We are rapidly approaching a housing crisis of enormous magnitude. August rent is due, both the federal eviction moratorium and Governor Pritzker’s statewide eviction ban have expired, and Chicago renters are left with no real protections for their right to housing. Over the last four months, calls to cancel rent and lift the ban on rent control have gone unanswered. Instead, we got Mayor Lightfoot’s Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge, a hollow promise from capitalists that they will keep people in their homes and protect human rights. It doesn’t seem likely.
In April, the city announced the pledge, signed by landlords and lenders across the city. The pledge makes promises to offer tenants leniency given the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. According to the mayor and to the landlords and banks, this time, they’ll protect tenants. But the pledge is nonbinding and unenforceable. There is zero accountability, and many of the landlords who signed the pledge have continued to file numerous evictions during the pandemic.
Mayor Lightfoot’s interests do not lie in serving the working class, they lie in serving the capitalist class. While she offers platitudes about nonexistent flexibility and grace, renters across the city live in very real fear of homelessness during the pandemic. The mayor’s so-called Solidarity Pledge offers no solidarity with the poor or working class at all, only amnesty to the capitalist class. It does nothing to protect tenants from being forced out of their homes in the middle of a global health crisis. Landlords may make promises to keep people in their homes and offer rent relief, but the unofficial pledge won’t hold them accountable. They will continue to choose profit, as they always have. The pledge acts as a shield for landlords to deflect blame while gutting communities for gentrification.
Those who have signed on are under no official obligation to abide by an agreement that essentially amounts to no more than a handshake and misplaced trust. TLC Management Co. CEO and Chicagoland Apartment Association Vice President Stuart Handler, signed the pledge promising leniency with renters struggling due to COVID-19. Despite this, TLC filed more than 38 lawsuits in April alone, intended to intimidate tenants with the threat of eviction and homelessness. The company in fact filed eight suits on April 22, just under the buzzer before Gov. Pritzker’s eviction ban went into effect. Handler was then quoted as saying that tenants are expected to pay on time. “For those who lost their jobs, we’ll work out a payment plan. I still have to pay salaries, taxes and mortgages,” he said.
But we know that capitalists do not keep their pinky promises to the working class. The Chicago Apartment Association has filed more than 30 evictions during the pandemic. MAC Properties continued threatening tenants with eviction. These intimidation campaigns against tenants have not stopped after the useless pledge was made, because landlords will choose profit over human rights every time.
Without any meaningful action to cancel rent and lift the ban, how many Chicagoans will be left homeless and without income? The COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of stopping; Chicago is nearing 200 new cases a day while people are forced back to work and school. Meanwhile, a whopping 42% of Illinois renters are at risk of eviction.
Housing is and always has been a human right; landlords have always used eviction as a cruel tool against the poor and working class. In the middle of a global pandemic, this cruelty escalates to violence. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends social distancing, self-isolation, and staying home as much as possible in order to reduce the risk of exposure. Without a place in which to shelter, evicted renters could be especially vulnerable to COVID-19, risking long-term health problems or even death. Robbing people of shelter creates a public health crisis, and evictions disproportionately affect Black and brown communities. Tenants and organizers continue to apply pressure to the city in the form of campaigns like Lift the Ban, and tenant organizing groups like Tenants United and the Autonomous Tenants Union.