HYDE PARK — After months of asking for help with rent due to the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Hyde Park residents staged a weekend protest calling on a property management company to help its cash-strapped renters.
Tenants living in Mac Properties buildings gathered Saturday afternoon to “evict” the major Hyde Park landlord from the neighborhood. Community organizers said tenants have experienced years of exploitation and neglect that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Saturday’s march was the latest in a series of similar protests against Mac Properties led by Mac Tenants United, a tenant union that formed shortly after the pandemic led to a stay at home order in March.
“We formed the union days into the pandemic because we knew we were going to have to advocate for our rights in order for us not to get evicted as we lost our jobs,” said Zak Witus, Mac Tenants United chairman.
“We tried to start talking to them right away. Every month, we’d send them an email with our concerns. We heard nothing.”
Mac Properties representatives did not return a request for comment. Previously, the company would not say whether it was helping tenants on a case-by-case basis during the pandemic.
Mac Properties was among the management companies that signed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s housing solidarity pledge earlier this year, committing to offering residents grace periods for rent payments, written repayment plans or waived late fees for missed payments.
But Mac Properties has continued to file eviction notices against residents, claiming renters have not made good-faith efforts to negotiate the terms of their rent payments.
On Saturday, about two dozen tenants, community organizers and supporters marched from Nichols Park to Mac Properties offices at 1364 E. 53rd St. There, tenants shared stories and taped eviction notices on the office’s entrance outlining four demands:
- Recognition of the tenant union
- Rent relief for tenants whose financial situation is impacted by COVID-19A
- A halt in rent hikes
- Resolution of all building code violations
The most recent demonstration repeated demands from previous protests, but many tenants focused particularly unresolved maintenance issues they said they are experiencing.
In an effort to minimize people’s exposure to the virus, Gov. JB Priztker’s executive order requires landlords only repair essential services (e.g. water, plumbing, gas).
However, Mac Properties tenants say their maintenance concerns aren’t new.
“The maintenance issues predate the pandemic,” Witus said. “The demands to fix the maintenance issues are connected to the pandemic because they inhibit our ability to stay safe and healthy.”
Tenants also said the lack of rent relief during the pandemic coupled with the state’s expiring eviction moratorium could accelerate the displacement of longtime community members in a neighborhood that has undergone widespread gentrification.
Ximena Mora, a former Mac Properties tenant, said she was pushed out of Hyde Park because of the consistent increase in her rent every year.
Mora, who now lives in Little Village, said it was important for her to speak at Saturday’s march to share her story as someone who would have liked to stay in Hyde Park but couldn’t.
“It’s so fascinating how quickly people disappear,” Mora said. “I know that there are a lot of other tenants who would have liked to be here today but couldn’t because they got pushed out even further [than I did].”
Mora found a home in Hyde Park after moving to Chicago from San Diego in 2014. For years, she worked at a local grocery store while attending classes at the University of Chicago.
She said working in a community space that was separate from the university gave her a deeper connection to and understanding of Hyde Park.
“It’s really easy to assume that in Hyde Park there aren’t still people here who are not tied to the privileges of the University of Chicago,” Mora said.
“But there are people that have their hearts and homes in this community and would still like to be here. I definitely learned a lot from those people when I lived here. It’s important to honor that because the university will always be here. The other side will not.”
This report was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.