CHICAGO — Chicago’s diverse Hyde Park neighborhood is on the front line of an increasingly tense subject: paying rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
As the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues, activists representing tenants are calling on large property owners to suspend rent or face a possible rent strike.
On Sunday, activists protested in front of the Hyde Park offices of Mac Properties, which owns 32 properties in the neighborhood. Kia Davis lives in the area, and said there’s “not many places you can rent unless you live in a Mac property.”
“Mac Properties should not make us pay rent for the month of April until they figure out what can work for each tenant,” Davis said.
Davis says she pays more than $1,500 a month for her apartment, and says the company should give all residents relief. She suggested a rent freeze could even allow tenants to delay some payments until they complete their lease.
Some residents arguing for a rent freeze say they’re struggling to claim unemployment benefits as the state system is overwhelmed. Others say they’re running out of options, having lost their jobs, savings and ability to even buy food.
“People already have difficulty from having lost their jobs and it’s a crisis for absolutely everyone,” Davis said. “Most of the stores up and down this street when this is over, they’re not going to be able to open back up.”
Protesters held signs saying “rent strike,” “no poor road” or “even before our rent was due, our shelter in place is being threatened.”
Mac Properties says if residents are having problems it will work with them on an individual basis. The company even released a video as a response to residents’ concerns.
But their renters say the options the company is giving amount to little help, like offers to terminate leases. Activists say this basically amounts to evicting people while the state has temporarily suspended evictions across the state.
The Chicago Department of Housing says the City can’t enact a rent freeze unless the state repeals a 1997 law banning rent control.
Chicago Housing Authority tenants don’t have to pay rent through April 30, but the CHA isn’t offering rent forgiveness at this time.