For many years, Chicago has had a reputation for being decrepit and dangerous. However, some housing experts predict this is all about to change.
Chicago’s vibe is heavily dependent on the neighborhood you pick. Whether you prefer cozy, working-class neighborhoods or trendy, modern areas, the city has a neighborhood for you. What people generally like most about the city is its affordable living, reliable public transit, and access to big-city perks such as fine dining and great entertainment.
Chicago History & Job Opportunities
Known as the Windy City due to its unusually breezy weather, Chicago has an enormous population of roughly 2,690,000 people with most being middle-aged, working-class folks. The region has an energetic feeling created by the residents’ can-do attitude.
Chicago is known for being the largest city in the Midwest. Starting out as an industrial town in the 1830s, it was the main source of shipping, manufacturing, and packaging in the region.
Post WWII, the city’s economy dropped drastically as residents fled to the suburbs. It only began to pick up again in the 2000’s when people became interested in big-city living.
Today, the most common jobs are laborers/materials movers, fast food workers, corporate management, registered nurses, and cashiers.
Note that Chicago’s startup scene is exploding and is home to emerging unicorns. Forbes reports startup valuations have topped $1 billion this year, so there’s been big demand for software developers, salespeople, project managers, and related jobs.
Chicago Real Estate & Home Prices
The median list price of a single family home in Chicago is $299,900, while the median list price of a condominium is $339,00, with the average number of days on the market at 63.
According to Altos Research, Chicago is in a slight seller’s market as of December 2021.
The average rent for a 750 sqft apartment in Chicago is $2,059 according to RentCafe.
Three of the top neighborhoods in Chicago are Lincoln Park, River North, and Wrigleyville due to their upscale environment and proximity to great dining and entertainment. However, if you’re looking for more of a suburban experience not too far from the city center, you might want to investigate Clarendon Hills, Long Grove, and Buffalo Grove.
The kinds of homes you’ll find in Chicago are a blend of luxurious new construction projects and historic homes in need of a bit of TLC.
Chicago has strict rules for short-term rentals, requiring all short-term rentals to register with the city. There’s a ban on 1-night stays, annual licensing fees, taxes, inspections, and hefty fees for non-compliance among other things.
High speed internet is available at speeds up to 1000 Mbps from Xfinity, AT&T, and Earthlink starting at $20 per month.
Utility costs for electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash are generally lower than national averages, typically costing roughly $130 per month.
Chicago rates an F on cost of living (it’s expensive!) and scores 111, which is 11 percent higher than US averages. AreaVibes gives Chicago a livability score of 59 on a scale of 0-100, which is below the national average but better than surrounding areas.
Chicago Food, Drink & Entertainment
Chicago has plenty of fantastic restaurants all over town ranging from Mexican to Japanese to tapas. Popular spots include Topolobampo, Roka Akor, and Girl & The Goat. It also has plenty of great places for drinks including Dollop Coffee, Dovetail Brewery, and The Charleston Bar.
Grocery stores like Albertsons, Cub Foods, Meijer, and Treasure Island Foods are easily accessible in every neighborhood. When shopping for items besides food, try exploring the shops along Michigan Avenue.
Chicago Attractions & Things to Do
There’s also a vibrant art scene in the aptly-named Chicago Arts District where you’ll find numerous galleries, studio rentals, and retail spaces. Local artists like Anna Murphy, David Heo, and Louis Barak are featured at festivals like the Fine Arts Fair.
If you’re a sports fan, Chicago is home to the Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, and Bears. Since the city is one the few metro regions to have two Major League Baseball teams, there is an avid rivalry between the Cubs and White Sox.
Chicago is served by O’Hare International Airport, which is one of the largest airports in the nation. Unfortunately, it tends to get bad reviews due to a confusing layout and high wait times.
On the bright side, the town does have a very popular and effective public transport system. The CTA has a bus and train system that goes all over town at convenient times.
You can also rent electric scooters or order a rideshare from Uber or Lyft.
Most Chicagoans skip owning a car, but if you have one, expect to pay up to $30 an hour for public parking. Chicago also has a unique tradition of calling “dibs” on free residential spots. According to neighborhood etiquette, if a person shovels a spot and puts a lawn chair or other belonging in it, they get to reserve the spot for personal use.
Chicago is home to The University of Chicago, one of the world’s leading research colleges. There are also many other prestigious institutions like Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University.
The public school system can be a little rough. A larger than usual number of Chicago private schools have poor ratings on GreatSchools.
However, there are some well-reviewed options like Lenart Elementary and Canty Elementary as well. If you prefer private schools, there are also some highly-regarded options like Brehm Preparatory School and Saint Luke Academy.
The library system in Chicago is very good, with locations around town featuring programs like computer classes, tutoring programs, and free ebooks for both adults and kids.
Chicago Community Groups
Chicago also has numerous neighborhood and community organizations that you can become involved in, including RANCH Triangle Community Conservation Association, Diversey Harbor Lakeview Association, and ABJ Community Services, just to name a few.
Other good places to meet people as a newcomer are local Facebook groups and at Meetup.com.
Chicago Health & Wellness
As for Covid restrictions… The Chicago Department of Public Health requires that unvaccinated travelers be tested for COVID before and after travel from any state that is on their advisory list and quarantine upon arrival in Chicago. Currently that list includes about 40 states. The quarantine and testing recommendations do not apply to fully vaccinated travelers.
In response to the Omicron variant, all travelers arriving in Chicago from international destinations (regardless of vaccination status or citizenship) need to get a negative COVID-19 viral test no more than 1 day before travel into the United States.
The city seems to be strongly encouraging all residents to get vaccinated, even giving out $100 gift cards to those who comply.
Chicago is currently open for business with no capacity limits, no social distancing requirements, and businesses able to operate at normal hours. However, masks must be worn indoors in public places.
The city recommends that large event organizers require vaccination or negative tests for attendees, but so far it looks like the ultimate decision is up to the organizers.
When you need healthcare, try highly rated options like Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Rush University Memorial Hospital. You can also find assisted living at spots like Symphony Residences and Belmont Village.
If you like to stay healthy through fitness, there are plenty of well-known gyms, like Planet Fitness, to choose from. Or you can also try local favorites like River North Gym, Namaskar Yoga Studio, or Mode Gym.
Chicago Climate & Safety
Chicago’s weather is generally cold and windy. In the summer, it’s often an enjoyable 83°F. However, winter lasts for months, and temperatures can drop to 5°F. WeatherSpark rates the town’s weather as cold from October through May.
One concern to be aware of is crime. The city routinely makes national news for many crime problems including gang warfare. Crime rates are 164 percent higher than the national average, and theft and assault are particularly common, so check neighborhood police data on any area of interest to learn what the risks are.
Approximately 80,0000 Chicagoans are unhoused, but due to the freezing temperatures, the city doesn’t really have tent cities or other common homeless issues.
Somehow they manage to find places to stay when temperatures drop—in addition to shelters, warming centers or stay with friends, many duck into coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and trains to escape the cold.
In terms of pests and predators, Chicago doesn’t have many wildlife issues, other than some roaches and rats in poorly maintained buildings.
Chicago Politics, Government & Taxation
Research from the University of Illinois found that Chicago is America’s most corrupt city. Furthermore, they have a very high amount of debt and very little income.
Politically the entire area around the city tends to be quite liberal. 74 percent of voters vote Democrat while 24 percent vote Republican.
Illinois income taxes are 4.95 percent, which isn’t that bad compared to other states.
The top corporate tax rate is 9.5 percent and ranks 36 out of 50 states, so not that business-friendly compared to other options.
The region’s infrastructure is generally decent-quality. First responders are adequately staffed to serve the needs of the city, but they consistently have response times a minute longer than state averages.
Police response time statistics were harder to come by, so if you happen to know, let us know in the comments. We came across several local articles complaining about slow response times, so it’s something to look into.
But the police department does provide an online map showing crime data by neighborhood, so look there to better understand the risk in whatever areas you’re interested in.
The Bottom Line
If you’re single and like big-city living for less in a place with nightlife, restaurants, and job opportunities that may not require a 4-year degree… Chicago may be the place for you.
If you’re a couple without kids looking for nightlife, fine dining, arts, and entertainment… Chicago may be your place. But if you worry about crime and corruption, you might want to keep looking.
And if you have a family and want affordable housing with walkable neighborhoods… this town may work for you. But if you need a super safe environment with great schools, you may want to consider another location like Clarendon Hills or Buffalo Grove.
Where to live in America is a personal choice, because what’s important to us may not be important to you.