Gentrification. We hear that word a lot about Chicago’s neighborhoods on the city’s north and northwest sides. What is gentrification? Gentrification is defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Renters in one building in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood know the effects of gentrification first hand. Over the last three years, their building had gone through foreclosure and the court appointment of a property manager. Last year, a developer purchased the property. The developer appeared to be doing things correctly, providing tenants with proper notices and managers to handle the needs of the building. Then construction began on the building; residents were enthusiastic about the improvements to be made to the building. However the construction turned into unsafe conditions; porches were torn down without notice; unannounced water shut-offs; and loud construction. After the improvements started to take place, each tenant received a thirty-day notice to move. They soon realized that after the building received upgrades, they would no longer be able to afford to rent their current homes.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) approached lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) about the building’s situation and a group of renters who wanted to organize in order to protect their rights. LCBH helped them form a tenants’ union and challenged the thirty-day notices. An organized group of renters can be a powerful vehicle for protecting renters’ rights, allowing their collective voices be heard louder, facilitating the sharing of ideas, putting pressure on building owners to do the right thing, and creating a real sense of community among neighbors. Some of the tenants had lived in the building and the community for more than 20 years, including an elderly woman who had worked at the same Vienna Sausage stand in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. One of the renters had recently undergone brain surgery.
The developers initially wanted to avoid offering a group settlement for everyone in the building and began to make individual settlements with some tenants. LCBH attorneys approached the developers and convinced them that a group settlement would be better for everyone involved and were able to negotiate an agreement on behalf of the building’s remaining tenants. These tenants were allowed to remain in the building until spring (as long as they stayed current on their rent), and wouldn’t be forced to move during the final cold winter months. The tenants also received a financial settlement, providing relocation funds to help with their moving expenses.
While we don’t have a long-term solution to the issues of tenant displacement and the loss of affordable housing that arise because of gentrification, LCBH believes that renters already losing their homes to redevelopment shouldn’t be further short-changed by mistreatment during the process. LCBH believes everyone deserves safe, decent, and affordable housing. Thanks to the efforts of LSNA, the tenants’ union and LCBH staff attorneys, these long-time residents of the neighborhood were able to address the issues in their building and receive some assistance as they made arrangements to find new places to call home.