Rent control is overdue if America is to combat a growing housing crisis

The fact that half of Cook County renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing is a travesty.

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A tenants’ rights group protests in Boston on Jan. 13, 2021.

AP Photos

Recently, one of my most engaged students abruptly stopped coming to school for an entire week. Once back in the classroom, he shared that his family had been evicted from their home “because the landlord wanted to raise the rent.”

The fact that half of Cook County renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing is a travesty. Additionally, thousands of Chicagoans are in danger of being evicted because of financial hardships exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Some argue that rent control will result in a decline of rental units available. Currently the mayor supports designating 20% of new developments in gentrifying areas as “affordable.” However, we know that “affordability” as defined by area median income is often out of reach for many low income residents. Also, when market rate housing is 80% or more of all new housing stock, it creates inflationary pressure across communities and results in rising property values, taxes and rents upon surrounding units. 

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In contrast, we can give municipalities and villages the right to enact rent control policies by passing Illinois House Bill 116. The bill would also create a stabilization fund that enables landlords to continue to make modest profits from their rental properties. Most importantly, the bill gives lawmakers a tool that is a check on rapacious price-gouging by real estate interests that put low income families on the verge of homelessness. Research by the Center for Popular Democracy shows that rent control disproportionately benefits seniors, low income tenants, people living with disabilities, single moms and those with the least access to affordable housing. 

The solution is not the either/or option pitting affordable housing against rent control, it’s a both/and. If we are to house the 20,000 homeless students in Chicago who are over 80% from African American families, prevent the imminent eviction avalanche and bring back thousands of families languishing on CHA waiting lists, we will need all the tools in our arsenal, not the least of which is providing rent relief to overburdened families.

Jackson Potter, teacher at Back of The Yards College Preparatory High School

Voting and prison inmates

More than four million ex-cons in 30 states don’t automatically regain the right to vote and many never do. These states have put up roadblocks such as serving out parole and probation, even paying any fines and restitution. Some must get a gubernatorial pardon, tantamount to permanent voting exclusion.

But two states, Maine and Vermont, allow every eligible citizen to vote, including prison inmates. Many people argue that the incarcerated have forfeited their right to vote as just punishment for their anti-social behavior. Yet, if the goal of justice is to both protect the public and rehabilitate the incarcerated for eventual return to society, convict voting serves both purposes. It has no adverse effect on public safety. It may have a positive effect on rehabilitation by encouraging felons to reengage with the society from which they’ve been excluded.

How is convict voting working in Maine and Vermont? FBI violent crime stats place Vermont 49th and Maine dead last in violent crime per hundred thousand residents with an average of 141. Alaska and New Mexico, two of the 30 states setting up those roadblocks for ex-cons, top the 50 in violent crime with an average of 754 per hundred thousand. The reasons for low crime rates in Maine and Vermont must be many, but convict voting certainly doesn’t hurt.

A famous U.S. political phrase “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” was popular at one time, reflecting Maine’s reputation as a bell-weather state for predicting presidential elections. When it comes to a million convicts voting, as well as the four million on parole, probation and simply former felons, we should update the phrase to say: “As Maine and Vermont go on convict voting, so should the nation.”

Walt Zlotow, Glen Ellyn

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