The Rent Control Rogues’ Gallery: A Guide to Chicago’s Non-Profit Rent Advocacy Groups

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The current shelter-in-place orders have accelerated an already hostile situation in the rental housing industry from a rowdy standoff into an all-out war. While the buildings themselves might not be alight just yet, pretty much everything else within the realm of the rental housing industry is a massive dumpster fire at the moment. Campaigns to enact rent control, eliminate private ownership, organize renters and slow the recent rapid rise of rent rates nationwide were already in process before the shutdown. Now COVID has provided advocacy groups new levers in the form of shutdown-related unemployment and low income essential jobs to further their causes. Landlords also have some advocacy groups of their own which are fighting to maintain the status quo and preserve the value of their investments.

The opposing sides of this war are not likely to reach detente any time soon. Their inability to communicate without throwing around fighting words totally rules out any form of negotiation. Instead of progress in any direction, we wind up with laughable and utterly toothless efforts to combat the crisis such as the utterly unenforceable appeal to emotion that is the Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge.

If you follow any of the news about renting in Chicago you've probably heard about rent strikes, protests and campaigns to ban evictions and foreclosures until the end of shelter-in-place orders. You've probably seen the names of many different not-for-profits floating by within these articles without really pausing to think about who they are, what their angle is, or how they operate. Today we'll be looking at some of the groups who have become players in the fight for the control and cost of rental housing, whether out of action or merely by running their mouths on social media.

For each of the groups below, I will provide some history about how they started, their mission, their recent activities, their alliances with other groups on the list, and their incorporation information where available. I've worked with or at least spoken to some of them before. I will try to keep things objective, but will disclose such affiliations where they exist, and may wind up being catty as all get out regardless.

Tenant Side

Autonomous Tenants Union

  • Note: This group has previously called in a phone brigade against my former employer, with whom I remain on good terms.
  • Founded in June of 2016 by several Albany Park tenants who were being evicted.
  • They want evictions to be abolished along with private ownership of rental housing. They favor communal ownership of rental housing by the actual tenants in cooperative or commune format, eliminating the landlord altogether, or alternately, replacing private ownership with massively expanded social housing owned by the government in the Nordic style.
  • In the past week they have been vocal in the news for their scorn towards the Chicago Housing Pledge and they have coordinated tenants to share their stories at the online City Council meeting.
  • They are members of the LTB Coalition.
  • The ATU is an Illinois Not-for-profit corporation. They are not listed in Guidestar or Charity Navigator.

Chicago Housing Initiative

  • Founded in 2009 by a graduate of the University of Chicago living in Lawndale. This is an umbrella group with 10 additional members of their coalition.
  • They want to to create more affordable housing within the city and to teach tenants to organize into unions within their buildings.
  • During the recent weeks they have advocated for the CHA to allow homeless individuals to shelter in vacant public housing apartments. They made their case by organizing a rally of 50 cars driving in circles around City Hall.
  • Their members include the Metropolitan Tenants' Organization, the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, ONE Northside, and the Pilsen Alliance.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 2017. They are listed in both Guidestar and Charity Navigator but unrated due to an incorporation history of less than seven years. While their website appears to offer a disclosure of financial data, the link is merely underlined text rather than a live link.

Housing Action Illinois

  • Founded in 1987 as the Statewide Housing Action Coalition in order to establish a state funding program for affordable housing creation and preservation. This is an umbrella group with approximately 170 additional participating organizations.
  • They want to increase and preserve affordable housing statewide.
  • During the recent weeks they have worked to improve census response rates and have called for additional federal support to expand resources available for housing in predominantly Black and Latinx communities.
  • Their members include the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing and the Northwest Side Housing Center.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 1987. They are a Gold rated charity in Guidestar and unrated by Charity Navigator, spending 95.8% of their budget on program expenses.

Lawyers Committee for Better Housing

  • Note: This group has provided assistance to me in researching previous articles and reached out to me to profile their phone app a few months back.
  • Founded in 1980 by attorneys in Rogers Park in an effort to work with aldermen to improve conditions in local multi-family buildings.
  • They provide free legal support and advice to low income renters and advocate for renters in government policy negotiations.
  • Recently they have hosted a Renters' rights webinar on Facebook and were one of the groups joining/sponsoring the Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge.
  • They are members of the LTB Coalition and Housing Action Illinois.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 1981. They are listed in Guidestar and rated 3 out of 4 stars by Charity Navigator, spending 80.2% of their budget on program expenses.

Lift the Ban (LTB) Coalition

  • Founded in 2017 in Pilsen, this is a project rather than a corporation, funded by 20 separate parent and member organizations.
  • They are lobbyists working to push through a repeal of the rent control ban within the Illinois State Legislature.
  • Recently they have organized a tent community protest called "Pritzkerville" in Daley Plaza to call for the Governor to cancel rent and mortgage payments until 3 months after the end of shelter-in-place orders.
  • Their members include the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, the Pilsen Alliance, the Autonomous Tenants Union, the Lawyer's Committee for Better Housing, ONE Northside, the Northwest Side Housing Center, and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.
  • There is no incorporated entity known as the "Lift the Ban Coalition" in Illinois.

Lugenia Burns Hope Center

  • Founded in 1994 by Barack Obama and Sokoni Karanja. This is a general civic action group based in Bronzeville focusing on community organization for a range of causes.
  • While housing advocacy is not the primary focus of this group, they are members of both the Lift the Ban coalition and the Chicago Housing Initiative. Other programs focus on issues such as Local School councils, clergy education and issues affecting Bronzeville seniors.
  • In recent weeks they have co-sponsored the LTB Coalition activities and have been gearing up to provide monthly Mutual Aid Relief to Bronzeville area senior housing.
  • They have been an incorporated Illinois Not-for-profit since 1996. They are listed in Guidestar but not in Charity Navigator. Their financials are not available for public review.

Metropolitan Tenants Organization

  • Note: I contacted these guys in 2011 to volunteer to staff their hotline. They turned me down because I had previously worked for a landlord and they felt that I could not provide support to tenants if I had any sympathies for landlords.
  • Founded in 1981 as a combination of 250 representatives from different tenants rights groups throughout Chicago all working towards the creation of the Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance. One of the last remaining vestiges of civil rights era advocacy groups trained by Martin Luther King, Jr. during his stay in Chicago.
  • Their mission is to promote housing justice for renters by ensuring that housing remains affordable, stable, accessible and habitable. Their two main programs are their phone hotline for tenants facing housing problems and their training programs for renters looking to organize unions within their buildings.
  • Recently they have livestreamed a Facebook seminar on tenants rights, along with participating in the Chicago Housing Initiative car protest and the LTB Coalition Pritzkerville protest.
  • They are members of the LTB Coalition and the Chicago Housing Initiative.
  • They have been an incorporated Illinois Not-for-profit since 1985. They are listed in Guidestar and unrated by Charity Navigator. They have not released recent financial data.

Northside Tenant Network

  • Founded in March of 2020 (yes, you read that correctly) to mobilize tenants in response to the COVID-19 crisis. I could find no information about where they're based or who is in charge other than a "volunteer network".
  • According to their Twitter, they seek to "fight against institutional exploitation of working people that's going on in your own backyard."
  • Other than supporting efforts listed elsewhere in this article, I could not find any information about their recent activities. Given that they're less than two months old, this is unsurprising.
  • They are not members of any existing coalitions.
  • They are not incorporated.

Northwest Side Housing Center

  • Note: I also offered to volunteer for these guys in 2011 but they turned me down because I don't speak Spanish.
  • Founded in 2003 to improve affordable housing opportunities and educate residents about predatory lending in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood.
  • They focus on counseling for first time buyers, owners facing foreclosure, renters and landlords, along with financial coaching and leadership training. They also sponsor the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary group which focuses on affordable housing and support of small businesses.
  • Lately they have been providing counseling and intermediary support for homeowners with problems making mortgage payments due to COVID-related unemployment.
  • They are members of Housing Action Illinois and the LTB Coalition.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 2004. They are listed in Guidestar and in Charity Navigator, but unrated. In their most recently provide financials, they spent 88.7% of their expenses on program services.

ONE Northside

  • Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside was founded in 1973 as the Organization of the North East, merging with the Lakeview Action Coalition in 2013. They serve the northeast quadrant of the city from Lakeview and Ravenswood on the south up through Rogers Park.
  • Their interests run the gamut of social justice issues including affordable housing, education, mental health and healthcare, and violence prevention.
  • Recent efforts include campaigns to eliminate the ability for developers to buy their way out of creating more affordable housing, and to force the federal government to institute a national eviction and foreclosure moratorium and rent cancellation at the federal level in response to COVID-related shutdowns.
  • They are members of the Chicago Housing Initiative and the LTB Coalition, and have worked with the ATU on recent tenants rights training programs.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 1974. They are listed but unrated in both Guidestar and Charity Navigator. They have not disclosed their financial data.

Pilsen Alliance

  • Note: Their website was offline when I attempted to visit. Information provided here is based on a Wayback Machine archive from April 13.
  • Founded in 1998 in response to the creation of a TIF to expand the UIC campus south into the Pilsen area, and to general concerns about overdevelopment and gentrification within that area.
  • Their interests include education, affordable housing, youth programs, immigration, workers' rights and healthcare.
  • As one of the main driving forces behind the LTB Coalition most of their recent efforts have been in step with that project. They have also called for the mass release of prisoners from Illinois jails and prisons until such time as COVID infections can be brought under control.
  • They are one of the founding members of the LTB Coalition and are also members of the Chicago Housing Initiative.
  • They have been incorporated as an Illinois Not-for-profit since 2001. They are Bronze rated on Guidestar and listed but not rated on Charity Navigator. Their financials are not available for review.

Tenants United Hyde Park/Woodlawn

  • Formed in 2018 to train renters in the areas of Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore in how to form tenants unions within their buildings.
  • They describe themselves as an incubator for tenants unions, training tenants to work together as a group with one voice in negotiations with landlords.
  • Lately they have been organizing rent strikes against two particular large-scale landlords in the Hyde Park area.
  • They are not a member of any coalitions.
  • They are not incorporated.

Landlord Side

Apartment Building Owners and Managers Association

  • Founded in 1935 to represent the residential landlords of Chicago, the group created the first fill in the blank lease form for city apartments.
  • They are the landlord's voice in collective bargaining agreements with the SEIU (maintenance and door staff) and the Teamsters (parking garage staff). They mostly represent the largest high rise luxury apartment communities and condominium in the Loop and along the lakefront.
  • As far as I could find they have taken no recent action in response to COVID-19 other than training managers of SEIU buildings in proper disinfection procedures for large scale buildings.
  • They are not a member of any coalitions.
  • They are not a corporation but rather a business league, similar to a chamber of commerce. They are funded by membership fees rather than by donations.

Chicagoland Apartment Association

  • Founded in 1989 as the local branch of the National Apartment Association. They are a lobbyist group and a PAC.
  • They provide certifications and maintenance staff training and a vendor directory of businesses supporting rental properties, along with hosting an annual trade show. However, most of their efforts are focused on lobbying state and local governments on behalf of landlord interests. Membership in the CAA tends to include landlords who focus on Class A and B properties.
  • Lately they have cosigned on the Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge and taken a lead role on the landlord side in media coverage of the recent protests, rent strikes and rent control legislation.
  • Other than the Chicago Housing Pledge they are not a member of any coalitions.
  • Similar to ABOMA, they are a business league rather than a corporation, funded by membership fees.

Community Investment Corporation

  • Note: I took a property management course from these folks as part of my continuing education requirements to maintain my real estate license back in 2012 or so.
  • Founded in 1974, the CIC is a unique combination of social advocacy group and lender. They are a Comunity Development Financial Institution, authorized by the US Department of the Treasury to provide mortgages for the purchase and renovation of affordable rental housing.
  • They provide loans and property management training to small independent landlords who wish to purchase local rental properties in target troubled neighborhoods. They purchase and renovate troubled buildings. They also head the Preservation Compact, a think tank focusing on increasing the stock of affordable housing in Cook County.
  • Lately they have focused their efforts on helping to hammer out relief packages such as the CARES Act so that they include rent and mortage assistance at all levels of government.
  • Other than the Preservation Compact they are not a member of any coalitions.
  • They have been an incorporated Illinois Not-for-profit since 1973.

Neighborhood Building Owner's Alliance

  • Note: I've had some interactions with these folks on Twitter. They retweet some of our articles on a purely voluntary basis.
  • Founded in 2007 to represent building developers and landlords of all sizes as an advocate for policy changes in local, county and state governments. They are an umbrella group speaking for eight local property investment and development groups.
  • They lobby local governments on behalf of landlords to push back against what they view as a long tradition of anti-landlord legislation in the Chicago area. In contrast to the CAA members, NBOA members tend to have slightly smaller portfolios in the Class C and D range, focusing on renters with lower incomes.
  • Lately they have been pushing hard against the efforts to lift the rent control ban in Illinois, and negotiating some protections for landlords into the enforcement procedures for the Cook County Just Housing Ordinance. They also hosted a Zoom meeting with a few hundred local landlords and associated vendors that was rather notoriously leaked to the press and covered in the Chicago Reader.
  • They are a co-sponsor of the Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge.
  • They have been an incorporated Illinois Not-for-profit since 2007, but they are a 501c4 (civic league) and as such donations to them are not tax deductible.

I've probably left some groups off of this list. There were hundreds to choose from, I had to focus on the most vocal ones that I've seen in the news or responding to the news in recent weeks. (Plus if I kept my tongue in my cheek any longer I'd have likely chewed it off.) I highly doubt that the omitted parties will be offended to be excluded from this list given the nature of it, but if you want me to profile your non-profit Chicago rental housing advocacy group feel free to holler at me on Twitter @Rentconfident. Or on Facebook at Rentconfident. Or you could even leave a comment if you like to kick it old school. I reserve the right to say "no, thanks".

As for the rest of you who are, y'know, actually renters or landlords reading this, hello! Are you familiar with any of these groups? Do you agree with their stances or think they're full of baloney? Can you suggest any approaches to adjust their varied stances in an effort to find common ground? When the war over Chicago's rental housing ends, how many buildings do you think will still be standing? Let me know in the comments, or you can also holler at me in the usual places.

Published by

Kay Cleaves