Did Chicago miss an opportunity with the Housing Solidarity Pledge?

Anything New Here?

I watched the whole press conference.  Mayor Lightfoot announced the City’s Housing Solidarity Pledge.  There were lots of heavy hitters making that pledge.  There were big banks.  Bank of America, BMO Harris, Fifth Third, PNC Bank, First Midwest Bank, US Bank, Wintrust and more (although I did note that ubiquitous Chase was not mentioned).  There were well respected landlord and property advocates like the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, Chicagoland Apartment Association, and the Chicago Association of Realtors.  There was even a tenant’s rights group in the form of the Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing.  But did anything really get done?  And was a big opportunity for change missed?

What is the Pledge?

It seems that the pledge has three parts.  First, lenders affirm that they might provide eligible borrowers on a case-by-case basis deferred mortgage payments, suspension of foreclosure filings until May 31, 2020, no reporting of late payments to credit bureaus, and no late fees for missed payments.  Next, landlords affirm that they will offer tenants deferred rent payments, repayment plans over time, an no late fees.  Third, and finally, the City also “encourages” residents (both renters and landlords) who are able to make payments to continue to do so.

It’s not mandatory

This seemed more like a public relations move than a substantive move.  I posted yesterday that with Alderman Moore’s rent deferral ordinance being shipped off to the pit of despair (aka the Rules committee), there was a real possibility that the Mayor might come to the table with something else.  This seems to be that something else.  The trouble is that much of what was pledged and much of what is being done was already being done!  Each of the banks to come to the podium mentioned that they were just following their already established protocols for helping borrowers.  Maybe I missed something, but I’m not sure what new the banks will be doing.  Likewise, the landlord’s groups indicated that their membership is already extending grace to tenants and they reaffirmed that obligation.  But there was no new program.  There was no new policy.

The Tenant’s Rights Response was Downright Pathetic

Mark Schwartz of Lawyers Committee For Better Housing (a good guy, in my own opinion) got to the podium to suggest first, his interpretation that based on Governor Pritzker’s recent executive order, landlords should not even be serving five day notices.  Let’s review that.  Section 2 of the Governor’s Order provides, in part “A person or entity may not commence a residential eviction action pursuant to or arising under 735 ILCS 5/9-101 et seq., unless…”  So, no landlord may commence a residential eviction ACTION.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines an action as “When a party in court exercises its legal rights by means of writ.”  Mark Schwartz is well aware that the service of a termination notice like a five day notice is a judicial requirement BEFORE being able to enforce a landlord’s right in court.  I’m going to guess that there is enough room for opinion there and we will see fights on this in court (meaning it is possible that the Order prohibits the service of a notice).

Mr. Schwartz went on to suggest that his group is in favor of more relief coming from other sectors of government, including the federal government.  He then suggested that his organization was going to try to slow down the process so that more of that aid can make its way to tenants.  Translation: LCBH will file an appearance in your eviction case, ask for a jury trial, and will delay the heck out of your eviction action.  So basically, they’ll keep doing what they’ve been doing for years.  And listen, I get it.  They have a mission.  They have a worldview.  It’s what they do.  I can’t blame a tenant advocate for being a tenant advocate.

What was left unsaid by Mr. Schwartz is what made me the most sad.  He never once suggested that tenants who can pay their rent should pay their rent.  There was no condemnation of the concept of a rent strike.  That, folks, would have been an outreach from the tenant’s side.

This was a missed opportunity

You have big banks at the table, well represented landlord groups, and one of the most high profile tenant’s rights groups at the table along with the Mayor herself and no new ideas were advanced.  I’ve been blogging for weeks about rent deferral.  Banks have been granting some borrowers relief for weeks.  What we could have perhaps found was an opportunity for landlords and tenants to fix the playing field.  They could have talked about CRLTO reform.  They could have talked about eviction reform.  They could have strengthened the City of Chicago Police’s ability to enforce the rule against illegal lockouts.  Ways to separate the scammers on both the landlord and the tenant side from the people who need real, meaningful  relief.  We got nothing like this.

Finally, the Mayor brought all of these groups together, but what has the City of Chicago Done?  The Mayor touted the fact that the Department of Housing grant program provided $1000 grants to 2000 renters.  Guess what, the City hasn’t done a thing since then.  How about lowering water and scavenger bills or deferring payments on those?  Even the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign had some ides for how the City could help.

What about reducing the fee for a zoning or water certification?  How about MEANINGFUL reform of the building code to get basement units and coach houses legal so that those affordable housing units can get on to the market (when the City is the party responsible for erasing those units from the rental landscape of the City over the last decade)?  How about a fast-track to making illegal units legal with reduced permit fees?

Conclusion

I get it.  The mayor is under pressure.  The banks are under pressure.  Landlords are under pressure.  I kind of feel like this is what my landlord clients have been doing for the past few weeks without being branded as a “Solidarity Pledge”.  I guess if a shiny badge gets their effort recognized.  Great.  Of the groups involved, landlords and banks have been taking action to handle this downturn situation in a smarter and better manner than 2007, but the City hasn’t done much. For the Mayor, this comes from “a good place” but it would have been great if it was accompanied by something substantive and useful from the City.  I can imagine that within the next 24-48 hours, the tenants’ rights groups will denounce the Solidarity Pledge as a canard and will be calling for a rent strike just like their brethren in New York.

Update

Well, it only took a few moments after the press conference for at least one local tenants’ rights group to bash the landlord side of things and the Mayor on social media.  I wish these groups were less predictable.  smh.

About Richard Magnone

Co-founding member of Reda | Ciprian | Magnone, LLC, attorney at law and Illinois licensed lawyer since 1996.
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