Paul said he's not sure how long he'll be a renter. Home buying may be a few years down the road for him, he said, after his so-so experience as an owner in St. Louis.

"I didn't come out being any better ahead whether I would have owned a house the last eight years or rented a house the last eight years. ... At the time, we thought it was a great investment, but it ended up not being a wise investment at all," Paul said. "When we decided to move to Chicago ... we wanted to move into a luxury place—the big windows, the wood floors, the granite countertops."

HOW CHICAGO RENTS

Like most major metropolitan areas, Chicago has more renters than homeowners. About 55 percent of Chicago's occupied units are rentals, the third-highest percentage behind New York and L.A., the 2010 census found. RedEye decodes Chicago's rental market by the numbers.

2.6: Chicago has 2.6 times the number of rental units as Cook County's suburbs combined

38%: Of Chicago's rental market are buildings with two to four units

30%: Of Chicago's rental market are buildings with 5 to 49 units

21%: Of Chicago's rental market are buildings with 50 or more units

9%: Of Chicago's rental market are single-unit buildings

232,435: Number of affordably priced rental units in 2009

7.3%: Rental vacancy rate in 2010

2.8%: Rental vacancy rate in 2006

$1,004: Median rent in Chicago in 2010

$1,023: Median rent in Chicago in 2008

$880: Median rent in Chicago in 2005

$1,173: Average rent in Lincoln Park for January-March 2012

$1,154: Average rent in Lincoln Park for January-March 2009

$774: Average rent in Rogers Park for January-March 2012

$776: Average rent in Rogers Park for January-March 2009

$862: Average rent in the Near South Side for January-March 2012

$851: Average rent in the Near South Side for January-March 2009

$990: Average rent in the Near West Side for January-March 2012

$937: Average rent in the Near West Side for January-March 2009

Sources: Appraisal Research Counselors, DePaul Institute for Housing Studies, Illinois Association of Realtors

tswartz@tribune.com