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.
For many of us, the holiday season means spending more time with family, sharing good food and conversation, and cozying up in our warm homes. But for Michelle King, a single mother of three children, much of the excitement for the upcoming season had to be put on hold. You see, Michelle received an eviction notice from her landlord, giving her only five days to move out and throwing her family into crisis.
Michelle was not only worried about where she and her kids would go, but she was also confused. She had always paid her rent on time, even though the apartment had many problems, including broken heat. After unsuccessfully trying to get her landlord to fix the issues, Michelle called the city to complain. She certainly didn’t think she could get evicted because of it.
The Supportive Services team at LCBH helps provide holistic solutions that go beyond the short term legal crisis. Our social workers help our most vulnerable clients by performing assessments, locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing guidance to other essential services. The collaborative environment we have built between our lawyers and our social workers has become a crucial part in our efforts to best serve our clients. One of our ongoing struggles in fostering this team approach has been about how to best resolve the conflict between privacy and mandated reporting.
Social workers are “mandated reporters” and are required to report any suspicions of abuse/neglect with regards to children, seniors or people with disabilities as well as any suspicions of self-harm. Lawyers, on the other hand, are not required to report this information but are instead bound by attorney-client privilege to protect the client’s confidences.
We may not realize it, but many people are “one paycheck away from being homeless.” Unfortunately this is the reality for many of those we see at LCBH. They can pay for rent, utility bills, childcare costs, food, medicines, etc. only as long as their next paycheck lasts. For many individuals, a single paycheck can mean the difference between being housed and being homeless. At LCBH, the attorneys and social workers understand that being “at risk of homelessness” is rarely ever an isolated issue and is often related to greater issues of economics, mental health, familial stability, etc. Faced with situations in any of these areas, an individual can go from paying their bills on time to facing homelessness without the help of an external source.
Rachel Jones was on maternity leave when she arrived at LCBH with a 5-day notice for eviction due to non-payment of rent. Rachel is a mother to a happy-go-lucky nine-year-old son named Devon and recently gave birth to her daughter Grace. Together the family lives in a two-bedroom apartment that she has been renting for the last several years. Rachel’s top priority is taking care of her two children and her full-time job.
Our Intake Supervisor, Sue Scholten, has been with LCBH for five years. In this article, Sue shares some perspectives on the integration of supportive services when helping renters with legal problems.
According to Sue, it all starts with the intake interview, which is not really an interview, but rather a conversation that involves listening to the multiple messages the person presents and the environment from which those messages emerge.
In the beginning, when listening to an individual’s story for the first time, we look for factual information that are legal defenses to an eviction and can inform the attorneys when deciding whether LCBH will be able to take the case or not. During this process, there are multiple messages about the “person in environment” that emerge and may be of concern to LCBH’s supportive services team. Underneath the basic facts of their potential legal case, there is the psychological and narrative messages that have evolved from long- term economic disadvantage, non-responsive institutional systems, and family and friend support systems with limited resources to assist this person.
Just as an individual’s personal experiences may create inspiring resiliency, for others there is psychological and social exhaustion that evolves from systems that create disadvantage and exclusion. It is in this undefined area of response to events that an individual may need additional assistance in the form of supportive services.
LCBH welcomes four interns to the Supportive Services team for the Spring semester of 2015. These interns gain valuable professional experience while helping LCBH clients facing housing instability or possible homelessness.
Carla Feger – Carla is a first-year student at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During college, she studied psychology and took some education courses to learn more about equity concerns in education. As Carla continued her learning process, she served with City Year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and mentored seventh-grade students who taught her a lot about the world. This experience affirmed her passion to work with students to help provide them with a rewarding experience and to achieve to the fullest potential. Carla decided to pursue a Masters in School Social Work and chose to intern with LCBH’s Supportive Services department to learn more about the housing issues that families face and how those issues significantly affect students’ lives, including their success in school.
This summer LCBH has four undergraduate interns working in our Supportive Services Department. This is a BIG help as our graduate interns are only here during the regular school year from September until June. Without these students who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the level of service our clients need. Here are a few highlights from each of the students:
Helena Bassett is interning at LCBH through the Summer Links program at the University of Chicago, where she is entering her third year. She is studying history and critical theory, and spends most of her time organizing with the student arm of the Trauma Center Coalition. Working with Supportive Services, Helena is crafting a survey to help get a clearer picture of tenants’ actual needs beyond legal help when they are accepted as an LCBH client. Right now, that means she gets to connect with some of the amazing tenants that have already gone through Supportive Services so that the tenants’ own perspectives help shape the survey and the direction of the program. “I believe that one of the most fundamental ways that asymmetrical power structures are expressed is through the often unjust relationship between tenant and landlord. Working at LCBH shows me one of the avenues possible for challenging that structure.”
Increasingly, it is more and more difficult for Supportive Services to provide the level of services our tenants need to attain housing stability. The recession has been difficult on most of us, but it seems the greatest burden has been placed on those least able to afford it.
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.
LCBH recently had a huge multi-layered victory in the Attorney of the Day Eviction Defense program. A family in need was allowed to remain in their home thanks to LCBH attorneys and a third year senior law student’s strident advocacy at trial and an emergency grant from a great new LCBH partner to help the family recover from a financial set-back.
JaQuan is a single mother caring for her two children (ages 16 and 9) and her 63-year-old disabled mother. The family has lived in a property owned by the Chicago Housing Authority since 2001. In June of 2012, JaQuan’s social security income was reduced and she no longer had the means to pay her rent by the first of the month. She had a supplemental source of income, but she did not receive this money until around the middle of the month. After the change in income, she began paying her rent immediately after receiving her supplemental money, usually around the 20th of each month. The management company accepted her late rent for seven months until January of this year when they served a notice demanding that JaQuan pay her rent within five days, or her tenancy would terminate. JaQuan attempted to pay her rent, plus the late fee, but the management company refused her payment and filed for eviction.
We first met Cokeitha in May of 2011. At that time, she and her son were living with her mother and sister. Her mother was being sued in eviction court after a long dispute with their landlord over much-needed building repairs. Our legal staff was able to get the case dismissed, but the relationship with the landlord had deteriorated such that the negotiated settlement also required that the family move out of the apartment.
At the same time, Cokeitha’s father was also looking to move, so Cokeitha made plans to live with her dad and they found a nice apartment where they thought they would be happy. Given the circumstances, everything seemed to be working out fine, until suddenly and unexpectedly, a few weeks before they were set to move, Cokeitha’s father died. Heartbroken and grieving, she knew she was not able to afford the new apartment on her own. Her new landlord was understanding and allowed her to break the lease, but now Cokeitha found herself without a home. Cokeitha and her son stayed temporarily with family and friends, but not wanting to be a burden, she quickly found a very small apartment with a short-term lease for her and her son. A few months later, she found a better, larger apartment and has been living there happily ever since.