CHA residents get rent reprieve until April 30; Lightfoot urges private landlords to do the same

The mayor also discussed the possibility of a parade to celebrate first-responders, health care and grocery workers after the public health crisis of a lifetime abates.

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Peoples Gas, which has had record profits but seen customers struggle to pay their bills, is wiping out overdue bill balances for thousands of customers in the Chicago area.

With many businesses shut down and many people out of work, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it would be nice if landlords could forego April rent. Chicago Housing Authority tenants will be getting a reprieve, Lightfoot said Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Chicago Housing Authority tenants will get a reprieve from paying rent through the end of the month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday, urging private landlords to do the same during the statewide stay-at-home order.

The mayor issued her plea when asked two difficult questions: What about laid-off tenants who can’t afford to pay rent due Wednesday? And what more can be done to help landlords who need that money to pay property taxes, mortgages and utilities and don’t want their tenants to become homeless?

“My hope is that we will give each other grace. I understand that landlords have mortgages and they have other bills to pay. But in this time where a lot of renters are really being pressed, I would absolutely urge, if it all possible, to forego this month’s payment, just to give people a little bit of peace of mind and a cushion in really, really tight financial circumstances,” the mayor said.

Tenants air grievances

Just hours after the mayor’s comments, the Autonomous Tenants Union, a grassroots housing rights organization based in Albany Park, held a virtual town hall.

Tenants from across the city were able to voice grievances against their landlords who came to collect rents this week.

Most attendees said they had been recently laid off or furloughed from their jobs and were quickly running out of money. Others said their landlords either didn’t address the crisis with them at all or sent them a list of job openings so they could pay the full month’s rent.

“My landlord sent me a job application for Jewel’s,” said Kaylie Engel, a restaurant server who lives in Logan Square and hasn’t worked for the last two weeks. It seemed, she said, that her landlord wasn’t really trying to get any mortgage relief.

Autumn Wehry, a theater artist, said she applied to several odd jobs in early March after her touring company canceled all upcoming shows, but that didn’t go anywhere.

“There’s nothing on the horizon for me,” she said. Wehry lives with her boyfriend, who works in event management.

His last paycheck came the second week of March, “and his company already said they don’t expect business to pick up until July,” Wehry said. “We’re up against a wall. I have $400 in my account and $1,600 we’re supposed to give our landlord today.”

That light at the end of a tunnel? ‘It’s a pinprick,” mayor says

During a wide-ranging news conference on the city’s response to the pandemic, the mayor acknowledged Chicago is still “weeks away” from the peak of coronavirus cases and that the worst is yet to come.

“I don’t want people to think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a pinprick,” she said.

But, at some point, the mayor said Chicago will get past the public health crisis and reclaim the everyday lives and freedoms we all took for granted. And that will be “cause for celebration,” she said.

In all seriousness, Lightfoot was even asked about the possibility of a giant parade “after the danger has passed” to celebrate Chicago’s “essential workers,” including health care, first responders and grocery store workers.

The mayor said she appreciated the question.

She noted that, even after “we hit the peak and we start to come down, we’re still gonna be following” public health guidance “until we know we’re 100 percent out of the woods and we’re not gonna know that for some time.”

“However, there will be cause for celebration. And we’ve already started to think about what that looks like and how we can come back together physically as a city because I think it will be a great day for us,” the mayor said.

“What I’ve seen … over these last few weeks in the amount of selflessness and sacrifice — people standing up and saying, `How can I help?’ It’s been remarkable. And I want to make sure that we celebrate and embrace that spirit as a city.”

Too soon to talk about Lollapalooza

Countless McCormick Place conventions have been canceled. The 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo have been postponed for a year. Wimbledon has been called off. Major League Baseball is on hold.

In light of all that, the mayor was asked whether it’s time to call off this year’s Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park.

Canceling would be costly to Chicago. But won’t it be too dangerous to hold a marquee event that draws hundreds of thousands of young people to Grant Park?

“Lollapalooza is scheduled to start about four months from now. If we think about where we were four months previous or four weeks previous or even four days previous, what we know is this virus is unpredictable. It’s fluid. The circumstances really are kind of changing day-to-day,” she said.

“It would be foolhardy for me to say anything about what happens in August when we need to be in the here-and-now doing everything we can to contain the virus. … I don’t want to speculate on what may or may not happen [in] four months. Lollapalooza is on schedule. It’s our hope and our expectation that it will go forward. But we will deal with the circumstances when we are much closer to that time.”

Lightfoot slams former rival for ‘foolish’ take on city budget

The news conference turned sour when Lightfoot was asked about an op-ed written by former mayoral challenger Paul Vallas.

Vallas wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Chicago is “facing a code-red fiscal crisis” because of declining revenues and rising costs tied to the coronavirus and that Lightfoot’s “claim that Chicago’s budget is in good shape strains credulity.”

“Over the course of this crisis, you see a lot in people. And unfortunately, some people are desperate to be relevant,” the mayor said of Vallas, who endorsed her in the run-off against County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Vallas served as city revenue director, budget director and Chicago Public Schools CEO under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

But, Lightfoot said: “Mr. Vallas, from my estimation, probably hasn’t touched a city budget, doesn’t know the nuances, in probably two decades.”

She added, “The suggestion that, somehow, our city budget is in tatters, as Mr. Vallas dramatically suggests — it’s just foolish.”

Contributing: Carlos Ballesteros

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