Pro-rent control panel discusses legislative efforts
by KEVIN GROSS
Rent control advocates discussed legislative efforts to lift the statewide ban on rent control during a panel presentation by Neighbors for Affordable Housing on Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Ho Chunk Nation office, 4738 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The group collected petitions to place a question about lifting the statewide rent control ban on the ballot in the 11th, 15th and 17th precincts in the 45th Ward, which are south of Lawrence Avenue, in the Feb. 26 citywide election.
Neighbors For Affordable Housing organizer Jason Gronkiewicz-Doran said that the ballot question "serves as a test of the public, and hopefully we can show legislators that the public wants this," while noting that legislation cannot be passed by direct referendum under Illinois law. "Rent control" allows governments to regulate how much rent can increase per year.
The question asked, "Should the State of Illinois lift the statewide ban on rent control in order to stabilize the cost of housing for Chicago’s working families?"
In the 11th precinct, 73.17 percent voted yes and 26.83 percent voted no, in the 15th precinct, 65.85 percent voted in favor and 34.15 percent against, and in the 17th precinct, 64.55 percent voted in favor and 35.45 percent against, according to election results.
Some lawmakers are working to lift the ban on rent control. Among proposed legislation is House Bill 255, a 6-word piece of legislation sponsored by state Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39) that simply reads, "Repeals the Rent Control Preemption Act," which was passed in 1997.
"The purpose of that original (Rent Control Preemption) act was to take away the power of municipalities to constrain landlords ability to take rent. No municipality can pass an ordinance, as much as they might want to," Guzzardi said in an interview. He did not attend the Feb. 21 event.
Guzzardi has proposed versions of the bill since 2017, which would not enact or guarantee any measure of rent control, but allow rent policies to be considered and set by local ordinances. He said that the statewide ban unfairly takes away local municipalities’ decision-making power.
"Cities and municipalities should be allowed to make these decisions themselves, not the state," Guzzardi said. "The (Chicago) City Council is comprised of people who know their neighborhoods, their constituencies, their local housing markets better than people in Springfield do, and they should be choosing these decisions."
During the presentation, people heavily discussed House Bill 2192 sponsored by state Representative Mary Flowers (D-31), which would limit annual rental price changes of all privately-owned rental units to inflation rates under the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers, which increased 1.8 percent in Chicago in 2018. The bill is also referred to as the "Rent Control Act" and stems from Senate Bill 3512, which was proposed by state Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3) in February 2018 and was not approved in the Senate in January.
Flowers’ bill would additionally create six regional rent control boards in Illinois that would establish the actual rate that rents cannot increase by, as well as enforce and monitor rent control regulations. Cook County and Chicago’s collar counties would be roughly covered by one of the regional boards, which would each be composed of seven publicly elected members.
Frank Avellone, an attorney and policy coordinator of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing who was on the panel, said, "Rent control all over the United States, even the oldest rent control laws in New York City, don’t have hard caps on rent. That’s why, in modern times since WWII, we’ve called it ‘rent stabilization,’ because there is no hard cap.
"The courts have ruled around the United States for a number of years that in rent control the landlord must, under the law, have a vehicle for making a fair return on investment. Any rent control law that doesn’t allow a fair return isn’t going to pass Constitutional muster in the courts," he said.
Although the "Rent Control Act" intends to limit rent price increases below Consumer Price Index inflation rates, Guzzardi said his bill would not address exact rent stabilization rates.
"We hear a lot of concern about property taxes going up, and landlords trying to keep up with those. We hear about maintenance and upkeep concerns from landlords. I say to everyone that raises those questions (that) I feel confident we can keep legislation that protects renters and still allows landlords to keep up with inflation," Guzzardi said. "I don’t think people are seriously considering 0 percent rental price changes. Keeping (rental rates) up with inflation seems like a reasonable thing to consider. Allowing landlords to keep (rental rates) up with rising property tax costs also seems reasonable to landlords, as sometimes those rates rise faster than the rate of inflation."
The "Rent Control Act" under its current language would also require landlords to have "good cause" to evict tenants such as failure to pay rent or three complaints within a year. Tenants evicted for other reasons such as home remodeling or demolition must receive 90 days notice and "relocation assistance" equal to $3,000 or 3 months of rent. Guzzardi’s bill does not include landlord requirements.
A resident at the event said that she owns a Portage Park rental building expressed her frustrations with the difficulty of past eviction cases, which she said included a drug-dealing tenant.
"I’ve been in eviction court many times, and it takes a minimum of 3 to 6 months to get a tenant out, minimum, if they are displaced…Who pays for that? The landlord. I pay for each of my apartments, whether the tenant pays or not, over $300 a month," she said. "I pay over $300 a month, per apartment, for each tenant that I’ve had to evict.
To help landlords, the "Rent Control Act" would create a 25 percent tax credit for qualifying repairs and capital improvements to rental units, while the regional boards would create a repair fund and a 3 percent property tax credit for small landlords who own 12 or fewer rental units charged at no more than a county’s median rental rates.
Although Guzzardi said that he "remains optimistic" about the General Assembly approving his legislation he admitted that strong opposition has arisen from real estate groups.
"The Realtors’ Association is a very powerful lobbying group in Springfield. The fact is that they’re weighing in pretty heavily, and we’re going to have opposition from them that we need to account for," he said.
Some studies have criticized rent control practices. A report by The National Multifamily Housing Council, which was signed by the National Association of Realtors, stated that "without the increased rents required to attract new investment, new housing construction would be sharply limited and there would be no long-term solution to the housing shortage" and cited case studies that found the supply of rental units dropped from 8 to 14 percent in towns with rent control such as Cambridge, Mass. or Berkeley, Calif.
"As far as housing supply overall goes, there’s plenty of research about rent control around the U.S. and the world, and there’s no real clear evidence that this could constrict the supply of housing," Guzzardi said. "It’s sort of a ‘boogeyman argument’ to distract from the question at hand."
If legislation were passed, Illinois would become the sixth state or district to have statewide rent control policies, joining California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and the District of Columbia.