Note: This letter was originally published in the April 14 print edition of the Forest Park Review.
A quick look at any real estate website tells the story of a Forest Park that is experiencing rapidly rising home prices. A few months ago, a new single-family home sold for over $700,000, and two additional new constructions are currently on the market for a similar price.
I first moved to Forest Park in 2007, while the real estate market was red-hot, and today’s prices are comparable. Trends have started in the same way all over the country and the Chicagoland area. What follows is rapid gentrification, increasing rent prices, and displacement of longtime residents.
But the Illinois General Assembly has a rare chance in the next few weeks to pass a law that could go a long way in making sure housing remains affordable in Forest Park and across the state. The Illinois House, under the speakership of our very own state Representative Chris Welch, will be voting on whether to lift the ban on rent control. The pending bill does not enact rent stabilization for all of Illinois. Rather, it simply allows municipalities like Forest Park to enact rent stabilization ordinances if their voters see fit. Currently, even home-rule jurisdictions are prohibited from doing so.
Over half of all renter households in Speaker Welch’s district are rent-burdened, with nearly a third of all renter households facing a severe cost burden. Among households making 35-50 thousand dollars a year, the rate of rent-burdened households increased by almost half from 2014 to 2019. And these are pre-pandemic statistics; what lies ahead is scary.
For his constituents and for the entire state, Speaker Welch must support and advocate for HB 116, lifting the ban on rent control. That ban was put in place after the real estate industry and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) spent a ton of money and got it passed in 1997. ALEC is famous for its attempts — often successful — to enshrine right-wing policies in all 50 states. Examples include Stand Your Ground laws; laws against “homosexualising society”; voter ID laws after ALEC claimed that voter fraud led to President Obama’s victory; anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, later partially struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States; “criminal justice” laws advocating for private prisons and harsh sentencing; and laws prohibiting municipalities from creating internet broadband utilities.
The ban on rent control is a reminder that at one point, we allowed right-wing and big-business interests to write our laws. Speaker Welch, and the entire General Assembly, have a chance to right that wrong by putting the power back in the hands of the people and giving every village and city in this state the ability to decide whether it wants to enact rent control.
Passing HB 116 on the floor of the House and sending it to the Senate is the first step toward ensuring that Forest Park residents do not get displaced in the next few years.
Tamer Abouzeid is a Forest Park resident and Chicago civil rights attorney.