Hyde Park neighbors demand rent relief during coronavirus pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With many Chicagoans wondering how they'll pay the rent during the coronavirus crisis, some rallied for financial relief over the weekend.

A group of Hyde Park residents marched to the leasing office for Mac Properties on Sunday. They're protesting the management company's response to residents seeking relief from their rent payments during the pandemic.

"I lost both my jobs due to the closings of all the restaurants and stuff," said renter Theodore Bourget. "I'm the sole breadwinner of my house."

Bourget said he was able to pay rent for April, but he doesn't know what he's going to do for May.

Mac Properties manages around 5,000 rental units in 100 buildings across Hyde Park and Kenwood, and is often accused of contributing to the gentrification of the area.

They recently sent a letter to residents offering one of three options to those in need: a payment plan, help identifying a less expensive apartment or a path to lease termination.

"If you don't have money to pay rent and you live in an apartment, you're not going to have money to move," said renter Dordie Hester. "I totally understand their position but we're in the middle of a pandemic. And there is a shelter in place order and you're asking people to leave their shelter. It's absolutely absurd."

The controversy highlights a larger issue, affecting thousands citywide as they struggle to make their rent payments.

An online petition calling for a freeze on all rent and mortgage payments until the COVID-19 crisis is over has garnered over 16,000 signatures. But despite having the support of the City Council's Latino Caucus, one alderman explained why a rent freeze isn't legally possible in Illinois, at least for now.

"The way the law is written right now does not allow for the mayor to be able to do that," said Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, of Chicago's 33rd Ward. "And this is an emergency and we need to take emergency measures."

Ald. Rodriguez-Sanchez is calling for the ban on rent control to be lifted in Chicago.

What it comes down to, for now, is that any rent relief needs to be negotiated on an individual basis between renters and landlords. So far, only the Chicago Housing Authority has announced it will defer all payments until the "stay-at-home" order is lifted.
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