by Brenna Paul
The desirability of urban neighborhoods seems to shift overnight, and many Chicago residents cannot keep up. "From 2013 to 2016, rents on average have increased $500/month in Chicago vs. wages of $125/month” (Smart Assets 2019). Rent control limits how much a landlord can raise a tenant’s rent at the end of their lease and restricts evictions. This policy shields long-time residents from the rising market rate of their units while offering no such protection for any other type of property expense. Illinois has a ban against all rent control policies despite high unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. While rent control cannot create long-term affordable housing, Illinois cities should be able to enact temporary rent control policies and eviction moratoriums during a housing crisis.
Events such as a recession can accelerate this divide between housing costs and wages. Helena Duncan, a staff member for Lift the Ban Coalition states that “We can build more affordable housing but rent control is a policy that… doesn’t cost anything to implement, and it can keep people in their homes right now.” Rent control costs the government nothing and does keep long-time residents in their homes by redirecting the cost onto private property owners. Rather than risk a profit loss, some owners decide to take their buildings out of the rental market. Following San Francisco’s brief 1994 rent control policy, a study found that “rent-controlled buildings were 8 percentage points more likely to convert to a condo than buildings in the control group” (Diamond, McQuade, and Qian, 2018). Businesses cannot successfully be forced to provide stable, affordable housing without incentive.
A poverty-level income is not a requirement to qualify for rent control. Mike Glasser of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance points out that most people would choose to stay in a rent-controlled unit even if they could afford to pay market value.“When they stay, they’re occupying a unit that could be occupied by someone new who needs an affordable unit.” The only way to create affordable housing is to increase its supply and accessibility. Therefore, a rent control policy is best suited to mitigate housing crises when there is a reasonable expectation that most people who receive it will need it.