Rent control ban moving through Illinois legislature
March 30, 2019

 

By Patrick Butler

Jawanza Malone of the Lift the Ban Coalition, a grassroots group that has been trying for over a year to repeal the State law barring rent controls in Chicago, said things are looking better than ever.

“We anticipate a vote on not one but two bills coming out this session” of the Illinois General Assembly,” Malone said. “It looks encouraging,” she added, noting most local lawmakers already are on board.

Among them are State Reps. Theresa Mah (2nd), Delia Ramirez (4th), Lamont Robinson Jr. (5th), and Sonya Marie Harper (6th).

Area State Senators include Mattie Hunter (3rd), who helped spearhead one of the bills, and Patricia Val Pelt (4th) who Malone said has been “leaning” toward supporting some form of rent control. 

Hunter got involved earlier this year while on a statewide study of “affordable housing opportunities, rising rental prices, increasing health and human services and the criminal justice system,” she said.

She then returned to Springfield to introduce a bill eliminating the rent control ban that had been on the books since 1997.

Rent control boards

Hunter’s measure would create elected rent control boards in six regions across the State that would regulate rents for specific income levels and keep any annual rent increases in line with inflation rates. 

Her bill also would spell out how much notice landlords must give before any rent increase and oversee creation of a reserve account for them to pay for repairs and capital improvements.

Hunter wants to “bring everyone to the table so we can come up with solutions to this crisis,” she added.

According to the measure’s supporters, including Rod Wilson of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, a Bronzeville organizing group affiliated with Lift the Ban, the six rent control regions would provide oversight of local rent increases and be “self-funding” by charging landlords registration fees to cover the programs. 

South Side State Rep. Mary Flowers (31st) is sponsoring the other bill with support from Logan Square State Rep. Will Guzzardi (39th), who wants to “turn powers back to municipalities, allowing them to step in and do what they believe is right,” he said.

Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd) said rent controls “could be helpful if used wisely,” but conceded rent stabilization could have a downside. “For example, some landlords might be tempted not to invest too much in a building if there’s not much of a return,” she said.

Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) noted Chicago probably needs more education about rent control. He has talked to Black Chicago residents “who say they don’t want low-income residents in their neighborhoods. They want market rate housing. There are fears and ignorance. But I know we can all live together.”

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot has not taken a position on rent control. She said that, for renters, Chicago “is not working. The City hasn’t led” on building affordable housing. “But I don’t think rent control is the issue we need to be focused on right now.”

The other Mayoral candidate, Toni Preckwinkle, has endorsed the effort to overturn the State ban on rent control.

Realtor opposition

Rent control in any form would be unfortunate for everyone, warned Brian Bernardoni, senior director of governmental affairs of the Chicago Association of Realtors. Rent control may be very popular with voters, but it eventually leads to less affordable housing, Bernardoni said.

He added that, while everyone from developers to landlords to real estate professionals admits to an affordable housing crisis, they do not believe rent control is the way to solve the problem. 

Instead, Bernardoni suggested Chicago change its building codes to make housing more affordable.

He noted the West and South Sides have thousands of empty lots and suggested using tax credits and building code revisions instead of rent controls.

Bernardoni noted Hunter’s proposal to carve out rent control districts in six different regions across the State would “take away the choice municipalities should have” on whether to adopt rent control. The municipalities “won’t get to decide” if they’re answerable to a new regional authority, Bernardoni said.

According to figures from the Lift the Ban Coalition, an estimated one-fourth of Illinois tenants pay more than 50% of their household money on rent.

All legislators mentioned in this article are Democrats.

For the Chicago Association of Realtors, log on to https://chicagorealtor.com. State Senator Mattie Hunter’s website is www.senatorhunter.com. For the Lift the Ban coalition, go to ltbcoalition.org.