Mission and History

Mission

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing will provide free legal and supportive services to improve housing stability for lower income renters while advocating for the rights of all renters until everyone in Chicago has a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home.

Vision

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing believes that safe, decent and affordable housing is a basic human right, and we aspire to be the preeminent legal resource on housing justice for renters in our community.

Values

In order to best achieve our mission, LCBH embraces the following values:

  • Mission Focus: We are committed to and engaged in the LCBH mission and communicate that with understanding and belief in our work.
  • Excellence: We treat all persons we come into contact with compassion and respect. We consistently strive to produce excellent work so that we are known as the "go-to" agency regarding renter advocacy issues.
  • Diversity: We embrace diversity as a cultural value engaging a variety of perspectives in order to provide the best advocacy, client services, and work environment.
  • Financial Health: We strive to maintain financial stability by creating and adhering to a strategic financial plan, reducing expenses, increasing unrestricted funding, and building reserves.
  • Balance: We recognize the need for a healthy balance between the professional and personal in order to retain good-quality staff and maintain a supportive office culture.

History

  • 1980
  • 1980: The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, a community-based housing advocacy organization, was founded by neighborhood attorneys in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. They assisted the local alderman combat deteriorating conditions in multi-family buildings. This early focus continues through the Affordable Housing Preservation Project.
  • 1983: Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing provided technical assistance to community based housing developers participating in the Cook County Multi-Family Tax Reactivation Program. Under this program, groups received buildings taken by the county at the Scavenger Sale of tax delinquent properties. 14 properties containing more than 100 units were involved.
  • 1984: Mayor Washington named a task force in Chicago to study the problem of abandoned buildings. Helped by a new state law, the task force recommended that the city begin placing problem buildings into receivership thereby allowing rents collected by a receiver to be used solely for repairing a building. Lawyers’ Committee immediately began using the new law and convincing housing court judges to also levy and force the collection of fines, which could then be used to fix up deteriorating buildings.
  • 1985
  • 1985: The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing and Senn Academy received first prize in the American Bar Association’s 1985 Law Day public service competition for their program on housing discrimination against families with children. LCBH conducted classes for 400 juniors and seniors at Senn on how Illinois Landlord-Tenant laws reflected the Law Day theme “Liberty and Justice for All.”
  • 1985: ABA First Place Public Service Award for Law Day Programs.
  • 1985: LCBH chaired the Campaign for Responsible Ownership (CRO), a broad based coalition which explored the mechanisms to move distressed buildings to more responsible owners. CRO’s first report resulted in legislative and administrative changes including the reduction of the delinquency period for scavenger sale properties from five years to two.
  • 1985: Lawyers’ Committee provided leadership in coordinating the efforts of the Lead Elimination Action Drive (LEAD), the coalition for Housing Reform and the Chicago Affordable Housing Coalition.
  • 1986: Chicago’s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) was passed under the administration of Mayor Harold Washington. The ordinance allows tenants to withhold rent or to make repairs and deduct from their rent, when conditions in the building are bad. Although limited in its scope, the ordinance was a victory for LCBH and other advocates that had been working for years to advance tenants’ rights.
  • 1986: Lawyers’ Committee was appointed to the Mayor’s Task Force on Lead Poisoning and drafted the legislative recommendations in the final report.
  • 1989: CRO’s second report and recommendations released.
  • 1990
  • 1990: First LCBH Renters’ Resource Guide published and distributed.
  • 1991: Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing produced the report “No Children Allowed: A Report of the Obstacles Faced by Renters with Children in the Chicago Rental Housing Market” (in conjunction with Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization and Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities).
  • 1994: Settled Hardy v. Nedialkov, federal suit charging sexual harassment on behalf of client.
  • 1994: Produced updated “Renters’ Resource Guide” to assist tenants with remedies available under the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant ordinance.
  • 1994: The first city wide REACH (Renters Escrow Account and Community/Housing Fund) caucus was convened by RPCAN, MTO and LCBH, Access Living and other groups. The REACH project proposed a new arrangement of a master escrow fund for handling security deposits, addressing multiple problems.
  • 1995
  • 1995: PAVE (Private Attorney Volunteer Effort) project began to assist low income clients in eviction court through trained and sensitive volunteer attorneys. PAVE enhanced the growth of its volunteers by providing advanced legal training and litigation techniques and other support while exposing the volunteers to the diverse aspects of the client’s lives. Now known as the Attorney of the Day Program (AOD).
  • 1996: Launched the Fair Housing Project, focusing on enforcement of fair housing laws in areas of familial status discrimination and gender discrimination, including sexual harassment. Program operated three years, the period of HUD funding, and processed over 200 complaints a year, providing information and referral, representation in settlement negotiations and hearings, and conducting audits to document discrimination in rental housing.
  • 1996: Updated, printed, and distributed “The Renters Resource Guide.”
  • 1996: Study of Eviction Court: “Time to Move: The Institutional Denial of Tenants’ Rights in Chicago’s Eviction Court” released based on court monitoring.
  • 1996: PAVE reconfigured as the Attorney of the Day Program.
  • 1997: Named 1997Community Peacemaker of the Year by Peace Museum in the area of civil rights.
  • 1997: AOD Program Honored by Lawyers’ Trust Fund of Illinois.
  • 1998: Conducted housing discrimination workshops at Chicago elementary and high schools. Provided representation in 28 fair housing cases.
  • 1998: Established annual LCBH Housing Advocacy Award in honor of Barbara Grau, former staff attorney and a dedicated housing advocate.
  • 1999: Won precedent-setting appeal establishing that representation provided by civil legal services providers is worth amounts comparable to private attorneys of the same caliber and experience.
  • 1999: HUD Certificate of Achievement for AOD Program.
  • 1999: Admitted to United Way Membership.
  • 2000
  • 2000: Participated in writing and printing Eviction Bench Book, accepted by the Court as authority for eviction cases.
  • 2000: Chicago Rents Right and members, including LCBH, receive Certificate of Achievement from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, 2000 Illinois Best Practices “Simply the Best,” in honor of outstanding contribution to the community and to the workplace.
  • 2001: Updated “Renters’ Resource Guide” with separate Guide in Spanish.
  • 2002: Initiated first-ever social services for agency legal clients with funding from The Chicago Community Trust and The Field Foundation.
  • 2002: Hired LCBH’s first full-time Director of Housing Policy and Advocacy with funding from Woods Charitable Fund and Field Foundation.
  • 2002: Produced “Locked Out: Barriers to Choice for Housing Choice Voucher Holders,” a report based on LCBH testing of Chicago landlords that documents discrimination against families with Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly Sect. 8). Media coverage included a front-page headline and story in the Sun Times.
  • 2002: Board of Directors added a Policy Committee to guide LCBH policy efforts in the affordable housing area.
  • 2003: Added a new legal program, the Tenant Advocacy Project, to assist tenants with difficulties such as building conditions, lockouts, and utility shutoffs. Legal staff now consists of three full-time attorneys.
  • 2003: Launched Homesharing Program, with initial funding from the Eleanor Foundation, the Retirement Research Foundation, and the Topfer Foundation. Partnering with Interfaith Open Communities, the program operated out of Hyde Park.
  • 2003: With other organizations, advocated to add source of income protection to the State’s fair housing ordinance and to expand statewide rights for tenants through a landlord-tenant act.
  • 2003: Released “No Time for Justice,” in conjunction with Kent Law School Honors Scholars, documenting mistreatment of tenants in eviction court based on monitoring of nearly 800 hearings. Featured in Chicago Tribune and 11 other media outlets.
  • 2004: Coordinated the Housing Advocacy Consortium which began regular meetings with Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Presiding Judge Kenneth Wright to implement reforms in eviction court as outlined in LCBH court monitoring study and report.
  • 2004: Rented additional space at 220 S. State, more than doubling the office square footage, to accommodate staff of 11, plus eight summer interns and volunteers.
  • 2004: Raised matching funds for an Equal Justice Fellow to concentrate on issues of discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher families. Four full-time attorneys now staffing LCBH programs.
  • 2005
  • 2005: Celebrated 25 years of serving tenants in Chicago.
  • 2005: Received United Way Venture Grant for Eviction Court Education Project and social services in the Daley Center for unrepresented tenants.
  • 2005: Initiated Hearts for Housing, an annual signature event to raise funds for LCBH programs.
  • 2005: Began coordination of Chicago Fair Housing Education Consortium with funding from the Chicago Department of Housing.
  • 2005: Two Americorps/Vista volunteers joined the staff.
  • 2006: Launched the Better Housing Action Network to provide a voice for tenants on housing issues that impact their lives. Activities included participating in Lobby Day in Springfield.
  • 2007: In the midst of the Condo Conversion boom, AHPP responds to tenants who are unfairly impacted by loss of utilities, lack of repairs, and unlivable conditions due to building conversion activities.
  • 2007: LCBH Eviction Court Educational Video makes its debut at the Daley Center, providing vital information to pro se tenants and landlords on how to prepare for eviction court hearings.
  • 2008: LCBH sounds the alarm regarding the impact of the foreclosure crisis on tenants and launches the Tenants in Foreclosure Project (TFIP), funded with two-year funding from the MacArthur Foundation.
  • 2009: Named first Brach-Brodie Fellow with funding establishing an endowment from the Brach Foundation, a long-time funder that closed its doors.
  • 2009: TFIP initiated weekly large building reports documenting foreclosure filings in 16 targeted community neighborhoods.
  • 2009: State legislation promoted by LCBH to seal records of tenants evicted due to the foreclosure of their building passes in Springfield.
  • 2010
  • 2010: Celebrated 30-year anniversary of LCBH at the Annual Reception and Awards Ceremony.
  • 2010: Young Professionals Board launched; initial event a Chicago Fire outing.
  • 2011: TFIP released its second annual report on the foreclosure crisis as it relates to tenants in Chicago. The report, “Banks Avoid Foreclosure law, Uproot Renters: A Call for Enforcement of Tenant Protections” announces that in the last two years 12, 334 Chicago apartment buildings went into foreclosure affecting 37,726 units of housing- a majority of these low to moderate-income affordable housing units. In 2010, an average of 123 buildings a week entered into foreclosure.
  • 2011: A Night at the Opera with LCBH featured The March: A Civil Rights Project. The performers sang of discrimination, fear and bravery. LCBH noted that its mission is rooted in Martin Luther King’s vision of open housing and this opera project, although portraying events almost 50 years ago, reminded all that there is much work to be done.
  • 2011: Affordable Housing Preservation Program worked with tenants groups in 33 multi-family buildings impacting 2,450 units and provided training on the their rights to 200 tenants.
  • 2012: Individual foreclosure counselings provided through TFIP for 528 renters. Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk in the Daley Center expands reach of TFIP.
  • 2011: Supportive Services department assisted 117 families to locate alternative housing and other essential services to help prevent any period of homelessness.
  • 2011: $838,629.24 in waived rent and damages awarded in favor of LCBH tenant clients.
  • 2013: Cook County Board passes an amendment to include Housing Choice Vouchers as a protected class in its fair housing ordinance. LCBH worked with other advocates for ten years to achieve this important goal.
  • 2013: TFIP, in conjunction with the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, spearheads passage of a City ordinance designed to increase renter protections and remain in their homes until it is sold to a third party purchaser