Summer 2020: Government Affairs Update

Under normal circumstances, our focus here would capture our advocacy efforts during the Illinois REALTORS® Capitol Conference and National Association of REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings — but this year is different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago REALTORS® were not able to visit Springfield and Washington, D.C. to discuss pressing real estate related matters in Chicago. Throughout these past few months, despite evolving restrictions and social distancing mandates, your Government Affairs team has worked with lawmakers across the board to ensure your voice was heard. Here’s a little of what we’ve been up to:


Thanks to REALTOR® advocacy, real estate was deemed an essential service throughout the duration of Governor Pritzker’s “shelter in place” executive order. This allowed you to continue providing necessary service to consumers, although not exactly business as usual. With your safety in mind, REALTOR® advocacy was crucial in the temporary authorization of Remote Online Notary services, to reduce face-to-face contact during a transaction and help protect our industry and our clients.


Efforts to minimize governmental hurdles could do nothing to prevent the severe economic blows that reverberated week after week, with record-breaking unemployment claims. Job losses and reduced income hit individuals and families hard. One of the most asked questions by REALTORS® was about unemployment benefits. Under the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, independent contractors and the self-employed were eligible to receive unemployment benefits. This unprecedented move was a major victory for REALTOR® advocacy, although many states — including Illinois — were unprepared to include the additional groups for benefits. Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) was eventually able to process requests; however, this is an example of governmental agencies needing to act quickly during a crisis (something they are not known for, typically). In response, CAR contracted with an unemployment specialist to guide REALTORS® through the unemployment benefit application process via the Unemployment Application Guidance Hotline. Another bureaucratic hurdle was presented at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, employees of the Recorder’s office were not issued laptops to work remotely. When County buildings closed, several of these agencies had to respond by renegotiating with unions and programing computers for staff to work from home. There were some minor hiccups but all in all, the Recorder’s Office responded to industry needs. We maintained regular communication with the Recorder’s office, the Treasurer, Assessor and County Board Commissioners, as well as the City Department of Finance to ensure full payment certificates and transfer stamps were processed; these regular contacts and others ensured you were able to continue transacting business. We want to give a special acknowledgment to County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Chair of the Business and Economic Development Committee, who was quick to prepare businesses for the funds made available through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Her office joined our April Coffee with your GADs, and CAR in turn was able to co-host a Town Hall to prepare real estate organizations for the influx of available funding (which went quickly to assist small businesses across the country).


The landlord-tenant dynamic came under attack once more during the pandemic. We continue to closely monitor and actively engage in discussions on housing and rental assistance. During the crisis, rent strikes were called for by various groups. These voices were used to highlight the preemption of rent control in Illinois. Even in crisis mode, there is a misconception of landlords and the usage of rental dollars, which go towards maintaining properties, paying off debt service agreements, property taxes, staff, etc. The real estate industry suffered a great blow in the pandemic; calling on rent strike measures only goes to show the disconnect between pro-rent control groups and the realities of owning and maintaining a property. Keep in mind: mortgage forbearance is not forgiveness by any stretch of the imagination, but rather allows a property owner to delay payments until a future date. Property taxes are a whole other story. Property taxes help to ensure cities function and operate. We’re firm in this: any rental assistance must consider both ends of the spectrum, both renter and landlord. Furthermore, property taxes continue to crush property owners across Cook County and the state. These two issues (rent control and property taxes) will haunt the industry but rest assured, your Government Affairs team will not back down.


In addition to our pandemic work, don’t forget about the Governor’s  Fair Tax Ballot initiative — a graduated income tax, with a higher rate for those making in excess of $250,000. In the November general election, voters will decide this issue, and 60% of voters must vote in favor of the measure for it to become law.


Giving credit where credit is due, the City Council is advancing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance. Accessory Dwelling Units is a catch-all phrase for areas in a residential neighborhood not normally zoned for housing — for example, some basements and attics qualify, as do coach houses. One prominent and recognizable example of an ADU? In the TV show “Happy Days,” the Fonz lived above the Cunningham’s garage. The City is taking pragmatic steps to reverse decades of regulation which forbade ADUs. The matter will be debated in City Council and while the final outcome may be less desirable than some would hope for, any legislation that incentivizes the construction of more housing units is a win for affordable housing and a win for the REALTORS®!


As we prepare for the post-COVID-19 world and return to normalcy, it also means a return to an environment in which private property rights are under attack, attempts to add bureaucracy will delay transactions and most importantly, we will all be asked to dig deeper in our pockets to fund the City of Chicago, the County of Cook and the State of Illinois. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, a multitude of bad policy ideas were under discussion. Now, some of those ideas are in hyperdrive and knee-jerk responses from elected officials are abundant. To name a few:
  • Rent holidays/ rent abatement
  • Relocation fees for tenants (Fair Notice Ordinance)
  • Giving those with lapsed leases more time to move out (90 days notice in the Fair Notice Ordinance)
  • Just cause evictions, which strip the landlord from choosing new tenants unless the tenant fails to pay rent or engages in criminal activity
  • Tenants having right of first refusal for the sale of large buildings (Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance)
  • Introduction of a City version of the Just Housing Ordinance
  • A Bill of Rights specific to Senior Citizen Housing
REALTORS® need to be aware of the challenges forthcoming. You have a dedicated Government Affairs team who attends hearings and council meetings and meets with senior staff of on your behalf. But as always, you can help us, help you! Respond to any Call for Action sent to you — and encourage your peers to respond as well. Elected officials must hear from you to know and understand “The Power of R!” Soon, October and November will be here — and the changing of seasons brings about municipal budget proposals. At that time, both the Mayor and the Cook County Board President will present budgets. Both units of government have obligations to fund pensions and, as with most other big cities, both units of government saw a significant decrease in the collection of tax revenue. As of early this summer the city projected a deficit in excess of $700 million. Undoubtedly, tax and fee increases will be part of each proposal. After the Great Recession of 2008, we persevered; post-COVID-19, we will also persevere.


Keep in mind: your Government Affairs staff is here for you. Our monthly Coffee with the GADs meetings are excellent venues for you to share your concerns. As needs and hot topics arise, please call or email us to request issue-specific webinars or programming you desire. This brings more value to you as a member and makes sure our staff is meeting your needs. Sign up to receive REALTOR® Party Mobile Alerts: text REALTOR to 30644. Contact your GADs Kristopher J. Anderson, Director of Government & External Affairs and Adriann Murawski, Director of Government Affairs.