Blog: Discrimination

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

Edna’s Ordeal Ends Well with LCBH at Her Side

Edna is a funny, vibrant single mother of three small children. For five years she provided a wonderful home for her family in a building where she a great relationship with her landlord and property manager. Having a stable, decent and affordable place to call home gave her a lot of comfort and gave her the ability to focus on her job and her kids. She was looking forward to many more years in a neighborhood she loved and in a school that was great for her kids. That is until one day, it all changed – her landlord lost the building, including her home, to foreclosure.

Thanks to the hard work of many Chicago advocates, including LCBH, Chicago now has an ordinance that helps to protect renters who are scooped up in the foreclosure process through no fault of their own. When a landlord loses an apartment building to foreclosure, the new owner must either offer to renew (or extend) the existing tenants’ lease or offer to give them relocation assistance. Edna was relieved that the new owner of her building was going to work with her to keep her in her home rather than evict her.

April is Fair Housing Month

April, we come together as a community and a nation to celebrate the anniversary of the passing of the Fair Housing Act and recommit to that goal which inspired us in the aftermath of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968: to eliminate housing discrimination and create equal opportunity in every community.

Fundamentally, fair housing means that every person can live free. This means that our communities are open and welcoming, free from housing discrimination and hostility. But this also means that each one of us, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability, has access to neighborhoods of opportunity, where our children can attend quality schools, our environment allows us to be healthy, and economic opportunities and self sufficiency can grow.

Our commitment to fair housing is a living commitment, one that reflects the needs of America today and prepares us for a future of true integration.

Bey Family

Veronica Bey came to LCBH in May 2013 looking for help. Veronica, her father, and her four (soon to be five) children participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program. The apartment they were living in was no longer eligible for the program because of failed apartment inspections by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and, as a result, the landlord evicted the Bey family from their home. With the help of the LCBH legal team, Veronica and her family were able to reach a settlement that provided the family with additional time to move out. Housing Choice Voucher holders often encounter difficulty in finding places to rent, and since the Beys were unable to find new housing by the agreed deadline an “Order of Possession” (eviction order) was entered against them.

At this point, the LCBH Supportive Services team stepped in to help. In July, the Beys located a suitable unit with a landlord who was willing to rent to them. The CHA was not able to issue the required moving papers until August and sadly, the landlord decided to rent to another family.

In that same month, Veronica gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby. With the help of their friends, family and church, the Beys were able to temporarily move into an apartment above their church.

Fair Housing Webinars

The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) recently created a series of new Fair Housing webinars funded as a partnership project by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The series of webinars covers major fair housing issues and is designed to educate stakeholders and the general public about fair housing law under federal law as well as the Illinois Human Rights Act.

All the webinars are available as online videos that can be accessed at any time on the website of Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO). The webinars will educate the public on their fair housing rights and provide information for housing providers on their responsibilities under fair housing law. The topics include the housing rights laws for persons with disabilities, for LGBT individuals, for new Americans and immigrants, for condo and coop associations and a general fair housing overview. Three of the webinars are in both English and Spanish versions, and closed captioning is available.

Advocates present for passage of SOI protections

A historic moment in county history and a victory for tenants and housing advocates! Last Wednesday, May 8, 2013, the Cook County Board voted to end the exclusion of Housing Choice Voucher holders—Section 8— from source of income protections in Cook County’s Human Rights Ordinance. Housing advocates and a few progressive county commissioners have been fighting for this amendment for almost 10 years.

Back in December, LCBH’s own Kathy Clark discussed housing voucher discrimination at length and highlighted what has been a lengthy struggle to extend protections for voucher holders throughout Cook County.

The vote was truly a victory, and a collaborative effort by sponsors of the amendment: Commissioners Garcia, Suffredin, and Steele and the core advocate groups: Open Communities, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Access Living, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, and Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance (CAFHA).

Juan and Maria

The Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense team at LCBH recently represented Juan and Maria Salazar (not their real names) and their three small children. The family was being evicted from their apartment in South Chicago for alleged non-payment of rent. Maria is a woman from Mexico whose status in the U.S. is undocumented. Juan is a U.S. citizen, Maria is from Mexico and their three children are U.S.-born. The Salazars discovered that the utility meters in their two-unit building were arranged such that they were paying the electricity bill for the common areas of the building and garage, which is a violation of the Illinois Rental Property Utility Service Act.

CAFHA

The Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance (CAFHA) is a consortium of fair housing and advocacy organizations, government agencies, and municipalities committed to the value of fair housing, diversity, and integration. CAFHA works to combat housing discrimination and promote integrated communities of opportunity through research, education, and advocacy.

LCBH has a longstanding partnership with CAFHA; Kathy Clark, retired LCBH Executive Director, formerly served on the board and now current LCBH Executive Director, Cheryl Lawrence, serves as board treasurer. LCBH Buildings Administrator Patricia Fron worked for CAFHA as the John Lukehart Public Policy Fellow throughout 2012, where she and a team of several other CAFHA members published reports on housing issues including segregation, land banking, and voucher discrimination.

Recently, CAHFA has been in the midst of conducting a year-long research project, the culmination of which will be a regional analysis of impediments to fair housing which is due to be released in early 2013. Through this report CAFHA aims to highlight the fair housing issues prevalent in the region and develop strategies to mitigate the impact of segregation.

Ending Housing Voucher Discrimination in Cook County

LCBH, working with a host of other housing advocates throughout Cook County, is supporting an amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) making it illegal to discriminate against Housing Choice Voucher holders.

CCHRO currently protects people from discrimination based on their source of income but exempts those with Housing Choice Vouchers from protection. This allows landlords and other housing providers to refuse renting to otherwise qualified individuals and families solely because their rent would be subsidized. Source of Income protection in the CCHRO explicitly excludes voucher holders, thus the proposed amendment is to eliminate that exclusion.

The Housing Choice Voucher program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assists very low- income families, the elderly, and the disabled with affording decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Housing assistance is provided on behalf of individuals or families (defined as having children present in the home) and participants are able to find their own housing in the private market, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. In Cook County, the program is administered by the Housing Authority of Cook County and serves over 13,000 families.

Tackling Housing Discrimination Head-On

Leta Young resided in her apartment for five years before the building went into foreclosure, “I was forced to hurry up and get out because the new owners were investors and wanted me out in 30 days. That’s when I sought help.” Soon after the new owners informed Leta that she had to vacate her apartment in 30 days she found Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.

Patricia Fron, LCBH Building Programs Administrator explains, “We did foreclosure counseling and found that the building was sold through a short sale. We negotiated directly with the new owner to get Leta more time to stay while she searched for new housing. Leta also participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program and we worked with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to make sure she did not lose her voucher.”

“Patricia really got the ball rolling and was really there for me,” says Leta. “She listened to my story and told me the things I needed to do. A lot of people were not accepting Housing Choice Vouchers and I was fairly new to the voucher program so I thought I was doing the right thing by being upfront with landlords.” Even with the help of LCBH, 35 out of 45 landlords turned Leta down because of her voucher and it took her months to secure new housing.

1. A landlord doesn’t return a voice mail from an African-American applicant interested in renting an apartment, but does call a white applicant back.

2. A property manager tells a family with children that they can’t rent the only available apartment because it is on the third floor with a balcony and that would be dangerous for their young children.

3. A veteran in a wheelchair is told that he can’t rent an available apartment in a four-flat because there are stairs and no ramp.

Discrimination? Yes, no, or maybe?

Scenarios like this are offered in trainings on housing discrimination laws, provided throughout Chicago by the Fair Housing Education Consortium (FHEC), a project funded by the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Now completing its fourth year, FHEC has completed 140 trainings, reaching 500-600 people annually throughout the city. Information is given on who and what is protected under city state and federal fair housing laws. Attendees include community organizations, immigrant groups, landlords and tenants alike.

The formation of the consortium was initiated by LCBH, which continues to coordinate the project. Other member agencies include Access Living, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the John Marshall Fair Housing Legal Support Center.