By Claire Cowley
Community leaders urged Governor JB Pritzker to lift the State ban on rent control and to declare a rent and mortgage holiday, providing relief for many households during quarantine and for three months after.
The Lift the Ban Coalition wants the governor to use his executive power to repeal the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act, which outlaws local rent control regulations.
Jawanza Malone, a coalition organizer, said this crisis revealed this State law never should have existed in the first place.
“When you look at the fact City leaders are unable to help their residents through canceling rent or mortgage, and the only reason they can’t do it is because this law exists” shows it “is completely irresponsible,” Malone said.
Malone also said that, had the act been repealed, City leaders would be more able to respond more nimbly to the current crisis.
“We have this multi-layer process people have to go through to just get relief…people who need it desperately,” Malone said.
The governor announced that the State has received 513,000 unemployment claims since the beginning of March, which is more than the entire years of 2018 and 2019, Malone noted.
Regarding the governor, when asked by reporters how he was going to help people saddled with rent costs they cannot pay, Malone said, “His response was he can’t do anything about it. The implication is he would love to do something about it if he could, but he can’t…so he won’t.”
Malone said the governor can in fact do something, should do something, and the community needs it right now.
“We are in an unprecedented time where you have national trade publications saying a third of renters did not pay April rent,” Malone said.
Malone mentioned reports of landlords putting people’s belongings out on the street.
“How can someone of good conscience evict someone from their home when a virtual murderer,” the coronavirus (COVID-19), “is in the street killing people at random,” Malone said.
Jonathon Raffensperger, the supervising attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), said his organization has worked with applicants who lost their income, received termination notices, and have even received threats.
“Even though the courts are not currently hearing eviction cases, there’s no law in place preventing landlords from filing cases,” Raffensperger said.
The LCBH favors lifting the statewide ban on local control of rent regulation so local government has the ability to keep renters and homeowners housed, Raffensperger said.
Regarding eviction and foreclosure moratoria in place with Cook County courts, he said they are valuable steps to prevent immediate loss of housing but are “only a Band-Aid.”
Only rent and mortgage forgiveness will allow residents to regain financial footing after they go back to work, Raffensperger said.
Adriann Murawski, a representative and government affairs director for the Chicago Association of Realtors, said mortgage forgiveness is not likely to happen.
Mortgage forbearance, an agreement made when a borrower has difficulty meeting payments, may occur when a property owner has to work out possible delays in payment with his or her mortgage servicer, Murawski said.
“If this occurs the property owner still has to cover the cost or it will be tacked on later—the costs do not go away,” Murawski said. “I think there are ways to accommodate different scenarios on a case by case basis.”
Murawski said she has received messages regarding what her association can do about landlords who apply for the same benefits as tenants, putting landlords and tenants in the same boat. She believes any approach must consider all parts of the spectrum and will require continued communication.
Landlords must pay to meet various requirements and keep up their property but are taking a reduced rate based on what a tenant might be able to pay, Murawski noted.
Her organization recommends working out an agreement between landlords and tenants to make sure no one gets put out.
“Any attempt to skip payment does much more harm than the intention,” Murawski said. “It has an impact on the economy.”
She noted programs such as rental assistance can help people in need.
“Rent control is not the solution,” Murawski said. “We need a conversation prioritized to strengthen programs.”
Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward, who is treasurer for the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus, said the City’s rental assistance counts for very little, given the need.
“We are at the beginning of a great recession, and the State government should provide a safety net for families, create a demystified culture, and take action for constituents in each municipality,”
The Latino Caucus is requesting emergency measures such as a pro-perty tax extension, incentives, and legislation for renters and homeowners alike, Sigcho-Lopez said.
“I do hope Chicagoans understand we need to look at the big picture,” he noted. “This is a time to lift our city, shoulder to shoulder.”
The complexity of seeking action from a legislative body unable to meet due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created the potential for legal challenges, he said.
For the Chicago Association of Realtors, call (312) 515-3639 or log on to https://chicagorealtor.com/. For more on the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, call (312) 347-7600 or log on to www.lcbh.org/. The Lift the Ban Coalition can be reached at (312) 805-4326 or www.ltbcoalition.org/. For Sigcho-Lopez and the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus, call (773) 523-4100 or log on to www.25thward.org/ or www.ccclatinocaucus.org.