The April 26 article “As Pandemic Lifts, Landlords Await Relief on Evictions” favors landlords and presents a superficial analysis of what is happening in Chicago’s rental market as it relates to COVID.
First, the article interviews Corey Oliver, a developer/landlord who owns 140 units on the South and West Sides. A developer of this size should not be viewed as a mom and pop owner or even a small property owner. We are sympathetic to the plight of small landlords weathering the pandemic who truly find themselves in a tenuous situation. A property owner of 140 units is an investor.
Second, rents make up only a fraction of the way that investors/landlords make money. The article makes no mention of the money property owners make when selling property and the tax breaks and depreciation they receive.
Third, the article wonders whether landlords are “being left behind in official recovery plans.” It makes no mention of the tens of thousands of dollars in COVID rent arrearage funds that have already been allocated and distributed directly to landlords, not to mention the tens of thousands in the pipeline. This article also failed to include the voice of a single tenant who might speak to the difficulties of keeping up with rent payments while losing employment during the pandemic.
Further, the notion that landlords do not want to evict tenants is false. As evidence, before the pandemic, the majority of evictions were for less than $2,500 in back rent. Most landlords make little if any effort to negotiate terms with renters struggling with financial problems, and when landlords bring a case to eviction court, it results in an eviction order 60 percent of the time.
Another example demonstrating landlords’ disposition toward eviction is their effort to undermine the proposed Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance in Chicago. The ordinance would require landlords to provide a fair reason to terminate a lease and evict a tenant. Organizations such as the Neighborhood Buildings Owner’s Alliance vehemently oppose having to state a reason for eviction and are against this ordinance. Four states and more than 20 cities have a Just Cause ordinance, and over 10 million rental units nationwide are governed by “just cause.” Chicago should join them in protecting renters from being uprooted from their homes through no fault of their own.
Without trying to get into a conflictual tenant versus landlord perspective, it is important to understand that rental market problems are systemic. Pre-pandemic, almost a fifth of renters paid over half their income to rent and utilities. This is obviously a recipe for disaster for these tenants who have no rainy-day savings and cannot weather a crisis such as the one the pandemic created. Thus, tenants, who are disproportionately people of color, have fallen behind in rent.
The underlying assumption made by the article is that housing is viewed as a commodity for the landlords to use to accrue wealth, and not as the human necessity for renters. The answer to the current problem is not to give landlords the ability to evict people without any checks and balances once again, but rather is changing laws to guarantee everyone the right to decent, safe, affordable, and accessible housing. To start, Chicago Alderpeople and Mayor Lightfoot should support and pass the Just Cause to Evict ordinance.
Annie Howard, Organizer, Chicago Housing Justice League, and John Bartlett, Executive Director, Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization