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Manar: Rent control isn’t about economics; it’s about power – Daily Northwestern

As the vote approaches on a bill to lift the Illinois ban on rent control, the debates for and against it are heating up. The bill, HB 116, would protect tenants by allowing legal limits on when and how landlords can alter rents, much like how minimum wage laws protect low-wage workers. One argument against rent control that I recently read stuck in my mind: “Rent control isn’t about economics; it’s about power.” Opponents of rent control believe it is an imposition by the government on landlords’ rights. But when I think about the imbalance of power in the question of rent, the landlords are not the group I have concern for. 

The forces of gentrification have resulted in observable shifts in neighborhood demographics. Between 2012 and 2017, Chicago neighborhoods Avondale and Logan Square lost over 9,000 Latinx residents, according to a WBEZ report. Like many Northwestern community  members with limited budgets, I live in Rogers Park, where housing is generally more affordable than in Evanston. Rent prices are rising here, too, especially as development money continues to pour near Howard Street. While looking for apartments, a friend told me to beware the phrase “gut rehab,” a sure sign that a landlord had recently chased out a tenant so they could dress up their units and advertise to a more “luxury” market. 

A keystone of sensible rent control is limiting the rate at which rents can increase. Will this stop gentrification? No. But, rent control can be a valuable tool to curb the rate of displacement. Instead of losing their home in a single renewal of a lease, tenants will have time to consider their options, make plans, and react as their living expenses increase steadily. Temporary controls can also be put in place to address emergencies — like the looming end of the federal moratorium on evictions, currently set for the end of June. 

Of course, a debate over rent control policy won’t even be possible until we lift the Illinois ban on rent control. HB 116 is up for a vote by the end of the week, so please call your state representative today if this issue speaks to you. Even if it doesn’t, I ask you to consider: Why do the opponents of rent control speak against it so strongly? Why do they refuse to debate the nuances of such a policy? Here’s a hint: It’s not about economics; it’s about power. 

Mitchell Manar works as library staff at Northwestern. All opinions expressed here are his only and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Northwestern. Manar can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.


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