Our neighborhood has undergone profound changes over the last decades. Today that change is accelerating.
While the essential character of Belmont Cragin remains, our community has become a diverse Northwest Side community, economically, socially and demographically. Today we are a mix of long- time residents, hard-working immigrants, and a variety of newcomers living together.
From 1990 to 2013, the population of Belmont Cragin jumped 41 percent (from 56,700 to 78,900), even as the city as a whole lost residents. Belmont Cragin’s assets continue to attract new residents, including many families displaced by gentrification and rising housing costs in neighborhoods to the east, like Humboldt Park and Logan Square.
Many of the Polish and other Eastern European residents who have lived in Belmont Cragin for years remain and others have moved in as well, but most of the new families are Latino. In 1990 about three in ten of our neighbors were Latino. Today that figure is eight in ten. Unlike some of Chicago’s other primarily Latino neighborhoods, however, Belmont Cragin is ethnically diverse, with a mix of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American and South American residents.
We are a neighborhood with many young residents—a third of the population now is under the age of 19 (and a quarter under age 14). Our community has long been a destination for immigrants, and that has been rising as well. Seventy percent of our residents speak Spanish at home and an additional ten percent speak another language at home, such as Polish. In total, more than a quarter of our population—almost 20,000 residents—have limited English, and approximately 12,000 residents are undocumented, the second highest number of any of Chicago’s community areas.
Along with these local changes, our community has been affected by national trends. With the decline of manufacturing in America, there are fewer factories and warehouses on Belmont Cragin’s southern edge and fewer well-paying working- class jobs in the community and in the city. The real-estate bubble caused a spike in foreclosures in our moderate-income neighborhood, and the slow economic recovery has been di cult for our working families.
Driven by our ongoing evolution, 21st century Belmont Cragin has new needs that require new solutions.
As our neighborhood is changing, it’s bringing challenges that we haven’t faced before. In some cases, the new realities are overwhelming the resources and services that have served our community in the past.
Belmont Cragin is at citywide averages for income levels and employment—testament to the mix of dfiferent types of families living in our community. Yet more and more of our neighbors are facing tough times. The number of households living in poverty in Belmont Cragin rose from 11 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2010, now higher than the citywide average.
Many residents have a difficult road to a better
job or career. More than a third of adults living in our community today have less than a high school degree or GED, and our many undocumented workers face fewer options for employment and dangers of exploitation and low wages.
The in ux of new residents means that housing
in Belmont Cragin isn’t as affordable as it used to be. Demand is pushing up rents and home prices. When you drive down one of our quiet residential streets, some of the brick bungalows you see have two or three mailboxes, a single-family home converted to house several families struggling to get by.
The high number of children in the community is putting more pressure on our already overcrowded elementary schools and creating demand for youth services and park space. Meanwhile, our public high schools, like neighborhood schools across the city, are losing students and funding each year.
Public safety has become a bigger concern for all residents, particularly for our young people. Disrupted gang boundaries as members move west have created new tensions and several isolated violent incidents have led residents to identify public safety as one of their primary community concerns.
This plan exists because as a community we recognize our neighborhood is evolving. By bringing the assets of our community into better alignment with the reality of how our community has changed, we can ensure that the future of the neighborhood is bright.