Silent loss of downtown housing

While Evanstonians have been cheering — or bemoaning — the construction of new housing downtown, shrinkage in the existing downtown housing stock has gone relatively unnoticed.

Downtown housing units

U.S. Census figures, gathered in a city report after the 1990 census, appear to show at least 2,842 housing units in what is now considered downtown Evanston.

After construction of 313 new housing units in the late 1990s, the 2000 census showed that downtown Evanston within its current boundaries had 2,771 housing units — 71 less than a decade earlier.

The downtown plan now under debate pays a lot of attention to new buildings that have gone up recently, planned buildings already approved, and what the city should do to direct possible future development.

But it says not a word about existing housing units that may have been lost since 2000 or that may disappear over the life of the new plan.

That’s understandable. The new projects tend to be big and highly controversial. And many of them have been built on what had most recently been parking lots.

But older buildings tend not to last forever, and to get a full picture of the supply of and demand for downtown housing a look at housing unit losses since 2000 should be part of the mix. It would be a shame if we have to wait until after the 2010 census, long after the new downtown plan is adopted, to get an accurate assessment of overall downtown housing trends.

Note: The 1990 study (available as an attachment below) shows 3,574 housing units downtown, but it uses a more expansive definition of the downtown area and also appears to count hotel rooms as housing units, something not done in the later reports. The 1990 figure used above subtracts the hotel rooms and excludes the blocks no longer considered to be within the downtown boundaries. The 2000 downtown housing data from the U.S. Census is available on the city’s website.

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