To the Editor:
I am a resident of the Illinois House of Representatives District 25 who is concerned about rising rents in Chicago. As a result of the current statewide ban on rent control in Illinois, there is no cap on the amount landlords are allowed to raise tenants’ rents. Rising rents disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, and increasingly people are having to make the tough choice to leave not only the neighborhoods in which they grew up but also the city they once called home.
While developers build luxury condominiums downtown and in the West and South Loop for a small number of wealthy people—many of whom use these condos as little more than investment holdings—rising rents throughout the city are destroying the diversity on which this city prides itself. More importantly, though, the lack of rent control is destroying lives.
Roughly half of Chicago renters are “rent-burdened,” meaning they spend over 30 percent of their income on rent. When you have a low-paying job, having to spend one-third of your salary on a basic necessity of life can be devastating. It can mean not being able to save money to send your child to college. It can mean having to decide between keeping a roof over your head or being able to pay your child’s hospital bills. For some, rent control is literally a life-or-death issue.
This is why I was disappointed to see that on March 27 my state representative, Curtis Tarver (D-25th), voted against HB0255, a house bill introduced by State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th) that would repeal the statewide ban on rent control that has been in place in Illinois since 1997. The ban, known as the Rent Control Preemption Act, was pushed for by the conservative group ALEC, and it was unsurprising that the Republicans on the Commercial Law Subcommittee voted no on HB0255, preventing it from moving on to be debated by the whole House. But why did Rep. Tarver vote no?
Last year, on September 27, I attended an Illinois Senate hearing in Chicago on affordable housing and the rent control ban. At this hearing, a number of people spoke about how rising rents had upended their lives. Before these speakers, though, officials from the Illinois Realtors Association, as well as other lobbyists for realtors and developers, were given time to scoff at the idea that rent control might help Illinois renters live better lives. This is what happens when people value profit over all else—corporate suits standing just feet away from people whose lives were destroyed by rising rents, repeating the talking points they’re paid to repeat, indifferent to the suffering the legislation they support has caused.
Though powerful realtor associations and developers are obviously lobbying hard to keep the ban in place, there is increasing support from politicians for lifting the ban on rent control. Perhaps most notable is Gov. J. B. Pritzker. More importantly, however, Chicago voters support lifting the ban. In November of 2018, voters in the 35th, 46th, and 49th wards voted in favor of lifting the ban in a nonbinding referendum. Earlier, in March of 2018, voters in 76 precincts voted overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the ban. These precincts included two in Hyde Park and five in and around Kenwood. And yet, Rep. Tarver voted no on the bill. If Rep. Tarver is not responding to the will of his constituents, whose will is he responding to?