Kristin Ostberg recently wrote an article for Chicago Journal on how Chinatown has quietly resisted gentrification (new link). The article partially arose out of conversations we had years ago while working on the Rehab Network’s Affordable Housing Factbook; it turns out that Chinatown, er, Armour Square is a complete statistical anomaly — growing economically, attracting new investment, adding proportionally many new units, but without an increase in housing stress (e.g., rising rents or overcrowding). Much of this success stems from recycling capital within the community, through informal and formal financial networks, “a circuit of reinvestment that has maintained Chinatown’s vitality through decades when neighboring communities declined.”
No one knows how long this little miracle can last, but it will probably last just long enough to withstand the current South Loop speculative bubble. Maybe that bubble, though, has helped to keep the pressure off Chinatown by pre-empting housing demand.
2017 update: WBEZ recently did a story about how Chinatown landlords typically use informal networks to recirculate apartments within the community.