As we were discussing in another thread yesterday, Crain’s is out with an article describing a select group of homeowners who bought a condo or other property in the city in their younger years, got married, had kids and now, because of housing declines, can not sell and move to the suburbs.
These are NOT people who have decided to buy a house in the GreenZone with the intent of staying in the city and sending their kids to the local schools.
These are people who otherwise would have moved to the suburbs (most likely those in the $250k to $400k price range – who are priced out of buying a single family home or even a townhouse in the GreenZone neighborhoods with “acceptable” schools.)
When Jill and Paul Syftestad’s oldest daughter was ready to start school four years ago, they put their South Loop townhouse on the market and planned to move to the suburbs.
One offer fell through at the last minute and a second was well below their asking price. “We had our hearts set on moving,” says Ms. Syftestad, an IT project manager at a nursing association. “We were devastated. We pulled it off the market and decided to stay.”
The recession dramatically slowed the number of people making the trek to the suburbs for bigger houses, safer neighborhoods and better schools. Unable or unwilling to leave the city, a small but growing group of middle-class families are turning to Chicago’s public and private schools, a development that holds both potential and peril for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his efforts to improve the school system.
“I’ve had lots of clients who thought they would be able to sell their condo and can’t. So they are now trying to make it work” in city schools, says Christine Whitley, an education consultant who helps families through the Chicago Public Schools selection process. “They bought their condo way before they had kids and didn’t really factor schools into the equation. They figured they could sell and move to a better neighborhood or move to the suburbs. Now they can’t sell it, so they’re trying to figure out options” in the city.
“People are trapped,” says Tina Feldstein, a broker at Southport Sotheby’s International Realty in Chicago and president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, a South Loop association. “If they sell, they’ll take a major loss. They’re not in a position to do it. Everyone’s saying, ‘Next year, it will improve. Prices will get better.’ In the meantime, they’re forced to become involved in CPS schools.”
There’s no doubt that parental involvement is huge and has really boosted the prospects of some north side schools in recent years.
Rebecca Labowitz, a parent who blogs about the school system at CPSObsessed.com, points to the district’s newly formed Portfolio Office, which has community liaisons work with parent groups at individual schools.
Parental involvement is particularly effective at the elementary level. Activist parents raise money, expectations and standards. Some of the best-known examples are Alexander Graham Bell, Blaine, John C. Coonley and Nettelhorst elementary schools on the North Side. Nonprofit groups such as Friends of Coonley routinely raise more than $100,000 annually for extra teachers, equipment and programs such as ecology.
“Coonley was going be a school that was going to close,” says Mr. Pawar, whose ward is home to Coonley, Bell, Waters and Audubon schools. “Now it’s one of the best schools in the city.”
“I have always said we’d stay in the city so long as the schools were working,” says Julie Kraft, a banker who works downtown and lives on the North Side and whose children go to Louis J. Agassiz School in Lakeview. “At this point, I could see myself staying in the city throughout their education. We never said outright that as soon as they go to school we’d have to be in the suburbs.”
Parochial schools are benefiting, too. Enrollment at Catholic elementary schools in Chicago is up in each of the past two school years, the first time that’s happened since 1965. Suburban enrollment fell by 5.3 percent over two years, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago, mirroring a national decline in Catholic school enrollment.
One of the fastest-growing schools is Old St. Mary’s in the South Loop, where the Syftestads’ daughter Olivia is a third-grader. She started kindergarten in a CPS school but transferred because of large class sizes, Ms. Syftestad says, highlighting one of the challenges facing the mayor.
“We’re OK through elementary school. We’ll stay in the city as long as we can, provided we can navigate through CPS” for high school, she says. “If not, we’ll have to make the move. It’s a question we talk about all the time. We have about three years to figure it out.”
This article raises a whole host of questions such as:
1. What happens as more condo dwellers realize that housing is not going to rebound “next year”?
2. What happens with all those kids at Bell, Blaine and others when high school is looming? Do they all try and sell and move to the suburbs at the same time? Because they’re not all getting into the top city high schools or the top city private schools.
3. As the article indicates, could this really be a boom for the city as, at least in some neighborhoods, trapped parents are forced to improve the schools? (I realize this only really applies to the GreenZone.)
The Parent Trap [Crain’s Chicago Business, John Pletz, March 26, 2012]