CITY HALL — Despite overwhelming support and plaintive tales, from both the public and aldermen, the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance was held in committee following a sometimes turbulent meeting Wednesday.
Ald. Ray Suarez (31st), chairman of the Housing Committee, got the body to "pass and hold" the measure until June.
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), lead sponsor of the ordinance, said afterward he was confident it was not being sidetracked and would eventually pass the City Council with little alteration.
The ordinance, as approved by the Emanuel administration, would call for foreclosed properties to be registered with the city and that tenants of foreclosed properties be notified. It would then maintain the leases those tenants live under, with a maximum 2 percent increase year to year, and with $12,000 allotted to tenants forced to move before the property is resold.
Once resold, the new owner could resort to the usual legal remedies to do as wished with the property. But until then, Mell insisted, it would keep the properties occupied and neighborhoods relatively stable.
"It's not only a Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance," Mell said at a City Hall rally beforehand. "It's also a stop-abandoned-buildings ordinance."
Many residents affiliated with the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition told tales in that regard, none more forcibly than Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who said the adjacent townhouse next to his home had been foreclosed on and left vacant by the bank. First squatters moved in, he said, and "I'm bumping heads with these guys, these cats." Removed by police, the squatters were replaced by scavengers out for copper and other fixtures. Burnett decried the "legal mumbo jumbo" that allowed banks to leave foreclosed properties vacant.
"This stuff is chaotic for the people in the neighborhoods," Burnett said, adding that it "is bringing down all of our property values." He joined other aldermen in saying it was necessary to "stabilize" neighborhoods.
"This is personal, not only to me, but to how many other people?" Burnett said.
"I can totally, totally relate to Ald. Burnett's story," said Diane Limas, president of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. "It's terrifying living by a vacant property."
Luis Islas retold the story of being inside a foreclosed West Rogers Park property he was legitimately renting when realtors tried to board it up with his wife and him inside. Nancy Enopena of Albany Park told of the bank shutting off heat and hot water in the foreclosed property were she was residing in order to drive her out.
Yet Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) said he'd come to the conclusion that the demands created by the amended ordinance would actually "drive down the value" of homes in his South Side area. "I believe we may have missed the mark a little here," he said, and backed out as one of the initial 44 council co-sponsors.
"We have to look at this not as my ward and your ward. This is a city problem," said Ald. Timothy Cullerton (38th) in defense of the ordinance. "Act on behalf of the entire city of Chicago."
Brian Bernardoni, spokesman for the Chicago Association of Realtors, insisted he was not speaking on behalf of banks, but said he had "numerous" concerns and that the onus placed on property owners was "bad for the market and bad for tax revenues" and would "hurt investment in Chicago." He threatened legal action, saying the ordinance, if passed, would impinge on Illinois mortgage foreclosure law and "common law" rights of property.
Yet Rose Kelly, senior counsel for the city's Law Department, dismissed those complaints and said the ordinance was fully in compliance with state mortgage laws. "If that's the lawsuit, we'll take that on," she said.
That assurance, however, was not enough to get the ordinance, first proposed by Mell last July, out of committee, where it has been stalled for months. Suarez passed a measure holding it until June.
Mell said he was confident the ordinance was not being derailed, citing the administration's backing, and would not be altered in a significant manner in the interim. "They just want to give the banks an opportunity to be heard," he said. "Maybe they will have to take a little haircut on the property. But they'll have to take a larger haircut if it's abandoned."
Limas said she was "comfortable" with the delay, but would push for it to be taken up sooner, because "waiting until June, there are going to be hundreds and hundreds of families that will be displaced, and that's what we don't want to see."