The global pandemic has created an urgency in Illinois to ensure that housing is affordable and plentiful, but I’m not certain this next statement is widely understood: Advocacy groups from both the landlords’ and the tenants’ perspective absolutely agree there is a shortage of viable affordable housing options in many neighborhoods across the state.

Beyond the significant areas where we concur, our differences of opinion stem from how to accomplish our shared goals of increasing affordable housing, with rent control remaining as perhaps our widest disagreement.

The Chicagoland Apartment Association represents owners and managers of over 235,000 rental units across Illinois, including a diversity of market-rate, affordable, student and senior housing units. We absolutely recognize housing affordability is a significant challenge facing many Illinois residents. The number of families renting their homes stands at an all-time high and is growing, but the supply of new apartments is falling far short of demand. Research shows the Chicago Metro market alone needs to add at least 48,000 new units by 2030, while at the same time, there is a growing need for renovations and improvements on existing apartment buildings as roughly half of the apartment stock was built pre-1980.

Our consensus continues where meaningful steps are being taken to encourage a proliferation of quality, new affordable housing options. Thoughtful legislation in Springfield proposed by affordable housing providers and advocates seeks to grant property tax relief for apartment owners who build new or rehab existing units and agree to keep the rents affordable. Additionally, the City of Chicago is poised to increase its supply of units within existing housing stock by allowing the utilization of more garden units, attics, and coach houses through the recently passed Accessory Dwelling Units ordinance. This is progress.

An age-old truth is that reasonable people can disagree. Cook County’s recently passed Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance (RTLO) is a perfect example. Among its primary intentions are to outlaw illegal apartment lockouts and prohibit exorbitant fees – areas again where we have common ground. The problem with the well-intentioned ordinance stems from additional language that encourages a cottage industry of lawyers to file class-action lawsuits over inadvertent errors and oversights. This type of excessive regulation and monetary threat negatively impacts affordable housing efforts, especially as we all collectively work through the pandemic.

Further, some affordable housing advocates and lawmakers have endorsed rent control, even when housing policy experts and economists from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly oppose rent control because it has been proven to reduce the quantity and quality of housing availability. Illinois is among 32 states where prior law bans rent control. A comprehensive 2017 Stanford University study concluded, “Rent control has actually fueled the gentrification of San Francisco, the exact opposite of the policy’s intended goal,” as it resulted in increased rents and fewer affordable units.  The idea of rent control would only further exacerbate the burdens being placed on housing providers. In Chicago, at least partially due to the pandemic, reports reflect the average rent is down 12% from last year and vacancy rates are higher. Adding to the market’s overall instability, while many of our members have granted concessions and are working with those who are struggling to arrange earnest payment plans, some tenants have simply stopped paying their rent, including a small number of opportunists who remain gainfully employed but are taking advantage of the eviction moratorium.

We are committed to working with policymakers at all levels of government to explore and implement policies and programs to address meaningful affordable housing solutions. Now is the time to work together in finding commonsense, pragmatic solutions to the challenges facing the housing industry for both housing providers and tenants collectively, while avoiding the unintended consequences of over-reaching government mandates that would result in decreased quantity and quality of affordable housing.

Michael Mini, executive vice president, Chicagoland Apartment Association