Winter 2021 Edition
Rogers Park Builder
2021 – Fresh Start or 2020-Redux?
Steve Cain

Welcome to 2021 folks. It’s been quite an interesting start to the New Year, to say the least! While a lot has changed from the annus horribilis that was 2020, it’s also a bit disconcerting to see how much remains the same.

So I thought I’d do a quick wrap up of what might be better about 2021, and what might be the same or worse. This is my own personal list, and I don’t expect everyone to be in total agreement with me, but here goes, starting with the positives:

  • We now have three COVID-19 vaccines, and more are probably coming. If we can ramp up distribution and convince enough people to get vaccinated, life really could go back to something closer to “normal” (however you wish to define that) by the middle to end of 2021.

  • Legislatively, we got at least some good news from our friends in the Chicago City Council for once with the passage of the Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance Pilot Program. It’s not all good but, for once, it’s also not all bad.

  • And, of course, we have a new administration in Washington. (This is for the Democrats out there.)

But there are plenty of negatives to keep worrying about:

  • New strains of the virus threaten to accelerate the spread of COVID-19, and possibly derail the effectiveness of the vaccines developed to protect us. If these new variants of the virus get established in the general population before enough people are vaccinated, we could find ourselves right back where we were at the end of 2020, or even worse.

  • The legislation coming out of the Chicago City Council, Cook County Board and Illinois Legislature is almost all bad for property owners across Illinois. This Newsletter will cover the specifics, but we already have a county-wide RTLO, never-ending eviction moratorium, mounting legal hurdles once evictions do finally become possible, and a whole host of other harmful legislation queued up at every level of government. The bottom line – don’t look for a better legislative environment in 2021. If anything, brace yourself for worse.

  • And, of course, we have a new administration in Washington – (This is for the Republicans.) Then again, we avoided a coup and the Constitution still stands, or wobbles, or something. (Am I really writing these words?)

OK, not a very comprehensive list and, yes, I’m hedging my bets on the change of administrations since I know I am going make half my readers mad no matter what I say.
On balance, I really do believe 2021 promises to be better than 2020 – admittedly, a low bar. But, ask me that same question as a property owner and I might have a different response.

Once again, I am reminded of my all-time favorite quote, delivered by the one and only Bette Davis in All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” To capture our current moment, just substitute the word “year” for “night.”
After months of intense negotiations with tenant advocacy groups and the housing industry, the Cook County Board last month enacted the Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance (RTLO), which imposes scores of new regulations affecting the relationship between housing providers and tenants in suburban Cook County. The new ordinance takes effect June 1st and draws its inspiration from Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, which has been in effect since 1986. As the reversal of the terms “Landlord” and “Tenant” suggests, the two ordinances are similar, but not identical.
To anyone who has been following RPBG President Mike Glasser’s emails about the progression of this ordinance – from its surprise introduction and the initial rush to get it passed – this was never going to be legislation that housing providers were going to support. To be honest, we didn’t even know it was coming until it was fully drafted and hurtling toward approval.
The Fall 2020 Newsletter provided an overview of the Development For All Ordinance, 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s road map to “fixing” the current Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO).

Now co-sponsored by Aldermen LaSpata (1st), Rodriguez (22nd), Maldonado (26th), Martin (47th), and Alderwomen Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and our own Maria Hadden (49th), this group of Democratic Socialist and Progressive Caucus City Council-members are preparing to introduce this legislation to the full City Council for debate and consideration.
The fall article made clear why this ordinance is so intensely opposed by the housing industry. Without repeating what has already been written, the DFA’s greatly expanded affordable requirements would severely impact the financial feasibility of every future development in Chicago of any size or significance. The result will be an unavoidable and severe contraction in new housing construction, further aggravating the housing shortage in Chicago and accelerating the rent increases for the existing supply of rental units.
After a lot of talk followed by a period of relative inaction, the City Council approved a limited, three-year pilot program providing a framework for the legalization of coach house and “conversion units” in small residential structures in restricted areas of the city. This Ordinance was approved last December and will take effect May 1.
Like a lot of new legislation in recent years, the passage of this Ordinance took the housing industry by surprise. Urban Land Institute (ULI) spent a considerable amount of time and effort studying the feasibility of legalizing accessory units (garden, coach house and attic conversions) in 2019 and 2020, and released a terrific report with results and recommendations on how to get the most benefit from such a program. You can take a look at the article from last summer’s RPBG Newsletter for more information on the ULI effort and recommendations.
Nothing much has been happening in Springfield.

A hell of a lot has been happening in Springfield.

These two statements say opposing things. These two statements are both true. To understand how this can be, you have to look beneath the surface.
Let’s start with the first statement. The year 2020 started off normally enough with the Illinois Legislature convening on January 8 for what was expected to be a five-month session through the end of May. But then COVID-19 happened. Activities were suspended on March 16th and the legislative session was cut short. The Legislature met again briefly from May 20th to 23rd, but did not meet after that until January 6, 2021 for a very brief, and also delayed, lame duck session. More on that ahead…
Janelle Walker, a Rogers Park resident and mother of three, teaches two courses at DePaul University to incoming freshmen. One of the courses is part of DePaul’s “Explore Chicago” curriculum. That course is focused on the Maxwell Street and Pilsen neighborhoods of the city. She explores gentrification in these two neighborhoods and the impacts, both positive and negative, that gentrification has on the residents of these areas.
Walker has rented in Rogers Park since 2013 and is committed to the neighborhood for the long term. When she unexpectedly came in to a family inheritance, she decided to purchase a home in the area. She enjoys apartment living and set her sights on buying a condominium. A friend, who lives in an owner-occupied six-flat, suggested that she should consider purchasing his building from the aging owner. The seed had been planted. She later purchased a different vintage six-flat at 1126-28 West Morse, just east of Sheridan, that had been used as a residence for Catholic nuns and brothers for decades before it was put on the market. The building was “tired” but, like many century-old properties in the neighborhood, had enormous potential.
After nearly twelve months of pandemic, we have all had to adjust to the many changes in our lives that it has caused. One of those changes that might have the longest-lasting impact is remote working. This got Derek Thompson, who wrote “Superstar Cities are in Trouble” in The Atlantic magazine, to thinking. The central premise of the article is that the booming coastal metropolises that had been driving the national economy are suddenly not doing very well.
Until very recently, these cities had been generating many of the highest-paying jobs and grabbing a disproportionate share of the nation’s total employment growth. But, a funny thing happened once the pandemic hit – people started leaving, slowly at first, and then in droves.
It’s only been a few months since Steve agreed to be the new RPBG Vice President, but he has already made his mark on the organization. Working with Giselle Hennings, the Housing Director at Northside Community Resources, Steve has assembled a comprehensive Landlord Tenant Resource Guide that provides information on a wide range of resources for property owners and their tenants. And if it isn’t already there when you read this article, the Resource Guide will soon be included as a link on the Rogers Park website.
This very useful guide provides names, numbers and websites for a cross-section of non-profits, faith groups and government agencies that all offer services and programs for tenants who may have fallen on hard times or property owners who are constantly dealing with new problems and challenges.
When one door closes, so the saying goes, another opens. This is the yin and yang we feel as we happily welcome Steve Shah as new RPBG Vice President, but say a wistful good-bye to Sarah Lisy who has stepped down after a four-year stint.
Sarah and Tom Lisy were no strangers to Rogers Park when they first joined the organization more than a decade ago. In fact, there are few people in our organization who are more personally vested in the community than Sarah and Tom.

For years before joining RPBG and continuing to this day, the Lisy’s have lived near the Loyola Campus where they raised their kids and gradually acquired a small portfolio of high-quality apartment properties in the Loyola area.
In 1992, a group of apartment building owners and real estate developers in Rogers Park established the Rogers Park Builders Group (RPBG).

High interest rates, buildings falling into foreclosure and rising crime caused a lot of investors to stay away from Rogers Park. But many of us building owners and managers, including a few folks whose families called Rogers Park home for generations, believed in the promise of our neighborhood. We joined forces, raised some money and invested in a public relations campaign designed to inspire investment in Rogers Park.

Our PR campaign and unceasing vigilance, combined with a drop in interest rates, sparked new investment and brought about huge improvements to Rogers Park.
Steve Cain
Buckets of ink have been spilled describing the awful year we just lived through. And yes, it was awful. Who would deny it?

But what if the turmoil we have just experienced has a silver lining? What if we needed a pandemic, a George Floyd and a meltdown in Washington to see more clearly where we’ve gone wrong, and how to make things better?

I know – it’s just as possible that this tumultuous year could lead to more of the same or worse, with even more polarization and discord between Team Red and Team Blue. But a quick look at our recent history suggests that this does not necessarily have to be our fate.
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Rogers Park Builders Group encourages and supports responsible residential and commercial property investment, development, and ownership in the Rogers Park community.