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It comes as no surprise that mainstream media is often unwilling to connect the dots when it comes to housing justice issues. A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune shared the heartbreaking story of Black renters in Avalon Park who were forced to leave their homes with no warning, as their building hadn’t been maintained, and was lacking heating and running water. Even as it showed the clear injustices facing low-income renters in the majority-Black neighborhood, we still see the same media outlets, time and time again, speak out of the other side of their mouth and argue that any expansion of renters’ rights would harm landlords too much. That’s just what happened recently in the Chicago Sun-Times, who published a misleading editorial about our bill, Just Cause for Eviction.
On Thanksgiving, the Sun-Times editorial board told readers that it wanted to see portions of our Just Cause for Eviction ordinance enacted, while balancing the needs of renters and landlords. But the editorial board's biases were soon made clear: Just Cause advocates were never contacted about the piece, while the Chicagoland Apartment Association, one of the biggest opponents to the bill, got to spin their own misleading story about the bill. Within days, the Sun-Times published a response letter that further tarnished Just Cause, written by someone who doesn't even live in Chicago, yet claims to have rented for the past 30 years, calling us "extreme left-wing activists" for trying to keep 10,000 Chicago families from being evicted for no fault each year.
Finally, earlier this week, the Chicago Housing Justice League was able to respond. You can read our letter in full here. Although it remains frustrating to see outlets like the Sun-Times more willing to listen to landlords than tenant advocates, their decision to write about our bill suggests that our messages are reaching a wider audience, threatening the status quo and pushing them to respond. Although we swim upstream against a powerful tide of real estate influence, the message of Just Cause is nonetheless pushing onwards, continuing to build the case that renters need more stability in their lives.
Finally, one area that we were unable to address in our op-ed, but one that demonstrates just how misleading the real estate lobby can be, concerns their counterproposal against the passage of Just Cause. Instead of preventing tenants from being displaced for no fault of their own, Tom Benedetto from the Chicagoland Apartment Association argued that the “solution” is to build affordable units in all Chicago neighborhoods. Such a claim rings hollow if you look at the long and damning history of real estate interests. A century ago, the Chicago Real Estate Board voted to expel members for selling property to Black families in white neighborhoods, setting a precedent for the real estate lobby nationwide. Only in 2019 did the Chicago Association of Realtors apologize for their contributions to racial segregation, decades after it was clear how much harm they’d caused.
Now, the Chicagoland Apartment Association claims to want more affordable units in wealthier areas, ignoring the industry’s deep culpability in making Chicago more unaffordable, inequitable, and segregated. Rather than protect renters who need basic protections like Just Cause, they try to distract from the current discussion, feigning concern for the needs of poor renters while actively profiting off of people’s misery. It’s the same kind of cynical, misleading discussion we see time and time again, yet the Sun-Times lets this line run without any critical thinking on their part.
While we also fight for more units that are genuinely affordable to low-income renters, we know that housing justice will not be found if a renter can be evicted from their home for no reason at all. That's what Just Cause will accomplish. It will end of the practice of using no-fault terminations and evictions to hide unlawful retaliation and discrimination, and it will humanize displacement by gentrification. Chicago’s 1.4 million renters deserve the stability and protections enjoyed by over 10 million rental families nationwide and over 30,000 right here in Chicago. Each year, we estimate that 10,000 Chicago rental households lose their housing each year through no fault of their own. They need protection, now more than ever.