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Chicago Rent Grace Period Would Allow Struggling Tenants Pay Back Rent Over 12 Months, Aldermen Say

Under a new proposal, renters who have lost income due to coronavirus would have 12 months to pay their rent and mortgage holders would also get relief.

Tenants of Mac Properties and supporters rally in Nichols Park April 5, calling on the major Hyde Park landlord to stop collecting rent payments through the coronavirus pandemic.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A group of aldermen are seeking to enact housing payment grace periods to help renters and homeowners struggling through the coronavirus outbreak.

Ald. Matt Martin (47th) on Monday introduced legislation that would give renters who lost income during the coronavirus outbreak a 12-month grace period to pay rent. The proposed ordinance also asks Gov. JB Pritzker to enact similar payment deferments for mortgage holders, among other housing payment relief efforts.

“Chicagoans should not fear losing their homes because of this unprecedented crisis,” Martin said. “With May 1st quickly approaching, our state and our city must step up to the plate and provide relief now.” 

The coronavirus outbreak in Chicago, and efforts to contain its spread, have severely impacted the economy, causing many to lose their jobs. A Chicago emergency rent relief fund sought to help 2,000 city renters — but over 80,000 applied for the assistance. Calls for a rent strike have popped up throughout the city.

City efforts to provide private housing relief have been stymied by the state’s ban on rent control. But now, Martin and a group of alderman are proposing legislative changes to address the issue.

State statutes would need to be changed for Chicago to allow for a “rent freeze.” Instead, Martin and his colleagues are proposing a rent payment grace period, where renters who lost income during the stay at home order can back-pay the rent for months that fell under the order.

The proposal also asks Pritzker to help secure a commitment from non-federal mortgage lenders to offer “mortgage forbearance” for at least three months to borrowers who have lost income due to coronavirus. Such protections already exist for those who have mortgages with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally back mortgage programs.

Martin said he is seeking a “holistic” approach to this “housing crisis” by packaging relief efforts aimed at both renters, homeowners and small-time landlords. The North Side alderman joined Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) to write an op-ed calling for banks and landlords to be “flexible” during this time. Martin said some landlords have worked with renters to offer assistance, while others haven’t. The new ordinance would level the playing field for all renters, homeowners and landlords, Martin said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the issue has been complicated because landlords need money to pay their mortgages. That’s why the city created a $2 million fund to help people struggling to pay their rent and mortgages — but that program received far more applicants than it could fund.

“This is a challenge,” Lightfoot said. “Meeting your bills is a challenge for a lot of folks. … But this is a complicated problem because the renters, to be sure, are hit, but so are the landlords. The landlords are struggling to meet their mortgages. [The city needs] banks that have these mortgages to provide some kinda relief all the way down the line.”

Similar housing relief efforts have been made elsewhere, including California, where 200 private banks and mortgage lenders have agreed to three months of mortgage forbearance. Los Angeles has also passed a law providing a one-year rent grace period.

Martin’s proposal has the support of 21 of his colleagues, including those in the Progressive Caucus and the Latino Caucus.

“The proposals we have introduced today will create more housing stability and support for our residents,” Ald. Felix Cardona (31) said in a statement. “In this unprecedented time, it is incumbent upon city government to find fair and equitable solutions for landlords and renters alike.”

The measure will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, which will be held virtually. Stay at home measures have complicated local governing, but Martin said it is crucial for City Council to put this on its front burner to help residents avoid housing issues through the crisis.

“Folks are looking for assistance from all levels of government, so they know they can stay in their homes,” Martin said. “It’s important to move as quickly as we can.”

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