Mark’s Musings – January 2020 Edition

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I'm excited to share some of the "new year" resolutions we've set here at LCBH.

Plan ahead. Housing justice in Chicago is ever-evolving and we want to ensure LCBH is both nimble and effective for our clients and community. This week, we begin the process of creating a new three-year strategic plan for the organization. Email me if you have thoughts or suggestions for us to consider.

Build on 2019 Accomplishments. It was a big year for LCBH! Among many accomplishments, I want to highlight three of our most notable:

  • The Chicago Evictions Data Portal. In May 2019, we launched the Chicago Evictions Data Portal, which compiles court data from 2010-17 and allows users to identify trends by community area and ward. Our analysis casts light on Chicago’s evictions crisis - the city saw an average of more than 23,000 eviction filings per year, or just over 3.9 filings per 100 rental units. It also reveals troubling disparities by racial composition, including substantially higher rates of eviction filings (2-4 times higher) in majority black areas with little benefit seen from recent declines in filing rates. Another key finding is that 82% of eviction cases made claims for back rent, with 62% for less than $2,500. Finally, the portal shows that legal aid representation makes a significant impact. Renters received eviction orders 62% of the time without an attorney; with a private attorney this dropped to 50%; with legal aid attorney representation, only 22% of eviction cases ended in eviction orders. Full briefs with key findings and LCBH’s recommendations to address Chicago’s eviction crisis, including eviction as an impediment to fair housing, increased access to State Homeless Prevention funds, and "Right to Counsel" for all Chicago renters, can be found at eviction.lcbh.org/reports.
  • Court-based Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CERA). Due to our Eviction Diversion Program (EDP) pilot’s success, in 2019 LCBH was invited to become an Emergency Fund partner agency with All Chicago, and CERA became a fully staffed LCBH program. CERA is a court-based, integrated resource for judges and other court stakeholders. It reduces the court’s docket, offers the opportunity to avoid costly litigation, and most importantly, helps Chicago families avoid the harsh and long lasting results of an eviction order. Based in room 1303 of the Daley Center, LCBH’s Supportive Services team screen those who may qualify and provide renters with state Homeless Prevention Funds, intensive short-term case management services, and free legal representation. Funds can be used to cover unpaid rent sought by landlords or first month’s rent and security deposit. Updates to the program have raised the ceiling for a qualified renter from $2,500 to $5,000. Since July 2019, CERA has distributed over $80,000 in state Homeless Prevention Funds.
  • Restoring court recording in eviction court. In 2019, digital recording devices were finally installed in all non-jury eviction courtrooms at the Daley Center. Prior to the installation, eviction proceedings were not recorded unless a party brought their own private court reporter. Without a transcript of the proceedings, it was extremely challenging for legal aid attorneys to appeal decisions, creating an access to justice and accountability problem for the courts. LCBH had been advocating for the restoration of court recording for many years. The eviction recording device project was a collaborative effort of many groups including the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Circuit Court of Cook County Pro Se Advisory Committee. Read more about the project in the Chicago Reader’s October 30, 2019 article "For the first time in 16 years, Chicago eviction court is on tape."

Reconnect with old friends. In my last column, I shared that Thursday, October 8, 2020 is our 40th Anniversary Celebration at Buddy Guy's Legends - mark your calendar now! Hundreds if not thousands of individuals have contributed to LCBH's impact on Chicago renters in the last four decades. We will be doing all we can to reach out and include past alumni, volunteers and friends in the festivities.

Want to help with the 40th celebration planning? Email Allen Hailey to learn more. I also encourage you to Share Your Story and enrich our historical perspectives.

2020 is going to be an exciting year. I hope yours is off to a great start!

Until next time,

Mark