Housing advocates fear eviction boom, urge Pritzker to cancel rent, mortgage payments

Kiisha Smith, of Austin, worries many will become homeless because of the pandemic. She’s worked to help families navigate looming evictions.

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Protesters called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic march.

Protesters called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic march.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Housing advocates taped notices Tuesday demanding rent payments within five days on the gate of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s home in the Gold Coast in hopes of drawing attention to what they say is an imminent housing crisis.

The notices were addressed to the “renters of Illinois” and listed Pritzker as the “landlord or landlord’s agent,” with service on behalf of the real estate lobby.

The group posted the notices while calling on the first-term governor to cancel rent and mortgage payments and to lift the ban on rent control because so many people are out of work due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, said Rod Wilson, one of the organizers of the Lift the Ban Coalition. The group’s efforts took place the day before the first of the month, which is typically when renters have to pay rent.

“All we’re saying is sign the paper, cancel the rent, cancel the mortgage, put a regulation on rent increases. That’s all we’re asking for,” Wilson said. “Otherwise, he’s going to be known as the billionaire governor that led us into the worst housing crisis ever. And I say, ‘Shame on you.’ ”

Chanting “Housing is a human right,” the group marched from the edge of Lincoln Park through the affluent neighborhood where Pritzker lives. The group attracted attention from neighbors, including one who watched from his balcony and a woman who spoke to Chicago police officers who were monitoring the crowd.

Kiisha Smith, 43, of Austin, said she’s worried the coming months will result in a boom in evictions.

“Too many of us will be homeless after the pandemic,” she said.

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After speaking to the crowd, Smith said she and six other families have banded together to help each other navigate the looming evictions. Her landlord started the eviction process before the pandemic. Smith runs a child care company, but she had to halt the business when the rising number of COVID-19 cases led to a stay-at-home order.

“I have at least six families who are petrified because what are they going to do?” Smith said. “Businesses were closed down. They lost their jobs. Some of them were able to get unemployment, but some of them weren’t. They are fighting that. It’s just nobody knows what they are up against, so we’ve come together.”

Kiisha Smith rallies with protesters outside Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Gold Coast mansion to call on the governor to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kiisha Smith rallies with protesters outside Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Gold Coast mansion to call on the governor to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Pritzker’s previous executive order that halts evictions across the state was extended to July 26. In June, the City Council approved a plan from Mayor Lori Lightfoot that would prohibit evictions for 60 days after the state’s executive order expires.

As part of the plan, landlords would be prohibited from evicting tenants affected by the pandemic without trying to negotiate with them first.

Despite the moratorium on evictions, the Metropolitan Tenants Organization reported calls about illegal lockouts in Chicago have roughly doubled from mid-March to mid-June compared to normal averages, the Sun-Times has reported. Housing advocates are concerned there will be an uptick in evictions once the city’s housing court reopens Monday.

Drew Lovell, who owns Bonus Round Game Cafe in Lake View, said he lives in Uptown and has stayed afloat by using unemployment benefits. The pandemic caused him to shutter his business temporarily.

The benefits are “about to run out real quick, and when it does, we are all going to start being evicted over here,” he said.

After about 30 minutes outside Pritzker’s home, the group marched to Lincoln Park. The coalition, made up of various community groups, planned to stay at the neighborhood’s namesake park through the night. Members originally had planned to erect tents and dub the setup “Pritzkerville,” but they were unsure whether they would be allowed to stay overnight.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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