The Lift the Ban Coalition, along with several other community groups, occupied the street in front of the office of Rep. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) last Friday to protest for rent control.
The action began at the 53rd Street entrance to Nichols Park a little past 2 p.m. While protesters in fluorescent green vests lined up to block traffic at Kimbark and Kenwood avenues, around 40 people marched half a block west to Tarver’s office. When they got there, they backed up a U-Haul truck and dumped used furniture — couches, chairs, mattresses, lamps — into the street, in imitation of what happens when tenants are forcibly evicted from their homes.
The protesters also attached signs criticizing Tarver to the window of his office. A woman wearing a sheriff’s hat with a silver six-pointed star held up a mock eviction notice addressed to the representative: “You are hereby notified that by not supporting rent control, you are evicting racial and economic diversity.”
Another person taped a flip-flop to the door: a visual representation of the charge that Tarver has reversed himself on the issue.
During a January 2018 candidate forum, Tarver said he supported lifting the statewide ban that prohibits municipalities from passing rent control ordinances. But last March, Tarver voted against House Bill 255 when it came in front of his committee. The bill failed by four votes to two. This February, it was reassigned to committee.
“We’ve lost people in Illinois six years in a row. That’s the result of the free market's reign,” said Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and one of the protest organizers. “Tarver said his constituents don’t support rent control. We’re here to let him know they do.”
Protesters criticized Tarver, but also tied the fight for rent control to other issues. “A lot of people are talking about the coronavirus. Gentrification is like the coronavirus on steroids,” said Leone Jose Bicchieri, executive director of the nonprofit organization Working Family Solidarity. “Developers and investors decided that maybe they left Chicago too soon when they left 20 to 30 years ago. They didn’t want to live near us. Now it’s kind of profitable to live near us.”
Bicchieri also made the case for racial unity between the Black and Latino communities, the lack of which has been a long-standing problem in Chicago. “The problem when we’re divided along racial and ethnic lines is that we never win,” he said. “I tell people in the Latino community, ‘Don’t be happy that now we’re the biggest so-called minority in Chicago, because African Americans should still be the biggest minority in Chicago.'”
Laura Colaneri, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago and a member of Graduate Students United, criticized the school for selling its buildings to property developers.
“Over the past several years, rent has been skyrocketing, and the University of Chicago has contributed to that by selling off all its (graduate student) housing,” she said. “From 48 buildings it’s down to 12. The exact same buildings are being remade and flipped back to the same graduate students — that just got kicked out of them — at a much higher price.”
Passer-by Ella Nagle, who stopped briefly to speak with some of the march organizers, said that she and many of her friends pay “way too much money” for the apartments they rent. Nagle, a third-year undergraduate at the U. of C., pays $2,900 for a four-bedroom apartment by 54th Street and University Avenue.
“I have friends that pay a lot more,” Nagle said. “But I’m only able to pay rent because I have a lot of privilege — my parents help me out.”
While protesters were speaking to the crowd through a megaphone, Chicago Police Department officers quietly gathered in the parking lot of Kimbark Plaza, though they did not attempt to break up the demonstration.
Around 3:15 p.m., by Kenwood Ave., a block away from where most of the protesters were located, officers threatened to arrest the chain of people blocking off traffic, according to Wilson. After a brief stand-off, the half-dozen people stationed there left the intersection and joined the rest of the demonstrators.
For a while longer, protesters continued to occupy the street near Kimbark Plaza, keeping up a steady stream of chants like “What do we want? Rent control! When do we want it? Now!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” Other groups represented at the protest included the Chicago Teachers Union, the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and the South Side chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.
A handful of police cars were parked on either side of the protest. Another had taken the previous place of the protesters, blocking off traffic at 53rd and Kenwood.
At around 3:45 p.m., the protesters hauled one of the used sofas into the middle of the street. Two of them, Helena Duncan and Mark Kaplan, sat in it, waiting for the police to arrest them. A little over 20 minutes later, when nothing had happened, the demonstrators loaded the furniture back into the U-Haul — to be “donated to some Section 8 folks,” according to spokesman Brian Bennett — and began to disperse.
When asked for comment on the action, Rep. Tarver responded: "I appreciate the gravity of this issue. I do not believe rent control is effective. Certainly, that does not mean we can simply ignore the need for affordable housing. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of the individuals protesting do not live in the 25th district. Nonetheless, I respect their position and appreciate their passion for the 25th district."
Freelancer Morley Musick contributed.