CHICAGO — A question on whether the state should lift its ban on rent control will be on the ballot Tuesday in three Chicago wards, a non-binding vote meant to let legislators know where people stand on the issue.
It’s the second time this year the question has been on a ballot. In March, a question about repealing the state’s ban on rent control was posed to voters in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 12th, 22nd, 25th, 27nd, 33rd and 36th wards. After the votes were tallied, 75 percent of voters in those wards said they were in favor of it.
On Tuesday, a question about repealing the state’s ban on rent control will appear on the ballot for voters in the 35th, 46th and 49th wards.
The rent control question from March and the one on Tuesday is a “non-binding referendum,” which means the results won’t directly overturn the Rent Control Preemption Act that went into effect back in 1997 thanks to the lobbying of realtors. But it does show city and state officials during election season what Chicago voters in those wards think about introducing rent control into Illinois.
Anthony Joel Quezada, a member of United Neighbors of the 35th ward and the Democratic Socialists of America, has been knocking on doors to overturn the ban. He grew up around the corner of Milwaukee and California avenues and remembers his parents working a lot but still struggling to make rent each month.
“I’m a child of two immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica. I remember my dad was working more than 60, 70 hours in a given week,” Quezada said. “My mom juggled with two jobs, and even then, we were still struggling to make ends meet. And rent was one of the most difficult things we had to pay.”
Even before the Logan Square neighborhood he grew up in was hit hard by gentrification, Quezada says residents like his parents were struggling to get by.
“Rents are extremely expensive and in a time of wealth and income inequality a majority of residents are struggling to find affordable housing,” Quezada said. “Wages have been stagnant for many years since the 1980s. So rent control is our first step to put an end to folks being displaced from their communities just because they don’t have enough money.”
Brian Bernardoni, the local government affairs director for Illinois Realtors, trade association, said on the group’s website that rent control would have “unintended, negative consequences” the could impact the state’s “overall tax base” because developers could decide to sell off buildings or convert rentals into condo units to avoid dealing with rent controlled units.
“The real estate lobby passed the law in 1997. It’s clear the big developers are the the ones pushing back against rent control,” Lillian Osborne said, field director for Ald. Carlos Rosa (35th) and member the Democratic Socialists of America. “People are overwhelmingly supportive of it, even small landlords are really supportive too because they’re afraid of being priced out by larger developers.”
In February, State Sen. Mattie Hunter introduced SB3512, which would reverse the ban on rent control while also putting into place a County Rent Control Board in every county in the state. The measure would also create “a reserve account by property owners for repairs and capital improvements” by requiring landlords of rent controlled units to set aside “10 percent of the property owner’s rent proceeds” towards that fund.
“Lifting the rent control prohibition will help homeowners like me maintain our homes so we can provide affordable rents to tenants,” said Irma Morales, a landlord of a two-flat in Little Village. “Gentrification destabilizes neighborhoods by displacing residential owners because they can not afford high taxes.”
Morales says stabilizing the community she’s lived in for the past 20 years is important because otherwise her family and friends may be displaced.
“I have built a close relationship with the owners of the local stores near my house, as well as with my neighbors. I want to keep my house where my children grew up,” she said.
Elliot Heilman, another landlord from Little Village, also supports repealing the ban because he has already seen his neighborhood become marketed as West Pilsen and is weary of developer speculation displacing people like he saw happen in Pilsen.
“Honestly it’s ridiculous to me that a piece of … legislation from two decades ago means that the state or local municipalities can’t even discuss whether rent control might be part of a solution to the increasing number of people who are rent-burdened,” he said.
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