NORTH LAWNDALE — Renters called on state legislators to end the ban on rent control amid growing concerns a housing crisis will erupt when the statewide moratorium on evictions expires.
Families are up to nine months behind on rent after being left jobless by the pandemic, advocates said. The feared wave of homelessness that may follow an end to the moratorium could fall heavily on the West Side, where many families are overburdened by the cost of rent, elected officials said.
West Side legislators invited housing leaders, tenants and landlords to a virtual forum Wednesday to discuss possible solutions to the looming crisis.
“The cost of living is simply too high … . We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and this still seems to be one of the No. 1 topics where families are distressed,” said State Rep. Lakesia Collins. “We’re looking at thousands of families that are looking at evictions.”
State Rep. La Shawn Ford said the legislators want to return to Springfield “with a solution … whether it is a rent control” or lengthening the eviction moratorium, as Gov. JB Pritzker has done throughout the outbreak.
Ford and Collins, whose districts include Austin and North Lawndale, supported the campaign to lift the state ban on rent control in the past. Pritzker also campaigned on a promise to repeal the Rent Control Preemption Act passed in 1997, which prohibits local governments from enacting any regulations on how much a landlord can charge in rent.
“It’s not the only thing that will fix the housing crisis 100 percent. But it’s a step towards it, because right now we have a law that leaves no room for us to have this conversation,” Collins said.
Rent control policies that would limit annual rent increases could be an important check against large real estate corporations that profit by raising rents and cutting corners on maintenance, tenants said.
“People are at risk of homelessness in our communities because they’re vulnerable from years of turning most of their hard-earned income over to people who are significantly more wealthy than them,” said Ivy Abid, a volunteer at a tenant crisis hotline.
Activist Nita Bud said too many students are at risk of homelessness. From her own experience with housing insecurity, she knows it has a huge impact on academic attainment.
“For half of a school year for high school I was homeless, and that affected my grades tremendously,” she said. ” … The moratorium is just the bare minimum.”
Neighborhood landlords at the forum asked elected officials to find a way to help mom-and-pop landlords survive the eviction moratorium.
Landlord Serethea Reid said she’s been put in a pinch by the moratorium and is at risk of not being able to afford her mortgage since she’s not getting any income from several tenants.
“I’m definitely understanding. People need to have housing, I fully understand that. Yet I can’t survive people not paying me for a year,” Reid said.
The moratorium has shifted the burden of housing people who can’t afford rent onto landlords, Reid said, but the responsibility should fall on city and state governments to ensure people can pay for housing with programs like housing choice vouchers.
“Why is a private person required to house someone for free?” Reid asked. “If the state is asking us to just blanketly keep people who cannot pay, why can’t the state on a blanket basis house people that need housing? Give these vouchers out and so they can go someplace to live.”
Some at the forum expressed concern about how rent control may impact small landlords.
But Brian Bennett with Democratic Socialists of America and the Lift The Ban coalition said small landlords aren’t the ones driving steep rent increases since they usually align prices with property taxes and utility costs.
Rent control could also address some of the factors that drive up costs for landlords, Bennett said.
“Any legislation would include significant tax advantages for small landlords,” he said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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