A plea for rent control


To the Editor:

In January, State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th) introduced a house bill, HB0255, that would repeal the 1997 statewide ban on rent control. The conservative group ALEC pushed for this ban, and it means that no municipality in Illinois can enact rent control measures.

Rent control, also known as rent stabilization, is not a rent cap or freeze. Rather, it limits how much a landlord can raise rents to a small amount tied to inflation. And it’s proven overwhelmingly popular in ballot referenda across Chicago over the past year.

In spring 2018, 77 percent of voters across 77 of Chicago’s precincts voted in favor of lifting the ban on rent control, including two precincts in Hyde Park and five more in and around Kenwood. In November 2018, three more wards voted for lifting the ban, and certain precincts in four additional wards will be posed the same question at the polls this month.

The need for rent control is widespread. I’m one of the more than 50 percent of Cook County renters who are “rent burdened,” meaning I pay more than one-third of my monthly income on rent. More than 85 percent of people with the lowest area median incomes in Cook County are rent burdened, too. This means less money to spend on childcare, college funds, medical costs, and emergency savings. Rising rents also mean that kids are uprooted from their schools and communities when the neighborhood becomes too expensive for their families to stay.

Recognizing the serious harm of rent burden, and the need for rent control as a stabilizing measure in our neighborhoods, a slew of mayoral and aldermanic candidates have made lifting the ban on rent control prominent parts of their housing platforms. Gov. J.B. Pritzker supports lifting the ban, too. At candidate forums here in Hyde Park and across the city, constituents have been asking: Where do you stand on lifting the ban? This growing discourse, not just here but in other states—like Oregon, where the state senate just passed rent control this month—indicates a turning point for rent control, tenants’ rights, and the movement against displacement and gentrification.

Real estate groups have a predictable response to this movement. They claim that rent control will make rents more expensive by reducing housing supply (research has been unable to show this effect, and in fact indicates that in rent-controlled areas of New York and California, rent control has not impeded new construction). They have begun suddenly and fervently advocating for affordable housing—we should simply build more of it, they say—despite the fact that public funding for housing would actually go further with rent control in place. They ignore the fact that many of the same groups advocating for rent control are already fighting to preserve and build more affordable housing. It’s true that rent control alone won’t fix Illinois’ housing crisis, but it’s a necessary tool with immediate effects.

Despite the best efforts of the real estate lobby to protect its own interests, Chicagoans are vocal about the need to keep the city affordable for the working class, families, young people, seniors, and people on fixed incomes. It’s clear that the public wants rent control, and it’s time to lift the ban. What remains to be seen is this: Will state legislators listen to their constituents or to the tired myths—and the campaign donations—of the real estate associations fighting tooth and nail against this popular measure?

Helena Duncan

Hyde Park resident and Lift the Ban

Coalition member