Due to the coronavirus outbreak, a group of Mac Properties tenants are asking for the cancellation of April rents, and they are threatening to begin a rent strike if the company does not comply.
“Many of us are students, many of us are workers, and we depend on our work to pay our rents,” one tenant and organizer of the action, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Herald. “We’re not gonna be able to (pay), so we’re trying to get Mac to cancel rent for the month of April.”
The organizer said that the demands originated from a group of Mac tenants living in a couple of different buildings, and that “several dozen” people are involved. At the moment, they are calling the Mac offices, 1364 E. 53rd St., and demanding that rents be canceled — according to the organizer, the property management company has told them that there is “not even a consideration to do so.”
“So far the response has been a refusal,” they said. “It shows a real callousness that they won’t even consider our proposal, which is only in line with what folks are literally able to pay.”
"We are focused on taking care of our residents and our staff in our buildings," Peter Cassel, director of community development at Mac Properties told the Herald. "I think relief efforts will be coordinated by the federal government and state and local governments. There have been many different proposals we’ve seen going around."
"Yes, we’ve seen a lot of out-of-state calls, we’ve seen the social media," he continued. "There's just an incredible amount of uncertainty at this point and we’re gonna stay focused on caring for our residents and staff in our buildings."
A national poll released March 17 found that 18% of adults said that they had been let go from their jobs or had their hours reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) ordered all bars and restaurants closed beginning Tuesday, with options for take-out and pick-up food.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 6,000 diagnosed cases of coronavirus in the United States; 160 of those were in Illinois.
Mac is a major landlord in Hyde Park. The property management company has steadily acquired existing property in the neighborhood since the early 2000s, and manages a number of new luxury high-rises, such as 5252 and Solstice on the Park. The company is owned by Antheus Capital, a private real estate investor that focuses on “supply-constrained submarkets.”
The organizer said that, for this week, Mac tenants will try to “make our voices heard,” and consider their options, including a rent strike, at the weekend.
“We’ve only started organizing, and we’re expecting strength and power to build over this past week,” they said. “Over the weekend, we’ll reassess where we’re at. A rent strike is totally a possibility and not one we take lightly.”
In light of the outbreak, person-to-person canvassing of other tenants has been difficult for organizers. Instead, they’re planning to flyer and phone around their buildings to organize more residents to join. They have also used the Facebook page of Tenants United Hyde Park Woodlawn, a year-old tenant organizing group, to spread the word — a post by the group received a little less than 40 shares.
“More and more tenants are talking rent strike,” the Tenants United organizers wrote. “As they materialize, it would be advisable that no strike end until all strikers across the city are satisfied in the weeks or months to come.” The group has also created an event with more details about the Mac action, including a script for anyone calling the company.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced on March 14 that his office would suspend all evictions for 30 days, after deputies came into contact with a person showing symptoms during an eviction. No court orders for evictions will be entered during that period either, according to a statement from Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.
Statewide, some are also calling for action. Anthony Clark, running for Congress in the 7th District against Rep. Danny Davis (D), shared a petition on Twitter calling for Gov. Pritzker to suspend rent, mortgage and utility payments for the next two months.
In Italy, the government announced that mortgage payments would be suspended during the outbreak, and President Emmanuel Macron of France said that rent and utility payments for small businesses would be suspended.
Meanwhile, the organizer in Hyde Park says the time for transformative political action is now. “If the people do nothing and they don’t organize and build power we’ll see the same disaster capitalism that we saw after Hurricane Maria,” said the organizer.
“Large corporations and entrenched power are only gonna become more entrenched. There’s a vision that says we can use this as an opportunity …. I think it’s safe to say that in the coming weeks and months we’re going to see a massive amount of government intervention into the economy. The question is what kind of intervention (we) want.”