What is the rent control referendum and why is it necessary?

Economic well-being in Chicago should be accessible to all. This results from high-performing jobs, quality schools and, most essential, affordable housing.
The referendum on the March 20th ballot will “Lift the Ban,” which has been in place statewide in Illinois since 1997, prohibiting local communities from implementing rent control as a policy option to sustain affordable housing.

This grassroots effort was initiated by several dozen community organizations in neighborhoods most affected by rising rents and declining availability of affordable housing – especially on the south, southwest, west, and northwest sides.

Rapidly rising rents are a problem throughout the country, and control movements are being discussed in several other cities where rent burdened families are struggling.

What is rent burden and why is it a problem in Chicago?

Rent burden is when a household spends more than 30% of its income on rent; extreme rent burden is when more than 50% of income is spent on rent.
A rent burdened household is unlikely to have enough income for other essentials such as food and medicine.

Chicago is seeing an increase in rent-burdened households because wage increases have not kept up with rent increases. Citywide, between 2000 and 2009, income fell 8.1% while the percent of rent burdened renters increased 10.1% to 54.6%. From 2000 to 2009, incomes fell nearly 20% in Humboldt Park and Garfield Park, while the percent of cost-burdened households jumped 41% to 69% of households. In Albany Park and Irving Park, incomes fell nearly 19% while the percent of cost-burdened households rose to 52 from 2000 to 2009.

How can rent control change the equation?

Tenants can stay in their neighborhood with affordable housing options, contributing to local economies, schools and community preservation, and Chicago’s overall economic well-being.

Landlords are to obtain an annual rent increase and earn a reasonable rate of return, while retaining long-term tenants who help maintain neighborhood stability and preserve the integrity of communities. Landlords may also include capital improvements in rent increases.

Modern rent regulations can mitigate the effects of speculative housing markets and skyrocketing rents, which contribute to the displacement and overall loss of low-income and working families from Chicago.

Will approval of the referendum make rent control mandatory?

The referendum is designed to express meaningful sentiment about how local communities would like to address the lack of affordable housing. Implementation of rent control would require legislation at the state level.
Passage of the referendum and legislation provides flexibility and is another tool that can be used to increase supply of affordable housing – which will help retain population – together, essential ingredients to improving Chicago’s economic well-being.