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Chicago tenants need protection, now more than ever

The passage of the Just Cause bill will end of the practice of using no-fault terminations and evictions to hide unlawful retaliation and discrimination, and it will humanize displacement by gentrification.

Housing activists hold signs protesting evictions in Massachusetts in October 2020.
Housing activists hold signs protesting evictions in Massachusetts in October 2020.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Recently, the Sun-Times editorial board said it wanted to see portions of the Just Cause for Eviction ordinance enacted, balancing the needs of renters and landlords. Yet the editorial showed a bias towards the interests of large landlords, missing the mark on several key issues.

The editorial criticizes the cost of relocation assistance, which ensures that tenants facing no-fault eviction avoid homelessness. But our coalition, the Chicago Housing Justice League, has already rewritten the bill to reimburse small landlords half of these costs. Arguing that a landlord cannot shoulder the remaining expense suggests that landlords cannot budget for such a reasonable cost while doing business, especially when three of the four relocation assistance scenarios (substantial rehab, condo conversion, and taking the unit off the market) include the landlord spending additional money on the property.

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We have also seen large real estate interests like the Chicagoland Apartment Association invoke small landlords as an excuse to not pass rental protections. This approach is quite cynical, as larger landlords are the primary culprits of mass evictions. Decrying risks to “mom-and-pop” landlords is a fear tactic, plain and simple, and distorts the positive impacts of Just Cause, which would give tenants greater security in their housing, and prevent situations like the mass eviction of senior black tenants in Bronzeville.

Without a rental registry, which the editorial board critiques, we cannot know for sure who owns Chicago’s rental housing. Instead, industry voices can speak over genuine small landlords, several of whom spoke on behalf of Just Cause in City Council in September.

The passage of Just Cause will end the practice of compelling families to move for no reason. It will end using no-fault terminations and evictions to hide unlawful retaliation and discrimination, and it will humanize displacement by gentrification. Chicago’s 1.4 million renters deserve the stability and protections enjoyed by over 10 million rental families nationwide and over 30,000 right here in Chicago. Each year, we estimate that 10,000 Chicago rental households lose their housing through no fault of their own. They need protection, now more than ever.

Annie Howard, Bridgeport, Chicago Housing Justice League