Three prominent Chicago architects selected for combined public housing/library projects

John Ronan Architects, SOM, and Perkins+Will will each design one of the multi-role buildings..

Foreclosures here shrink to pre-crisis levels

The foreclosure crisis, which cast an ominous shadow over the Chicago-area real estate market for much of a decade, has narrowed to a few lingering dark spots.

Only eight out of more than 250 Chicago-area ZIP codes had more than a slender sliver of their housing stock in foreclosure in February. That’s according to data provided to Crain’s Chicago Business yesterday by Attom Data Solutions, an online real estate data service based in Irvine, Calif.

Those eight zip codes, which make up a belt of south suburbs running from Dolton to Park Forest, are the only ones where more than one-half of 1 percent of the homes with mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure in February. None has more than 1 percent of its homes in foreclosure.

Despite those being the biggest concentrations of foreclosures in the metropolitan area, they’re slight compared to the crisis years. At the peak of the Chicago’s foreclosure crisis, in October 2011, more than 6.6 percent of the region’s homes with a mortgage were in some stage of the foreclosure process, according to data from CoreLogic, another real estate research firm, also based in Irvine.

There were 5,290 homes in the Chicago area in some stage of foreclosure in February, according to Attom. That’s down more than 9 percent from 5,844 homes a year earlier. With about 1.39 percent of the region’s homes in some state of foreclosure, Chicago had the third-highest rate of mortgage distress among the nation’s 20 largest cities, following Baltimore (1.5 percent) and Philadelphia (1.49 percent).

Nationwide, about 0.06 percent of homes were in foreclosure in February, an 11-year low.

Looking at the band of eight ZIP codes, Daren Blomquist, Attom’s senior vice president, said, “we see stubborn pockets like that all over the country, but they’re getting smaller and smaller, and fewer and fewer.”

In 98 of about 230 Chicago-area ZIP codes, no homes were in foreclosure in February. Those ZIPs are largely north and west, in the city and suburbs. Many others have less than half of 1 percent of their homes in foreclosure, a level “that is sustainable for the market to absorb,” Blomquist said.

CoreLogic reported this week that for the Chicago region overall, the number of homes in foreclosure was nearly as low as pre-crisis levels in each of the last three months of 2016. Fewer than 1.2 percent of all homes in the region were in foreclosure during those months, CoreLogic found. The rate of foreclosure first rose above 1.2 percent in July 2007, as the first wave of distress began to roll in.

Though it’s shrinking fast, the foreclosure burden isn’t gone. In several south suburbs, the rate of foreclosure ticked up in February from a year earlier.

Some of it is the result of homeowners giving up in areas where home values have been slowest to recover. While home values in many north neighborhoods and suburbs have recovered to levels above their old pre-peaks from before the housing bust, “the property values here have stagnated,” said John Petruszak, executive director of the South Suburban Housing Center, based in Homewood.

He said that “a lot of people who bought their homes at the height of the market are in trouble now,” after trying to hang on to a severely devalued asset for as much as a decade.

Flossmoor is one of the towns in the band of eight higher-foreclosure ZIPs. A house there, on Brumley Drive, recently became a double foreclosure: One owner lost the four-bedroom in foreclosure in 2011. A buyer rehabbed it and resold it in 2012. The 2012 buyer in turn lost it in foreclosure as well, in October. The house is now on the market with an asking price of $155,900, below what buyers paid for it in 1999.

“It’s very common to see that,” said Melanie Stacel, the Sun Realty Group agent representing the home for the foreclosing lender, which the Cook County Recorder of Deeds identifies as Fifth Third Mortgage Company. “I hate to see it, but I’ve seen it multiple times in these pockets that aren’t coming back like everywhere else.”

Low-income housing doesn’t hurt neighbors’ home values, study finds

New Chicago-area housing developments for low-income residents have no negative impact on home values nearby, according to a new study by a real estate firm’s economist.

“Homeowners sometimes have fears that their property values will be hurt when someone builds low-income housing nearby,” said Cheryl Young, senior economist for online real estate site Trulia. “We found that there’s no impact.”

Young charted the rate of growth in home values around each of 230 housing developments built from 1996 to 2006 in the Chicago area using low-income tax credits. After 2006, the effects of the housing crash on home values “introduced unpredictability into the data,” she said.

She charted one line for home values within 2,000 feet of a low-income project, and another for homes between 2,000 and 4,000 feet away. The two lines tracked nearly identical paths, Young said, with the rate of appreciation roughly the same for homes near low-income housing developments as for those farther away, in the decade following construction, according to Young’s data.

Created in 1986, the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has funded a large share of the affordable rental housing developed in the United States.

Last year, Young gauged the impact of low-income housing developments in 20 U.S. cities where housing is the least affordable. “The need for affordable housing is dire, but people have expressed concerns about the effect (low-income housing) will have,” she said. The study covered 3,083 low-income housing developments in those cities.

It did not include Chicago, where housing remains relatively affordable. But Young ran Chicago data through the same model in advance of a presentation at the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Affordable Housing yesterday.

Plan to light-up Chicago’s Merchandise Mart is moving forward

Home to wholesale decorating showrooms, art galleries, and a technology incubator, Chicago’s 4 million square foot Merchandise Mart is preparing to take on yet another role as a giant projection screen. According to the Chicago Tribune, the iconic 1928 Art Deco building will host projected, multimedia art along its nearly three-acre, river-facing southern facade beginning in 2018.

The possibility of utilizing the Merchandise Mart as an artistic canvas was first revealed back in 2014 as part of a preliminary study conducted by the Mayor’s Office and Choose Chicago to light the Chicago River and boost tourism. Known as the Lighting Framework Plan (LFP) initiative, the document also looked at creative ways to illuminate other waterfront structures such as Chicago’s bridges, Civic Opera House, and Lower Wacker Drive.

New York based architecture firm A+I and creative partner Obscura Digital are currently evaluating lighting options for the building’s 25-story river frontage. Obscura has previous experience with similar lighting projects including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and New York’s Empire State Building.

While next year’s lighting of the Merchandise Mart compliments the city’s commitment to invest more in public art, the Tribune reports that the project will be funded through private—rather than public—channels.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple set to reopen following two-year restoration

After spending more than $23 million dollars and experiencing two delays, the finish line is finally in sight for the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. Built for a Unitarian Universalist congregation between 1905 and 1908, the poured-in-place concrete structure is considered by many—including Wright himself—to be the architect’s most notable contribution to modern design.

The multi-phase plan to repair the National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site had been in discussion for many years prior to work finally starting in the spring of 2015. Originally expected to be competed by the fall of 2016, the timeline later slipped to March of 2017. According to the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, the most recent estimate anticipates a public unveiling to take place in July.

The scope of the work involves a multitude of structural improvements such as a full restoration of the building’s exterior including the majority of the temple’s roof. Inside, the structure’s striking original skylights, windows, light fixtures, flooring, plastering, and millwork are also in the process of being painstakingly brought back to their former grandeur. Additionally, workers will modernize the building’s mechanical systems and add air conditioning.

A video describing the restoration process as well as a detailed outline of the three phases can be viewed below:

Phase I: Strengthening the Structure

• Restoration of the concrete walls, chimney, and roof slabs

• Restoration of art glass laylights and skylights

• Restoration of elevated terraces, east retaining wall, and ornamental planters

• Development of routine maintenance procedures to monitor concrete for future cracks and deterioration

• Development of appropriate repair process to prevent water from penetrating the surface and causing new damage

Phase II: Achieving Climate Control

• Installation of state-of-the-art geothermal ground source heat pump to stabilize temperature and humidity levels year-round

• Air-conditioning for the warmer summer months

• Aid in preventing future structural and surface deterioration

• Upgrades to mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and life safety systems

Phase III: Restoring the Interior

• Restoration and conservation of all interior art glass, plasterwork, paint finishes, concrete floors, Magnesite floors, art glass lighting fixtures, and oak trim

• Interior surfaces restored to original texture, color, and translucence

• Removing all over-painting and applying replicated new finishes

• Applying new layer of plaster with replicated finishes

• New over-painting on all existing surfaces to resemble original treatments