In recent years, Oak Park has added four new high-rise rental buildings to its downtown corridor, and the 1,068 units ranging from studios to three bedrooms are changing the face of the rental market in the village. 

With studio rents starting from roughly $1,300 a month to three bedrooms topping out at almost $6,000, these rentals don’t come cheap. A recently published study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies posits that, nationwide, more developers are building similar buildings for ever-increasing numbers of high-income people looking to rent rather than own.

The study points out that between 2010 and 2018, the number of Chicago-area renters considered high-income, with earnings of $75,000 or more, rose 38.8 percent. Households earning $75,000 or more made up 25.5 percent of the Chicago-area’s renter households in 2018, up from 19.9 percent in 2010.

Oak Park appears to be part of the nationwide trend, in which developers create apartment buildings with condominium-style amenities in an effort to entice those of means to rent in an apartment. 

A glimpse into the lives of a few residents of Oak Park’s newest high-rise, Albion, supports the idea that empty-nesters and professionals are choosing to rent over owning single-family homes.

Paul and Leah Beckwith are happy to be a part of the trend. The couple have lived in Oak Park for 42 years of their 52-year marriage, and have owned single-family homes as well as a condo in the village. 

The couple sold their condo in Oak Park last year, moving into a rental unit in Vantage, 150 Forest Ave. In November, they moved across the street to a three-bedroom unit at Albion, 1000 Lake St., where they hope to stay for years to come. Paul says there are a number of reasons that high-rise living makes sense for them.

First, he said that he is a big proponent of the new high-rises in town, saying his approval is based both on both the tax and environmental implications of having the buildings in town. 

To him, more, dense buildings without children going to local schools will have a positive effect on the tax base in the village. He also thinks that having more people living in close proximity to public transportation and amenities is a greener way to live. 

“I’d like 10 of these high-rises here,” Beckwith said. “I’m living my values.”

Another reason that he likes high-rise living? The amenities. Albion’s many amenities were part of what lured him and Leah across the street. The building has a side entrance for dog walking, along with a dog grooming room and indoor dog playroom. 

An upscale gym eliminates the need for a separate gym membership, and an outdoor pool and grilling area provides the feel of a backyard without the lawn care maintenance for renters. 

The building also has a party room on the 18th floor and a lobby-level library that are perfect for hosting resident events. The Beckwiths are active in the community and have already used Albion’s common spaces to host events for Housing Forward and the Infant Welfare Society, as well as smaller gatherings for book club. 

The building is within easy walking distance to Unity Temple and Paul’s office, not to mention a number of grocery stores and restaurants. Paul calls the amenities better than anything you can get in a house, especially when you take into account the views from the upper floors. 

Leah says the views are what sold her on high-rise living.

“There’s a lot of difference in having all of these floor-to-ceiling windows,” she said. “It’s amazing to look out every day.” 

Paul is equally smitten

“I’ve lived in 18 houses since I was born,” he said, “and this is the best place I’ve ever lived.”

According to Paul, the move makes a lot of financial sense as well, even with rents that are high by Oak Park standards. 

“The reality is, you’re not making money on your house here anymore, and with condos you’re losing money,” he said.

Paul points out that the tax burden locally, when combined with sluggish home appreciation and maintenance costs, no longer make homes a great money-making investment. He says that condos, with their tax bills and assessments, have become a losing proposition.

“I think you have to put pencil to paper on owning versus renting, and you have to look at the taxes,” he said. “There’s roughly a 5-6 percent tax increase in Cook County. Rent will increase, but not as much. You have to look at the total cost. If you own a house, you have to set aside money for maintenance and repairs. If you sell your house, you can put your money into the market and maybe make a return.”

Neighbor Steve Kingwell says this outlook was part of the reason he and his wife moved to Albion, too. After living in their Oak Park home since 2010, they decided to downsize when they became empty nesters. 

Kingwell says that after nine years in the home, and a fair amount of money spent on restoration and renovations, they sold their home in November for less than their total investment. 

Both Kingwell and his wife are Canadian, and they own a home in Vancouver where they eventually plan to retire. But, with a child in college in the Midwest, they weren’t ready to decamp just yet. 

They plan to stay put for a few more years, and he says it made a lot more sense to rent. 

“We never really considered buying,” Kingwell said. “You’re not going to get a return on the investment in this period.”

Kingwell says that while the family dog had to get used to the elevator, the transition to high-rise living has been easy. The Beckwiths say it has not only been a smooth transition but a fun one. 

The couple loves meeting their new neighbors and living in the center of town, and they love keeping connected to local causes in which they have spent years and built relationships. 

They also appreciate that after decades in Oak Park, variety is the spice of life. 

 “When you live in a high-rise, you get a different picture of what life is,” Paul Beckwith said. 

Leah adds, “And the sunsets and sunrises are just fabulous.”

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