DOWNTOWN — Renters and homeowners who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 were among those gathered Downtown Tuesday to call on Gov. JB Pritzker to extend the state’s eviction moratorium, saying thousands in the state could be homeless if something is not done to help people.
Organizers with the Lift The Ban Coalition set up an encampment outside of the Richard J. Daley Center on Monday afternoon. The encampment, which organizers dubbed “Pritzkerville”, is meant to symbolize the looming eviction crisis.
Over one million Illinois residents may face eviction when courts reopen as a result of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy, according to a recent Aspen Institute report.
With the statewide eviction moratorium expiring on Saturday, organizers hope the encampment will pressure Pritzker to lift the ban on rent control, extend the eviction moratorium and cancel rent and mortgage payments. They also aim to raise awareness of what they say is a growing tenants rights movement in Chicago.
“[The expiring eviction moratorium] is set to let loose an avalanche of misery on… Illinoisians that can’t make the rent,” Nick Kryczka, a spokesperson for the coalition, said at a press conference outside of the Daley Center. “This economic collapse is coming to take our houses from us, so either you [Gov. Pritzker] have our backs or you don’t.”
Ald. Rossana Rodríguez-Sánchez (33rd) also spoke at the press conference, calling on the governor to extend the moratorium, and describing the current moment as an emergency safety issue.
“As people become more desperate, we will see more unrest. People will do what they have to do to ensure that their families survive,” she said. “We’re threatening people’s survival by not taking action.”
Angelic Smith, a lifelong Chicago resident from Hyde Park and a single mother of five children was among those gathered. Smith, who now lives in Hanson Park, was furloughed from her job at Chicago Public Schools in March.
She relied on the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits to stay afloat. Now that those benefits have expired, Smith said she has no idea how she’ll make next month’s rent payment. She said she tried to go to her landlord for help, but her landlord was unwilling to make a deal.
“She does not care about the pandemic. She does not care about what’s going on in my personal life. Rent has to be paid,” Smith said about her landlord. “Right now I’m barely paying for my rent and my groceries. I can’t pay anything else.”
Smith’s experience is not uncommon: low-income, single Black mothers are among the most vulnerable to eviction.
To demonstrate the emotional toll of eviction, organizers placed couches, tables and tents on the plaza to help people visualize what could become the reality if widespread relief isn’t soon implemented.
“We needed the public to understand not so much the scale of eviction—because people do see the numbers—but the intensity of human suffering,” said Brian Bennett, an organizer with Democratic Socialists of America. “We wanted to show that this is where people are going. They’re going to tents.”
Bennett says people can get involved in several ways by donating to the Lift The Ban Coalition, calling the governor’s office and their state representatives or showing up to the encampment in person, which they plan to hold until Friday. Chicago police arrested two organizers for trespassing on Monday but they were quickly released.
“We need more people to make it very clear that we stand against what’s coming eviction wise,” he said.
This report was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.