Rent Control Fails in Springfield


Wednesday, March 27th was a big day in Springfield for those of us who have been following the rent control saga over the past number of months. No fewer than three rent control bills were vying with each other for consideration by the commercial law subcommittee of the Judiciary – Civil committee in the Illinois General Assembly.

Chairman André Thapedi, D-Chicago, decided that three rent control measures was two too many. He requested that the three legislators put forward just one bill for consideration. They complied. HB 255, which proposes to strike down the state ban on local rent control, was chosen. The bill was sponsored by Will Guzzardi, a Democrat representing the 39th District on the Northwest Side of Chicago which includes parts of the rapidly gentrifying Logan Square community.

Mr. Guzzardi was undoubtedly disappointed when the seven-member subcommittee voted not to advance the bill to the full General Assembly. The margin was 4 to 2; Chairman Thapedi voted “present.”

While the results of the March 27th subcommittee vote is welcomed news to rent control opponents, it is unlikely to be the final word. There may be attempts to append a rent control measure to another piece of legislation during the current legislative session. And even if the subcommittee vote is the final word on rent control in 2019, it will likely come back again as an issue in 2020 and beyond. We may have won the battle, but the war is far from over.

Over just the past couple years rent control has suddenly become the rallying cry of the Progressive Movement. How did this happen and who is driving the bus?

Perhaps as interesting as the outcome of the subcommittee vote is the story behind the sudden appearance of these three rent control proposals. For nearly 20 years, rent control was a non-issue in Illinois. Over just the past couple years, it has suddenly become the rallying cry of the Progressive Movement. How did this happen and who is driving the bus? For part of the answer, let’s look at the three bills and the legislators who sponsored them.


Will Guzzardi and HB 255:

Of the three bills, HB 255 has been around the longest. Representative Guzzardi has emerged as one of the leading voices in the rent control movement. Guzzardi represents parts of Logan Square and the Northwest Side of Chicago with its mix of longer-term Hispanic residents and left-leaning Millennials who are more recent arrivals to the area. Both groups are unified in their support for rent control in Chicago – Hispanics because they have legitimately been priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods on the city’s near Northwest and Southwest Sides – and Millennials because of their youth and enthusiasm for social justice. The supreme irony is that these same Millennials, who so fiercely oppose gentrification, are also a primary reason it is happening in the near Northwest and Southwest Side neighborhoods they have flocked to.

These same Millennials, who so fiercely oppose gentrification, are also a primary reason it is happening.

Mary Flowers and HB 2192:

Representative Flowers hails from the 31st District, a strangely shaped area that stretches from the Dan Ryan Expressway on the east nearly to I-294 on the west, encompassing parts of the South Side of Chicago and the near southwest suburbs. While the District sprawls across a diverse geography, it is majority African-American with pockets of concentrated poverty. African-Americans are, by far, the most rent-burdened households in the Chicago region. It is also true that many African-Americans live in areas of the city that have relatively low rents. In addition, many of these areas continue to see an out-migration of people and households, lowering the demand for housing and keeping rent increases relatively low. Despite the generally low to moderate rents in African-American neighborhoods, many African-Americans support the rent control movement in the belief that capping rents would decrease the rent burden they carry.

African-Americans are, by far, the most rent-burdened households in the Chicago region.

Aaron Ortiz and HB 3207:

Representative Ortiz, from the First District, appears to be the most recent legislator to jump on the rent control bandwagon. The First District is located on the near Southwest Side of Chicago and lies just beyond Pilsen. This area is predominantly Hispanic and is comprised of many moderate to lower-income households. People in this District are justifiably fearful of the gentrification that has transformed Pilsen from a formerly affordable, nearly 100% Mexican-American neighborhood into the city’s newest hipster haven. They fear the “Pilsen-ization” of the Hispanic districts west of Western Avenue and South of Cermak Road. These fears may be overblown, but they cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Representatives Guzzardi, Flowers and Ortiz represent three, sometimes overlapping groups of the progressive base that have different grievances, but similar resentments. All three Representatives are responding to their constituents who share a common fear of gentrification (whether justified or not), suffer from unaffordable and/or rising rents, and often believe that property owners hold all the cards in the tenant-landlord relationship.


Why is this happening now?

The Latinex community fears the “Pilsen-ization” of the Hispanic districts west of Western Avenue and South of Cermak Road.

It is anyone’s guess why this veritable avalanche of rent control legislation is occurring now. Certainly, the state’s newly elected Democratic Governor, who has indicated a willingness to support rent control legislation, and super-majorities of Democrats in both the General Assembly and Senate are contributing factors.

But perhaps the best explanation is that we are experiencing a piling-on, or a herd mentality, as progressives stumble over themselves to prove their bona-fides and try to outdo each other. They are also getting a lot of encouragement from an emboldened and fired-up base.

There seems to be little interest in facts in a politicized, polarized and angry city, especially among groups of people who are vulnerable to fear-mongering politicians.

This Newsletter has looked in detail at the problem of affordable housing in the Chicago region. It is undeniably true that, since the end of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, there has not been enough housing production to keep pace with housing demand, and an incremental increase in the percentage of “rent-burdened” households. Even in Chicago and Illinois, where the population has been declining, there is a mismatch between household formation and housing units created. This has caused rents to increase faster than incomes and is the cause of the underlying discontent among renters of all stripes.

But this Newsletter has also demonstrated that the severest need is in impoverished communities where it is not high rents that are the root of the problem. In these communities, rents are generally quite reasonably – even low by any objective standard. In these areas, low incomes are the real problem. As we have argued before, $900/month for a two-bedroom unit might seem objectively low, but not if you are earning $10,000 to $15,000 per year and are trying to pay the rent.

All three Representatives are responding to their constituents who share a common fear of gentrification (whether justified or not), suffer from unaffordable and/or rising rents, and often believe that property owners hold all the cards in the tenant-landlord relationship.

Even in the most rapidly appreciating neighborhoods where demand is greatest – think Wicker Park, Logan Square and Pilsen – rents are still low compared to most of the major coastal cities. The fact remains, Chicago is almost unique among the world’s great cities in the relative affordability of its housing.

It is RPBG’s strongly held belief that rent control offers a false promise of salvation from high rents. But our view is based on an objective look at data and facts. There seems to be little interest in facts in a politicized, polarized and angry city, especially among groups of people who are vulnerable to fear-mongering politicians. And Chicago is not alone. This could just as easily describe the national experience.

But politics is not driven by reason. Increasingly, politics is driven by emotion, and the most powerful emotions driving political movements across the country are anger, resentment and revenge. These trends have been simmering on the back-burner of American politics for years, but reached a new level of intensity in the last presidential election, and particularly with the ascendency of Donald Trump as President.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the passion driving the push for rent control in Illinois is a reaction to the 2016 election and the ascendancy of the political right at the national level. Polarization is real, and it is getting stronger. Moderate voices on both sides of the political divide have been caught in the cross-fire. Finding common ground in only becoming more difficult.