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Under Pandemic Pressure, Chicago Rents Fall Faster Than Most U.S. Cities

Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood

The coronavirus pandemic cut down employment levels and put pressure on apartment owners to lower their rents, causing Chicago landlords to have one of their worst years ever, according to a report Monday in the Chicago Tribune.

Average December rents in the city dropped to $1,193, a nearly 12% decline from the $1,355 recorded the previous December, the Tribune found, citing a new report from Apartment List, a national apartment listing site.

Zillow also recorded a steep decline, the Tribune added. Its November statistics showed a 2.2% decline when considering the entire metro area, the sharpest drop landlords saw since Zillow began tracking rents nationwide in 2014. When Apartment List included suburban data in its overall analysis, it found a metro-wide decline of about 6%, a sign that suburban towns fared better as the pandemic raged.

“It’s really a lot of these denser, really strong job centers across the country — Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston — where we saw the rent prices really collapse the most dramatically in 2020,” Apartment List researcher Rob Warnock told the Tribune.

Apartment List examined data for dozens of top markets, and Chicago came in ninth in terms of rental rate drops since the pandemic reached the U.S. in March. Job-rich coastal cities such as Boston, New York, Seattle and San Jose, the ones that began the year with the highest rental rates, saw even worse declines. San Francisco led the nation with a 26.7% decline in rental rates since March.

Nationwide, rents fell 1.5%, according to Apartment List.

Chicago landlords are doing everything they can to fill their units and keep up with their mortgage payments. Downtown Apartment Co. co-owner Ericka Rios told the Tribune some now offer new tenants as many as five free months of rent.

Existing tenants are also getting breaks. Bucktown resident Marianna Harrison told the Tribune that when she recently renewed her lease, instead of the usual hike, her landlord lowered the rent for her one-bedroom by $50. She works in film production, and lost out on some work due to the pandemic, and even fought off a bout of coronavirus last spring. The extra $600 she will save over the next 12 months will be a big help.

“That doesn’t seem like a lot, but honestly, to me, that is a lot,” she said.