This time last year, rent control advocates seemed to be winning every battle in Chicago. Voters elected Curtis Tarver as the next state representative of the 25th District, and, like every other candidate on the ballot, he had pledged his support for lifting the state’s ban on rent control. Moreover, voters in 77 precincts across nine wards—including the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Wards, which overlap the 25th District—were asked whether they supported lifting the ban on rent control. 75 percent voted in favor. In election after election, rent control had the momentum: People overwhelmingly supported it, and they sent representatives to Springfield who pledged to translate that demand into law.
That momentum carried through to last month, when Rep. Will Guzzardi introduced legislation that would overturn the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act and allow municipalities to choose whether or not to enact rent control. This legislation repeals the state ban on rent control and gives municipalities the freedom to regulate residential and commercial rent prices. This broad category includes everything from regulations that limit the increase in rents to the rate of inflation to arrangements that allow landlords complete freedom to increase rents, but only after the current tenant moves out.
Most rent control policies are best when they are city-specific—a rent control policy that makes sense in one city might not necessarily make sense in another. Crucially, Guzzardi’s bill did not require cities to implement any particular form of rent control; it simply offered them the option, instead of prohibiting all forms of rent control across the state.
This legislation, grounded in the common-sense principle that cities should have the authority to decide what makes sense for themselves, appeared to be headed for success in the Democratic-controlled legislature. Governor J.B. Pritzker had already pledged his support for the measure. Two weeks ago, however, the bill died in subcommittee. Two Democrats, including Rep. Tarver, joined the committee’s Republicans in voting to kill the bill.
This, understandably, upset community groups who supported Tarver because of his previously stated support for rent control. During the campaign, he had made no secret of his support for rent control: He publicly stated his support for lifting the ban at a candidates forum in January, and took to Twitter to relay the story of an elderly man forced out of his apartment by rising rents, concluding with “Rent control is necessary.” Tarver now claims he “never” believed rent control was necessary, saying that a staffer posted the tweet, which was published on a first-person account posted under Tarver’s name.
After labeling constituents who asked him to explain his vote as “trolls,” Tarver sat down with the Hyde Park Herald to explain why he was for rent control before he was against it. Despite previously blaming his staff, Tarver now seemed to accept that he had been on record supporting rent control, telling the Herald, “If I said I was in favor of rent control, then I said it.” Left unclear is exactly how to reconcile Tarver’s two stances: Did Tarver lie to community groups at the January forum? Did he forget that he made this commitment? Did he genuinely change his mind? Why did he blame his staffer for his own public statements? Why did he throw his staffer under the bus for what turned out to be his own flip-flop?
Tarver went on to explain why he opposed rent control, citing high rents in rent-controlled cities like San Francisco and his support of other policies that would help low-income tenants. Fair enough. But, the vote on Guzzardi’s bill wasn’t a vote for or against rent control—instead, it was a vote on whether Chicagoans, Rockfordians, and Peorians should be able to democratically decide on whether they want rent control, or if the State of Illinois should make that decision for them.
Every precinct in the 25th District that voted on rent control last year voted in favor of lifting the ban. Voters in the 25th District thought they were getting a representative who agreed with them. Instead, Tarver has reversed his position and, for a reason that is still not quite clear, voted against a law he had claimed to support. Rather than owning up to his shift in perspective and offering an explanation for it, he responded by blaming a staffer and claiming his concerned constituents are Internet trolls.
Tarver has apologized for his tweets, but the people of the 25th District are still waiting for a real explanation on why Tarver thinks any of this is acceptable. His constituents voted overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the ban on rent control, and Tarver was elected on a promise to follow through on this demand. There is one easy resolution to this ongoing debacle: Tarver can work to bring the bill to the House floor. If not, the voters of the 25th District would do well to consider replacing him with someone who will.
Sam Joyce is a third-year in the College.