COVID-19 pandemic causes rent crisis in Chicago


Xavier Ortega | The DePaulia

Apartments on the North Side.

As Jazmine kissed her daughters goodbye before leaving out for work, she felt terrified at the thought of coming back home to them after her shift was over. 

Much like many other essential workers in Chicago, Jazmine — an Englewood resident who did not want to use her full name for fear of retaliation — had to go to work but was afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 and possibly bringing the virus home to her daughters. 

The rapid spread of COVID-19 led Gov. Pritzker to issue a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the virus. 

The order called for all nonessential businesses to close by March 21 at 5 p.m., leading to many Chicago residents losing their jobs or having their hours massively cut. Now, many residents are faced with the issue of not knowing how they will pay their rent with no or little income.

Landlords are not legally required to freeze rent payments or offer rental assistance to tenants who cannot make rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the stay-at-home order, the Governor has put a ban on evictions and foreclosures until after May 18. Although landlords cannot evict tenants, they still have the right to file to eviction paperwork. 

Many private landlords and property management companies are doing their best to work with tenants who are affected by the order.

Tamika, a Burnside resident, who did not want to use her full name for fear of retaliation, was laid off from her position as a cashier at Dat Donut due to Pritzker’s order. 

“My landlord told me if I can’t pay right now then we can work a plan out to pay as we go,” Tamika said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for landlords to “give tenants some grace wherever possible during these trying times,” during a press conference on March 19th. Some landlords across Chicago are adhering to the mayor’s call to action. 

Hayes Properties is among those dedicated to helping tenants during these difficult times. Hayes Properties owns several buildings that house DePaul students around the Lincoln Park campus.

“Each tenant has to reach out to their property manager, and we will work out a payment plan or whatever is feasible for each individual tenant,” said Joe Hayes, owner of Hayes Properties. “We are not charging late fees right now. Our goal is to keep everyone in their apartment.”

However, there are landlords who simply cannot afford to allow tenants to postpone their rent payments. 

According to Hayes, the problem lies with landlord’s fixed income. For him, 20 percent of gross income goes to the property taxes, 30-35 percent goes to fixed expenses such as water, trash, gas and snow removal and 20-25 percent of gross income goes to the mortgage expense. 

“Landlords are left operating on 20 percent income and still have expenses such as fixing the roof and fixtures. The money is not just being pocketed by landlords,” Hayes said.

Chicago tenants are threatening a rent strike if more is not done to ease their financial burden due to the statewide stay-at-home order. Rent-burden tenants are calling on the mayor to issue a rent freeze. The Chicago Department of Housing and Mayor Lightfoot has stated it would be impossible to issue a freeze due to the Rent Control Preemption Act, passed by Illinois in 1997. The act which bans rent control, states landlords are in charge of how much they charge to rent out properties.

State officials are also contributing to helping residents through the city’s launch of the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant Program. The program offers $1,000 grants to 2,000 Chicagoans who have lost their jobs or have been financially impacted from the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens could apply until April 1 Half of the grant will be distributed by the city through a lottery system and the other half will be distributed by various non-profit organizations in Chicago.  

Jazmine was grateful for the help her landlord offered after her hours were cut. She was offered a payment plan and given a list of housing assistance programs. 

“I’m a single parent with no government benefits so it’s gotten harder to maintain my bills and children with my work hours being cut because of the pandemic,” she said.

Many citizens are being cautious how they spend their money, and view a tight budget plan as essential for the next few months.

“I’m only spending money on necessary things, not unnecessary ones,” Tamika said about her budgeting plan.

Her budget plan goes beyond splurging on unnecessary items. 

“I plan to budget by cutting out extracurricular activities as far as ordering restaurant food, only making essential runs and errands and only buying what we need instead of what we want,” she said. “I also plan to schedule payment arrangements with my utility companies to ensure I am not overspending during this time.”

Annalisa Baranowski | The DePaulia