State Senator Daniel Biss, D-9, speaks at the podium

Pilsen residents demand rent controls at Town Hall meeting

Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

Demands for rent control and affordable housing took center stage, Monday, in the St. Pius V Church basement, as residents of Pilsen and Little Village rose one by one to voice concerns at Pilsen’s Community Town Hall on Rent Control and Property Taxes.

The Town Hall, conducted both in Spanish and English, focused on lifting the statewide ban on rent controls as residents fight to stay in their homes.  The presence of State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss (D-9) and State Representative Theresa Mah (D-2), co-sponsors of SB2310, Repeals the Rent Control Preemptive Act bill, gave community members the opportunity to meet with their elected officials. 

“When a powerful, wealthy industry like [the Realty Industry] says, ‘no,’ initially people in politics are too quick to listen,” Biss said. “We don’t have the votes right now to pass that bill, but there’s one thing that [politicians] will listen to more than powerful industries, special interest groups and campaign contributions – and that is people, that is votes, that is movement.”

In September, the Pilsen Alliance, in conjunction with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Lugenia Burns Hope Center and Northside Action for Justice, formed the Lift the Ban Coalition. The coalition began circulating petitions citywide to repeal the statewide Rent Control Preemption Act of 1997, so that Chicago may have the ability to establish rent control for city residents.

“We know that because your rent is too high, sometimes it gets a little hard at the beginning of the month to come up with the money to pay it,” said Jawanza Malone of the Lift the Ban Coalition. “But regardless of how hard you work and sacrifice and make sure that you’re able to pay that rent…you have property owners who are making boatloads of money. …The reason why is they’re charging us way more than what we should be paying in rent.”

Numerous hands rose in the affirmative to the sound of applause as Malone asked, “Anybody here think your rent is too high?”

On December 18, the Chicago Board of Elections received approximately 3,000 signatures, with 1,300 from the Southwest Side, calling for a referendum on the rent controls ban. The ban repeal will appear on ballots in nine wards in Chicago on March 20. The referendum is only advisory, but the votes it receives will be an indication of constituency demand. Wards on the South, Southwest and North sides will vote on the referendum.

“We’ve been seeing the same problem happen over, and over, and [lifting the ban] is something we want to do,” Rebecca Kim, a student from DePaul University said.

Earlier, at the Town Hall, Kim and Isaac Carrasco gave a presentation on the impact of gentrification on the Pilsen and Little Village communities.

“I have friends, I have neighbors who have had to leave [Pilsen], Parishioners have had to move out to the suburbs for more affordable housing, so that’s why I’m here,” Alex Garcia, a resident from Pilsen, said. “I’ve been fortunate enough that [lack of rent control] hasn’t affected me, yet, but I have seen people around me being affected.”

The Town Hall also provided an open venue for attendees to discuss community benefits agreements, emergency funds for affordable housing and community-driven zoning.

Photo at top: “I introduced the [Lift the Ban Bill] and I looked at my watch,” State Senator Daniel Biss said. “It wasn’t long before I got a phone call from the head lobbyist from the realtors. And he sounded nervous. He said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘Oh yes. Oh I’m sure.'” (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)