WBEZ: Advocates push Emanuel to protect renters in foreclosed units

By Chip Mitchell

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, calls talks for protections ‘99 percent’ done.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, calls talks for protections ‘99 percent’ done.

Some Chicago tenant advocates are turning up the heat on Mayor Rahm Emanuel as they negotiate with his administration about protecting renters in foreclosed units.

The talks concern “Keep Chicago Renting,” a measure proposed last summer by Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) that would have banned post-foreclosure evictions except under narrow circumstances such as the tenant’s failure to pay rent.

The proposal stalled in the City Council’s Housing Committee, chaired by Ald. Ray Suárez (31st).

A statement from Emanuel’s office says his administration supports the principle of providing tenants “the protections they deserve during a foreclosure process.”

But the mayor’s office says it wants a “strong ordinance that can withstand any challenge from opponents.” Instead of an eviction ban, the city has been pushing to have banks pay evicted renters a “relocation-assistance fee.”

A coalition of tenant advocates behind the original measure says it could live with that substitute.

“The coalition believes that the city’s model, if done right, could meet the goals of the original ordinance — which are to keep renters in their homes and prevent more dangerous vacant buildings in our city,” Manolita Huber of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council said.

The negotiations have focused on the fee amount, among other details, and have dragged on for months.

“To the mayor, we say the people of Chicago cannot wait,” Flora Johnson of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana said Wednesday at a North Side rally organized by the coalition. “We must address this issue today. Keep Chicago renting!”

Mayor Emanuel’s office says an agreement is near. “We are in the final stages of drafting a substitute ordinance that can help ensure Chicago tenants will have the protections they deserve during a foreclosure process,” the office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), a supporter of the original ordinance who is is participating in the negotiations, on Wednesday called the talks “99 percent” done.

Burnett said the measure was on its way to the council floor this spring. “We’re right there,” he insisted. “It’s getting ready to happen.”

Nearly 17,000 Chicago apartment buildings, amounting to almost 52,000 units, went into foreclosure in 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, a backer of the original ordinance. Those buildings constituted about 9 percent of Chicago’s rental housing stock.

Last year, 2,279 multifamily buildings were auctioned in the city, according to the Woodstock Institute, another supporter of the original ordinance.