San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. all have some form of rent control or rent stabilization. Among the country’s major cities, Chicago is an outlier, with no rent caps or restrictions.
And, you can blame Springfield for that. The General Assembly in 1997 passed a law – the Illinois Rent Control Preemption Act – that keeps localities statewide from enacting a law that controls rent for residential or commercial properties.
But that doesn’t mean folks today don’t see a need for rent control. Take Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. In recent weeks, a group of low-to-middle-income tenants who live in a 50-unit apartment building that was once a hotel has begun organizing against the gentrification they see taking place in their North West Side neighborhood.
In particular, the tenants contend that the recent purchase of the building by M. Fishman & Co., a widely known Logan Square realtor, will lead to higher rents in the neighborhood. Since buying the building last fall, M. Fishman & Co. has given 30-day lease termination notices to most of the building’s residents. Residents expect their apartments will be rented for a significantly higher rate. Most of M. Fishman & Co.’s one-bedroom or studio units rent for upward of $1,000.
The tenants have demanded to meet with M. Fishman & Co. as a group, reached out to Ald. Rey Colon, and consistently called 311 and the city’s Department of Buildings to report on what they said was unpermitted construction.
Terry Enright, 56, has lived in the building for three years and pays $825 a month for his studio. A former fisherman, and now a freelance carpenter, Enright says that if Chicago had rent-control laws, there would be a better chance for people to find affordable housing in gentrified neighborhoods like Logan Square.
“When do you lay down and give up? I’m one of those people who says you don’t,” Enright says of the changes he sees happening in Logan Square. “It’s really counterproductive for the neighborhood to create economic apartheid. It’s counterproductive to diversity.”
What can cities like Chicago do to tackle gentrification, outside of rent control?
Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois, says city governments often have the same interests as landlords – they both want to see rents go up and a strong real estate market. Therefore, they often don’t legislate to address the needs of people who are pushed out or pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent.
Palmer suggests several ways that cities can still protect low-income tenants from rent increases. For example, a city could “limit how often rent is increased on month-to-month tenants and require more notice of rent increases,” he says.
Another idea, which would affect newly built housing, would be to pass an inclusionary zoning law, which requires that a developer set aside a certain portion of units as affordable housing, Palmer says.
Meanwhile, Enright and the 20 other tenants in the building now owned by M. Fishman and Co. say they will continue to fight any attempts to force them to leave the building.
Ald. Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward includes the M. Fishman & Co. building, which is a few blocks from the Logan Square Blue Line El stop, says he had done his best to broker a meeting between the tenants and M. Fishman & Co. He also says he was in touch with the city’s Department of Buildings, which has said it would inspect the building.
But for Enright, Colon’s steps are only a minimum. Tenants plan to keep trying to meet with M. Fishman & Co. collectively, and continue addressing the issue of gentrification. “Just because it’s a trend doesn’t mean you can’t fight it,” says Enright.