Eliminating rent control ban to be on ballot in some wards
February 2, 2018

Photo courtesy Chicago DSA
Chicago DSA, one of the community groups fighting for rent control, celebrate the rent control ban repeal measure’s appearance on the ballot in some wards.

By Patrick Butler

Thanks to help from determined community groups across the city, a proposal to eliminate a State law banning rent control in Chicago will appear on the March 20 ballot in ten wards, said Pilsen Alliance Director Byron Sigcho.

Local wards whose ballots will feature the proposal are the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 12th, and 25th.

Sigcho said the seemingly unlikely feat was accomplished by some 20 local groups ranging from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Northside Action fornJustice, Lugenia Burns Hope Center, Action Now, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Northwest Side Housing Center, 33rd Ward Working Families, and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (Chicago DSA).

“We got 1,000 petition signatures in Pilsen alone and 4,000 signatures citywide urging repeal of the State law banning rent controls in Chicago,” Sigcho said.

At least six Illinois lawmakers, including local rep Teresa Mah (D-2nd), support the referendum, Sigcho said. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Daniel Biss and J.B. Pritzker also support the measure.

Sigcho said activists from communities as far flung as Uptown and Bronzeville will be pounding the pavement through March 20 to drum up support for the non-binding referendum.

“There’s a lot of movement on this,” Sigcho said.

Opposition to referendum

Despite all the well wishers, “we can’t assume people are going to say yes,” Sigcho said, conceding that he also has heard some people voice serious concerns.

Since April, Illinois Realtors, a real estate professionals’ advocacy group, has stepped up its efforts to block any attempt to repeal the 1997 law banning rent control here.

Experts such as Brian Bernardoni, senior director of government affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors and a former executive director of the University Village Association, and Illinois Realtors spokesman Jon Broadbooks asserted that rent controls would do more harm than good to everyone—both landlord and renter.

Rent control would create “any number of unintended consequences because the policy sets thresholds for what a property owner can charge for rent,” Broadbooks warned.

Both Bernardoni and Broadbooks said rent control would mean less incentive to invest in real estate, more bureaucracy and regulation, and significant damage to property values. “This in turn would have negative budgetary impacts for the municipality implementing the rent control,” Broadbooks said.

“Considering what the market has been since 2008” in Chicago and Illinois, “this would be a very bad message for the market place,” Bernardoni warned.

If there is only so much money a property owner could get from a lease, there could be “issues with property upkeep that could work against a renter’s interests,” Broadbooks said.

If rent control ever becomes law, Broadbooks added, “you could have a patchwork of municipalities with and without rent control. This could be confusing to a renter and could pit one community against another in efforts to attract residents.”

Other paths

Bernardoni noted plenty of “paths to creating housing affordability” such as an affordable housing code and higher density, both of which would increase housing stock.

Not just real estate people and property owners are wary of rent control, Bernardoni said. “Both progressive and conservative economists agree rent control simply does not work.”

He added that New York has been phasing out rent controls for years and that, in San Francisco, “many landlords have just walked away” from their rent-controlled properties.

Sigcho said rent control opponents miss the point.

“We’re not saying rent control should keep people from raising rents,” Sigcho said. “There’s a difference between freezing rents and keeping rents affordable.”

For one thing, landlords legitimately could take advantage of all kinds of tax breaks, Sigcho said.

If done right, there is no reason this could not be a win/win situation for everyone, he added.

As it is now, rampant gentrification and skyrocketing property prices already have been hit landlords with a limited number of properties and even single-family homeowners hard, Sigcho said.

He and other rent control proponents noted quickly rising property values have forced a number of families out of the Pilsen neighborhood, for example, because as property values rose so did property taxes—and rents.

For more on the Chicago Association of Realtors, log on to https://chicagorealtor.com. More information on Illinois Realtors can be found at www.illinoisrealtor.org. For more on the Pilsen Alliance, log on to www.thpilsenalliance.org.