Manny’s Deli in Chicago’s South Loop has a storied past, and has previously accommodated mayors, governors and presidents. Like other parts of the city, the neighborhood around it is changing. That, coupled with the hotly contested mayoral race that is nearing its end, makes it the perfect setting for a roundtable discussion with the candidates on the subject of real estate in Chicago.
Chicago Association of REALTORS (CAR) hosted the forum and nine of the 14 candidates on the ballot—Gery Chico, Robert Fioretti, La Shawn Ford, John Kozlar, Lori Lightfoot, Garry McCarthy, Susana Mendoza, Toni Preckwinkle and Paul Vallas—spoke at the event. The candidates discussed everything from rent control to real estate transfer taxes, affordable housing to the building code.
Rent control was a frequent touchpoint for the candidates. CAR does not hide the fact that they strongly opposed rent control, arguing that it would be destructive to the rental and housing market while stunting economic growth. Illinois legislation passed in 1997 prohibits Chicago and other home rule municipalities from adopting rent control policies, however newly elected Governor J.B. Pritzker has signaled his willingness to revisit the ban.
Chico, McCarthy, Mendoza and Vallas all signaled their opposition to rent control policies while Ford, who has said in the past that he supports such measures, ran out of time before he could speak to the policy from the podium. Lightfoot, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former president of the Chicago Police Board, spoke about the policy as well.
“I don’t think that rent control is an issue we need to be focused on right now. We have a huge affordable housing crisis in the city,” Lighfoot said. “For two thirds of the city, in the last fifteen years, not a single affordable housing unit has been built.”
Vallas, who in the past served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and as budget director for the city of Chicago, touched on the issue of affordable housing and what he would do to address it.
“I see permanent property tax caps as a solution. I’ve laid out a financial plan that specifically does that,” Vallas said. “On the issue of affordable housing, I’ll tell you what I don’t support—I don’t support the aldermanic privilege. These aldermen are the like the lords in Braveheart.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that a candidate spoke about affordable housing and the barrier to entry for homeownership in Chicago. Mendoza, the former Chicago City Clerk, a former Illinois State Representative and current Comptroller of Illinois, argued that, in addition to the human toll that violence can have, it leads to higher real estate prices for residents.
“There are only a handful of neighborhoods in this city where people feel that they are safe enough to live in. That’s what people look at first and foremost,” Mendoza said. “And if you are a young millennial wanting to live in a cool place like Wicker Park or Logan Square, you’ve got to shack up with three roommates to afford the rent.”
Love or hate his other policies, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been very vocal and active in attracting corporate relocations or expansions to Chicago. Cook County Board President and former Chicago Alderman Preckwinkle said that this is a valid policy, but it doesn’t go far enough.
“The health and vitality of the housing industry was one of my top priorities as Alderman of the 4th Ward,” Preckwinkle said. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis on downtown. Downtown glimmers and sparkles, but we’ve got to put emphasis as well on our neighborhoods.”
CAR opposes any increase in the real estate transfer tax to fund issues like homelessness, the pension crisis or lead pipe remediation, saying that such tax revenue wouldn’t yield enough to have an impact while putting further strain on homeowners. Chico, former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley and board president of the Chicago Public Schools, argued that all options should be on the table.
“I agree with you on 90 percent of your agenda,” Chico said, addressing the CAR members in the room. “The only place I probably diverge with you is a $1 million home sale 1 percent tax.”
Ford, a 12-year member of the Illinois House of Representatives representing the 8th District, is also a licensed real estate broker in Illinois. He leaned on that experience as he addressed the CAR members packed before him into Manny’s Deli.
“Real estate is a driving force in the economy,” Ford said. “If you have a mayor in office that understands that, then he will make sure that the office of the mayor works with the banks, works with developers and works with the local real estate brokers to make sure that our economy thrives.”
Though speaking to a room full of brokers, many of the candidates focused on issues relevant to all voters and tangential to real estate, including crime, balanced budgets and public education. For example McCarthy, drawing on his past post as superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, discussed at length how crime in Chicago is not divorced from other, broader topics.
“All these issues are inter-related. We’re losing population because of high taxes and gun violence. Because we’re losing population, we have to pay more taxes. because we’re paying more taxes, we’re losing our tax base,” McCarthy said. “Because we’re losing that tax base, we’re closing schools and pulling social services from communities that need them the most, which is causing more gun violence.”
The candidates also, occasionally, took shots at their opponents.
“I’m going to get a shovel, not because of the snow,” Fioretti said, referencing the weather that slightly delayed the proceedings, “but because of the bull that I hear out of all the candidates.”