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.
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.
For this month’s Q&A, we sat down for a conversation with Noah Magaram, an LCBH staff attorney who focuses much of his work on eviction defense. A graduate of DePaul University College of Law, Noah came to LCBH in Fall 2011 as a volunteer, and has been a staff attorney since September 2012.
Q: What made you choose to work at a legal aid agency?
I resolved when applying to law school to enter a practice area that was oriented toward the public interest. I became interested in housing law specifically after writing a legislative history of the Fair Housing Act in undergrad.
Q: What program(s) do you work on at LCBH?
My time is spent mostly in the Tenant Advocacy Program. Most of my caseload is composed of eviction defense, with a minority of cases relating to affirmative lawsuits for illegal lockouts and Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) violation cases.
Q: How many cases are you working on at a time? How do you manage?
I usually have 30-40 open cases at any given time. I use our case management system and my calendar to schedule and document as many details of the cases as possible so that my mind is free to deal with the client in front of me.
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.
John is a young disabled man who has had asthma all of his life. John is unable to work and he lives on very limited resources and income from Social Security. John recently moved into a new apartment and every time there was a heavy rain, his apartment would flood. As a result, mold was visible on his living room walls and kitchen cabinets, which he would scrub with soap to remove the mold. John documented the damage and contacted his property manager every time it happened. The property manager tried to address the flooding issues with various repairs, but the mold continued to come back.
While seeing his doctor for something unrelated, John mentioned he had some difficulty breathing in his home sometimes. During his examination, the issue of the re-occurring mold came up. Because mold spores can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals, the doctor was concerned that John’s housing situation may be the cause.
Luckily for John, his doctor works for PCC Community Wellness Center – a medical partner of Healthy Housing Chicago – a medical-legal partnership between LCBH, Loretto Hospital and PCC. The program is a bridge for patients to connect them to legal services, because health issues can be caused or exacerbated by unsafe housing conditions.
During her annual checkup, Shannon’s doctor asked whether she was experiencing any stress. Shannon explained she was very stressed because the property manager at her building would not accept her rent, and she had received a five-day notice threatening to evict her from her apartment. Shannon’s doctor explained that they had a lawyer onsite and that maybe this lawyer could help her situation.
The lawyer that the doctor was referring to is from Healthy Housing Chicago. Last year, LCBH embarked on a new project with Loretto Hospital and PCC Community Wellness Center to develop a medical-legal partnership known as Healthy Housing Chicago. Located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, the hospital and adjacent clinic strive to meet the healthcare needs of low-income families in the community. The primary goal of Healthy Housing Chicago is to integrate legal services into a patient’s treatment plan to both improve their overall health outcomes, as well as their housing.
After the doctor’s appointment, Shannon walked down the hall to meet with the lawyer. Upon speaking with the LCBH attorney, Shannon learned that the landlord was required to accept the rent within the five-day notice period, and that if paid, the landlord could not continue with the eviction. The LCBH attorney told Shannon to try to pay the rent again, but to properly document the refusal, to protect herself from an eviction.
Amanda and George Fullerton have lived in Chicago all their lives. They had recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment, which costs $850 a month, on the Southside of the city with their adult daughter. George Fullerton makes a modest living as a truck driver and is the sole breadwinner for his family (his wife and daughter are not employed). The family lived peacefully in their home and paid their rent on time. This spring Mrs. Fullerton came to LCBH with a pending eviction case. She was confused, because she had recently paid rent and was unsure of why this case was being filed.
Apparently, George and Amanda had seen someone new around the property that had informed them that there was a “new owner” and that the previous owner had gone into foreclosure. The “new owner” assured the Fullertons that he would still be renting to them. That was the first and last time they ever heard from the new owner. An attorney at LCBH was able to access the case and explained to Mrs. Fullerton that she had not properly received the compliant and court summons. LCBH informed her that the case had been filed against unknown occupants by the purchaser at the foreclosure sale.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton had been known. They had signed a lease that was still valid until the end of October with the former landlord, their name was on the mailbox, and Mr. Fullerton had recently spoken to the new owner in March.
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.
The foreclosure crisis, affecting more than 70,000 Chicago rental properties since 2008, the CHA “Plan for Transformation,” and other forces have accelerated the pace of neighborhood change and concern about gentrification. To be clear, the concern is not about repairing dilapidated properties; everyone wants that. Rather, the concern is about the physical displacement of poor and working class families. This concern frequently includes not only economic displacement, but cultural dislocation as well. For a graphic sense of neighborhood change in Chicago 1970-2010, see the UIC Voorhees Center’s Gentrification Index at http://www.voorheescenter.com/#!gentrification-index/ccmx.
The Northwest Side Housing Center recently contacted Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) and requested training for housing counselors who are preparing to broaden their services to include renters. Counselors from the Northwest Side Housing Center, the Spanish Coalition for Housing, the Center for Changing Lives, and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council were able to attend LCBH’s training and we discussed a variety of matters impacting their clients such as termination notices, the impact of foreclosure on renters, and issues related to lead poisoning. Now, when these housing counselors encounter renters needing legal assistance, they have a trusted resource in LCBH as well as the tools they need to asses and refer those clients.
For many years housing counseling agencies have been important resources in their communities, offering counseling, support and assistance to homeowners who are trying to save their homes from foreclosure as well as assisting and educating applicants seeking mortgages. These agencies offer free help to residents in their local community with respect to housing issues. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulates these housing counseling agencies.
Each year Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) hosts a legal intern through the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Law Student Internship Program. The program connects law students from across the country with legal aid agencies in Illinois. Interns work part-time during the school year to help increase the impact of the agency and develop their legal skills.
This year, LCBH is excited to work with Adrien Fernandez. Adrien grew up in a suburb of Akron, Ohio and moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State University. She always wanted to live in Chicago so when she was applying to law schools, she mainly focused on schools in the city. She now attends Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
We sat down with Adrien for a Q & A to learn more about her.
Q: What was your major at Ohio State?
A: I double majored in History and Spanish.
Q: What inspired you to attend Law School?
A: While at Ohio State, I became interested in working for the government but I was not sure in what capacity. During my senior year, I had an internship with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office in their Death Penalty Division. I enjoyed the work and thought that what the attorneys did there was admirable. This really cemented for me that I wanted to work for the public and becoming an attorney was a way I could do that.