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What has the change meant for real-estate prices? In the 1980s, people bought occupied houses in North Kenwood for $30,000, "half that for boarded-up houses," recalls Winston Kennedy, a South Side real-estate agent for 30 years. "Now home buyers are paying $200,000 and $300,000," says Kennedy. "Very pricey."

The same process has been gaining speed south of Hyde Park in Woodlawn, territory ruled in the mid-1970s by the Blackstone Rangers street gang. Developers such as Alison Davis Jr., the son of a distinguished Chicago faculty member, have joined with community leaders like the Reverend Leon Finney, pastor of Christ Apostolic Church and director of the Woodlawn Community Development Organization, and Bishop Arthur Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God (at 15,500, the largest congregation in the city of Chicago), who's also chairman of the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation and of the Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization. Together, these groups have spearheaded the construction of several waves of new middle-class houses, slowly working their way south from 61st Street along Kenwood and Ellis and Blackstone. Construction has also begun for another 152 units along 63rd Street.

image: Renaissance Place
Renaissance Place homes are going fast.

"In the '60s and '70s, Woodlawn looked like a pyromaniac lit all the buildings there," Finney told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. "It was far from the community of choice, [but] we had to start somewhere." Now the neighborhood is in transition, says Brazier, "from a community based on poverty to a moderate and middle-income neighborhood. And that brings economic development, improved schools, and a reduction in crime." Fortunately, he adds, the transition did not force out current residents. Poverty

and perceptions of crime had already chased out many of those who could afford to leave--hence the pyromaniacal appearance--and new health, welfare-to-work, and community policy programs, along with improved city services, have regained the loyalties of low- and moderate-income families. "This is no longer a place that people run from," says Brazier.

One gauge of the influx of buyers into the South Side can be seen in the near saturation of the Hyde Park real-estate market. Dyrud only has a few things to show Chase because somebody's buying up everything else.

"Across the board," agrees Hyde Parker Robert C. Sullivan, AM'77, MBA'86, an agent for Urban Search, "from the 12,000-square-foot Kenwood mansions to the one-bedroom condos, everything is moving pretty quickly." The neighborhood was long a forgotten area, he recalls. But as prices and density and traffic to the north have mushroomed, this southern alternative--with real neighborhoods, front lawns and back yards, museums and schools, and an easy commute--looks better and better. "Prices used to be about half as high as Lincoln Park," says Sullivan, "but that gap is rapidly closing."

Several upscale developers, many of them new to South Side real estate, have been eager to ease the crunch. "There's new housing all over the place," declares Webber, obviously excited about the prospect, "more than $150 million in private residential housing, almost 600 units, built here in the last decade. That's the Hyde Park people live in now, a whir of cranes. These are good times for Hyde Park."

image: Starbucks Coffee
Starbucks Coffee in Harper Court sells latte.

A habitual list maker, Webber can tick off the recent housing starts, a daunting process with 16 residential developments, some in multiple stages, breaking ground since 1989. The largest, begun in 1998, is Renaissance Place, where the Chicago Osteopathic Hospital once stood, with more than 200 loft condominiums in the former hospital complex, plus 28 new town houses and 16 stand-alone homes. Cornell Square, begun in two phases between 1995 and 1998, includes 81 town houses and single-family homes. Forty-four new homes have been built and sold at 5350 South Shore Drive, the former site of Temple Sinai.

The list goes on and the prices go up. The Renaissance Place condos were offered at $98,000 and up. Larger town homes on South Shore Drive hit the market for between $250,000 and $500,000 and sold immediately. One of them, with a lake view, resold two years later, Dyrud informs Chase, for more than $700,000. Seven luxury town homes facing the lake north of 51st Street hit the market at $525,000.

Who is buying these things? With 12,000 faculty and staff, the largest employer on the South Side, and 10,000 students, the U of C and its Hospitals still dominate the area. "We have, by far, the highest percentage of faculty, just over 62 percent, living in the neighborhood of any university in a large city," says Webber, contrasting Hyde Park with the Cambridge neighborhood around Harvard, home to only 32.5 percent of that institution's faculty. "But what's extraordinary," he adds, "is that the new housing is not predominantly being bought by University faculty or staff. It's people who work downtown and want an easy commute, people with children, young professionals who have figured out that this is a much better deal economically than the North Side."

But "this is not Lincoln Park," proclaims Webber, getting wound up. "One, Hyde Park is a lot more diverse. Hyde Park has roughly equal numbers of whites and African Americans, with a significant Asian population as well. Two, this is a family neighborhood. Three, this may not be an inexpensive neighborhood but it is still an affordable one." Fourth, he notes, there is a range of housing, apartments, condos, houses--large and small, vintage and new. Real-estate prices are going up as much as 10 percent a year but there are still 2,039 subsidized housing units in Hyde Park, about the same as ten years ago. "They're so well managed," adds Webber, "That not many people know that."

image: Hyde Park

Although established residents appreciate any increase, the rising cost of housing in Hyde Park can present a problem for incoming junior faculty, says Richard Saller, dean of the Social Sciences, and indeed the University is renovating and subsidizing some of its rental housing for junior faculty. At the same time, Saller says, the softer market around the boundaries of Hyde Park makes the problem less severe for Chicago than for many urban universities. "Given a choice between a rundown neighborhood with low property prices and an improving neighborhood with inflating prices," adds Saller, "I'll take the latter. I think that it's a good thing that we are beginning to get away from the 'fortress Hyde Park' mentality and to see the city with its varied neighborhoods as an asset."

As the neighborhood becomes more attractive to more people, rents have also increased, but they have not kept pace with purchase prices. Students are somewhat protected from this increase by the option of University housing (in addition to the undergraduate dorms there are 1,130 student housing units in the neighborhood), where increases have been held to the 3- to 4-percent range.

Despite mild gentrification, Hyde Park-Kenwood has retained its famed ethnic and cultural diversity. Since 1960, the University community has remained racially balanced; about 50 percent of the 41,000 residents are African American, 40 percent white, and 10 percent Asian, primarily Chinese. The neighborhood's average income has climbed from 10 percent above the city of Chicago average in 1970 to 40 percent higher by 1990, and about 65 percent higher in 1998. The average Hyde Parker now earns about $32,500, slightly more than the per capita income of Evanston or Oak Park residents.

This diversity is also apparent in the range of local schools. A brochure, "Raising Our City Kids," from Alderman Preckwinkle's office lists 20 neighborhood schools, including the University's Laboratory Schools; Kenwood Academy, cited by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's outstanding high schools; the Philip Murray Language Academy, which stresses early exposure to foreign languages; and 17 other public, private, and parochial schools. In addition to providing safety suggestions for city kids, the brochure also lists the types of programs that flourish in suburbia, from after-school arts programs to AYSO soccer.

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