionate economic impact of COVID-19 on neighborhoods with many vulnerable workers, HIS Executive Director Geoff Smith brought up Chicago’s response to the 2008 housing crisis.

“Reflecting back on the last recession,” said Smith, “vulnerable neighborhoods and vulnerable households were impacted, and as the city recovered, a lot of lower-income households and neighborhoods didn’t benefit from that recovery.”

Smith also raised concerns about the mode of neighborhood investment the city currently relies on, saying, “Going forward, one of the streams of revenue that the city relies on requires new development. You’ve got the ARO [Affordable Renters’ Ordinance] and the Neighborhood Development Fund, and the money from those comes from downtown development, essentially. So you need that new development in order to generate revenue to support those types of programs. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what that’s going to look like.”

“[The city] wants to invest in those neighborhoods and see them improve, but the question is, ‘Are the traditional revenue sources that they’ve leveraged going to be available?’”

Going forward, he said IHS would track “evictions, foreclosures, [and] investment” neighborhood by neighborhood.

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