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Rent control scores latest symbolic victory in Tuesday election

Mary Flowers and Brian Bernardoni with Illinois Capitol (Credit: Wikipedia and Illinois Realtor)

Voters in a handful of Chicago precincts Tuesday overwhelmingly supported lifting the state ban on rent control, as legislators in Springfield continue to debate the issue.

Nonbinding questions appeared on ballots in a total of 18 precincts in the 1st, 26th, 45th and 50th wards Tuesday. The question asked: “Should the State of Illinois lift the ban on rent control to address rising rents, unjust evictions, and gentrification in our community?”

Anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of voters approved the measure in each precinct, but since the referendums were nonbinding they have no weight of law. But several state lawmakers have proposed legislation to lift the three-decade-old statewide ban on rent control.

The latest effort, from state Rep. Mary Flowers, has been called a “disaster” by Brian Bernardoni of the Chicago Association of Realtors. The South Side Democrat’s bill would lift the ban on rent control, create regional elected rent control boards and to impose a new “rent control registration fee” on landlords.

Flowers’ bill was scheduled for a committee hearing in Springfield Wednesday morning, but appeared headed for a subcommittee, which often leads to legislation being shelved. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

“The legislative process is a long one, and I don’t believe we’re going to see a fast-tracking of rent control,” Bernardoni said. “We’ve had a record number of calls from our members supporting our position, opposing rent control and lifting the preemption, and we will let the world know if there’s movement that’s above the procedural level.”

The movement to lift the ban has gained momentum in the last couple of years, spurred in part by soaring rents in some of Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods.

As they did Tuesday, nonbinding referendums on the issue on a small number of ballots in last year’s elections drew overwhelming support for lifting the ban.

The Realtors association and other industry groups have come out strongly against the idea, saying the solution to the problem is adding more affordable housing and relaxing building codes to make development cheaper would better address rising rents.

And while the next mayor of Chicago holds no official influence over Springfield, she would have great power over whether the city implements rent control were the ban to be lifted. That power will go to either Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle, the top vote-getters in Tuesday’s election, who will face off April 2 in the mayoral runoff. Neither has had much of any real estate industry support in their campaign.

At a pre-election forum sponsored by the Realtors association, most candidates said they opposed rent control — except Preckwinkle, who said she supports lifting the state ban. Lightfoot, meanwhile, dodged the question of rent control at the forum.

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