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CHAMPAIGN — Seventeen local Democrats have signed on to a letter of support for lifting a statewide ban on rent control, which would make Illinois the first state to do so.

Half of the Democrats on the Champaign County Board have signed the letter, which advocates for two bills currently working their way through committee in Springfield: one that would strike down the Rent Control Pre-emption Act and another that would institute rent control through a system of regional boards that would set rent caps based on the consumer price index.

Illinois is one of 37 states where rent control is banned, and a mortgage is cheaper than rent, the letter says, effectively “trapping families without sizeable inherited wealth into a system where their cost of living is higher and allowed to increase at unregulated rates.”

The letter also says Illinois is one of 45 states where an individual working 40 hours a week needs to make more than $15 an hour “in order to avoid being ‘rent-burdened’” as defined by the federal government.

Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth, one of the signers, said in Champaign County, rent burden is directly related to local homelessness, eviction rates and the increase in rental assistance her office gives out.

“Without lifting the ban, we can’t fight rent increases,” Chynoweth said.

“What we want is a tool to control costs of living so that working families don’t end up homeless. What we have now is a professional class and service class. Rents for the professional class and for students who have access to loans and other forms of support are able to afford rents that the people who serve them lunch and dinner cannot.”

The letter says rent-burdened households have higher eviction rates, increased financial fragility and wider use of social safety-net programs when compared with other renters and homeowners.

The letter also calls out the Democratic Party’s own platform of encouraging home ownership, a policy that signatories agreed is “racialized and gendered,” given that two-thirds of black households are renters and two-thirds of single mothers raising children are renters.

County board member Kyle Patterson said there is “an absolute” crisis in affordable rental housing in Champaign.

“It’s absolutely unreasonable to have a state ban on rent control,” said the District 7 representative. “Municipalities should be able to decide (on rent control) if it fits their values. When you are in the private industry making a profit providing a resource that is a lifeline, then there ought to be limitations on what you can charge for that. You see that conversation with health care and prescription drugs, and that’s something we need to apply to housing.”

Patterson’s District 11 colleague, James Tinsley, had a similar take on the issue.

“I signed the letter on rent control because I believe that finding affordable rent has become an issue in C-U,” Tinsley said.

“In all forms of ‘for profit’ businesses, there should be limitations keeping them from monopolizing on people who are already on tight budgets.”