More than 23,000 eviction filings per year in Chicago open new door on housing problems

Chicago Evictions Data Portal

LCBH's new Chicago Evictions data portal, https://eviction.lcbh.org, was released Thursday, May 16, before some 200 supporters of the organization, advocates, policymakers, and others at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St. Based on Chicago residential eviction court records filed during the calendar years of 2010-2017 with the Circuit Court of Cook County, the portal’s unveiling was supported by a grant from Polk Bros. Foundation.

"Being in eviction court has consequences way beyond losing an apartment," says Mark Swartz, executive director of LCBH, the only legal aid agency in the Chicago area advocating solely for renters since 1980. "Our data highlight a series of problems we must solve if the city is to have decent, fair and affordable housing – and help point the way toward some of those solutions, as well."

One example of a consequence is that eviction filings make it difficult for tenants to find a new apartment even if the filing does not result in eviction, due to the way tenant screening services currently use eviction filing data.

Swartz adds that with the growing recognition that eviction is not merely a symptom but a cause of poverty, cities and states nationally are addressing the causes and consequences. He cites New York City, which invested millions in a "Right to Counsel" program that provides attorneys for those facing evictions after a cost-benefit study there showed it would be more economical than letting tenants fend for themselves.

The data portal highlights eviction filing rates and eviction court judgment rates (eviction orders). It provides Chicago Ward and Community Area breakdowns from 2010-2017. Key findings from the data portal are highlighted in three policy briefs produced by LCBH:

Chicago’s Eviction Crisis: Between 2010 and 2017, Chicago saw an average of more than 23,000 eviction filings per year, or just over 3.9 eviction filings per 100 rental units. About 60% of cases ended in eviction orders.

Chicago Community Areas showed troubling disparities by racial composition, including substantially higher rates of eviction filings (two to four times higher) in majority black areas with little benefit seen in these same areas from recent declines in citywide eviction filing rates. LCBH advocates for including eviction in the recently launched Regional Assessment of Fair Housing process, as an impediment to fair housing, and that appropriate remedial actions should be proposed.

Most Families Forced Out for Less than $2,500 Back Rent: 82% of eviction cases filed between 2010 and 2017 made claims for back rent. Almost two thirds of the eviction cases claiming back rent were for relatively small amounts of money. In 18% of those cases, the amount owed was less than $1,000, and an additional 44% were for less than $2,500.

To offset the human and public costs of homelessness, LCBH is advocating that Homeless Prevention funding be increased so that renters who are in need of assistance and are eligible can access these funds through various rental assistance programs, including LCBH's in-court Eviction Diversion Program, throughout the entire fiscal year.

Legal Aid Attorneys Make the Difference: Attorneys represented landlords in 79% of eviction cases filed in 2010-2017, but attorneys represented tenants in only 11% of those same cases. Further analysis by LCBH showed the consequences of that imbalance.

Eviction cases filed in 2010-2017 ended with an eviction order in 62% of cases where tenants lacked an attorney. But eviction cases ended with an eviction order in just 50% of cases when tenants had a private attorney. Eviction cases were even more likely to end favorably for tenants who had legal aid attorneys representing them, as only 22% of those cases ended in eviction orders. LCBH is advocating for a “Right to Counsel” for renters in eviction court.

Analysis is based on LCBH's review of Chicago residential eviction court records of cases filed during the calendar years of 2010-2017 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Reports as well as data, along with additional analysis and methods, can be accessed on the Chicago Evictions data portal at https://eviction.lcbh.org.