Evanston remains an economically diverse community — but that doesn’t mean some residents aren’t hard-pressed to afford housing.

We compared household income levels, based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, for Evanston and all of Cook County in 2020, the most recent data available, with the figures from a decade earlier in 2010.

During that time the median household income in Evanston rose 21%, from $68,107 to $82,335. The median household income in Cook County rose 26%, from $53,942 to $67,886.

Some critics of new high-density, market-rate housing developments in Evanston argue that their construction is driving lower income residents out of the city — even though those developments have generally occurred on property that was previously used for commercial purposes, rather than homes.

But, for the most part, the change in the share of low, moderate and high income residents in Evanston has paralleled similar changes in the income distribution in Cook County over the past decade.

The share of households making less than $100,000 a year has declined both in the city and the county. And the share of households making more than $100,000 has increased, as median incomes have risen in both the city and county.

But with a relatively slow pace of new construction, median rents have grown somewhat faster than median incomes in both the city and county.

Median rents have risen 29% in Cook County, from $900 a month in 2010 to $1,160 a month in 2020. In Evanston they’ve increased 31%, from $1,092 a month in 2010 to $1,433 a month in 2020.

That means more renters at lower income levels — in Evanston and across the county — are paying pay a high proportion of their incomes for housing.

Paying more than 30% of income on housing is generally considered the threshold where people become “housing-cost-burdened” — facing difficulty covering their other living costs because of the big slice that housing takes out of their budget.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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