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Illinois Advocates Seek Reforms Around Tenant Rights

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Most tenants facing eviction don’t have legal representation, but advocates in Illinois are trying to change that. The Chicago Department of Housing announced a pilot program in April to provide low-income renters with free legal representation when facing eviction. Advocates view this as a step in the right direction, but note it falls short of a guaranteed right to counsel for tenants. Cost-benefit studies by the Stout organization across numerous cities consistently showed that funding a right to counsel is far cheaper than the cost to city social services in the aftermath of tenant displacement. Diego Morales, a steering committee member with the Lift the Ban Coalition, said “right to counsel” programs have proved successful in reducing the number of evictions.

“We’ve seen programs like ‘right to counsel’ be wildly successful in other municipalities such as Kansas City, recently passed a similar law, New York has had one for awhile and been able to reduce the number of evictions drastically,” Morales said.

Morales said tenants with legal representation are far more likely to avoid eviction. Legislative efforts to establish a right to counsel at the state level have yet to be realized. The Keep Illinois Home Act was introduced earlier this year and contained a “right to counsel” provision along with a repeal of the 1997 Rent Control Pre-emption Act. Morales said the Lift the Ban Coalition views repealing the rent-control pre-emption act as a cost-effective measure to help keep people in their homes.

“The thing about rent control,” Morales said, “and why we do believe lifting the ban on rent control and instituting forms of rent control, is very important is because it frankly doesn’t cost the state anything. And it is extremely effective at preventing evictions because the number one cause for evictions still is inability to pay.”

The Keep Illinois Home Act would limit landlords to one rent increase per year and prevent that increase from exceeding the rate of inflation. In a 2018 working paper
, the National Bureau of Economic Research said that while rent control did increase renters’ likelihood of staying at their address, landlords responded to rent control by reducing the rental housing supply by 15%.

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