Forest Park is the best community for millennials in the Chicago metro area, according to Niche, a site that uses census data and local reports to rank villages.
“Living in Forest Park offers residents an urban feel…There are a lot of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks,” Niche wrote. “Many young professionals live in Forest Park and residents tend to be liberal.”
Bridget Lane, a resident who has served as the village’s economic development consultant, said the post could act as a marketing coup for Forest Park, since 80 percent of millennials begin their home-buying process online.
“I work with many villages who want to acquire what Forest Park already has,” Lane said, naming affordable housing, diversity, residents and community assets as positives.
Lane said that it is important to understand who the millennials in general are. They are a relatively young demographic cohort roughly between the ages of 18 and 35. In general, they are more highly educated than their baby boomer parents but are saddled with massive college loan debt. They tend to delay having children, which explains why only a third of them are parents.
For those reasons, adults born between 1982 and 2002 are more inclined to rent. If they do buy a house, millennials will purchase a smaller, more affordable home than their parents might have if they bought in their twenties.
Millennials also lived through the housing crash and, therefore, are more hesitant to make a big investment in a home. Lane said that her millennial son in his 30s, for example, still doesn’t own a home but has an impressive stock portfolio.
“Baby boomers tend to think of home ownership as the ideal and renting as bad. Millennials don’t think that way. Affordability is a major factor influencing where they live,” Lane said. “There’s a new class called ‘renters by choice.’ They might buy a home in their late 30s when they start having kids. But, even then, it might be smaller than the house in which they grew up.”
Finally, she said that millennials value racial and socioeconomic diversity. In the 2010 census, the village’s population was 55 percent white, 32 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian.
“There are people whose goal is to make houses more expensive and to prevent rentals in town, but rentals and affordable homes attract people who give us diversity and vibrancy.,” Lane said. “We’d be making a huge mistake if we try to make everything rise in value.”
She added: “We have something special here. We have community on a human scale. I don’t want high rises here.”
Lane said the village has plenty of assets which attract young professionals like two El train lines and a Metra line; Roos Recreation Center and the Forest Park Aquatic Center; and restaurants and nightlife.
She added that Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Hospital and Loyola Medical Center have also attracted millennials workers to Forest Park. Dorothy Gillian, a realtor and president of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, agreed that many medical students settle in the village.
“We do often get medical students, from Loyola in particular, who will settle in Forest Park, again because of its convenient location to school and the city, good transportation, entertainment and restaurants and bars,” Gillian said. “It is a good mix of renters and purchasers.”
Lane pointed out that, ironically and in addition to millennials, lots of retired baby boomers are moving into Forest Park.
“They don’t want to live in an old folks home until they have to,” she said. “Increasing numbers are also renting, because a mortgage ties you down more. If you decide you want to move to Florida and your are renting, you wait till your lease is up and go.”