In October of 2011, a dozen Albany Park families were on the verge of losing their homes and only had two weeks to move out. The building they lived in was going through foreclosure and to complicate matters, the owners had abandoned the property, leaving it replete with problems including a dangerous heating system, mold, faulty electrical wiring, and sewer backups. The pressing safety issues caused the city to place an order to swiftly vacate the property.
The families in this building included couples with small children, extended families and elderly couples enjoying their retirement years. They were very worried about moving and leaving the neighborhood they had come to love. They wondered whether they could find new affordable homes that were generally accessible, including accommodations for those with limited mobility. They worried about whether they would have to uproot their children from their schools and whether they would make new friends.
Alderman Margaret Laurino of the 39th Ward, sharing her constituent’s concerns, sought to remedy their fears and consulted with Gisele Hennings, Housing Resource Coordinator for the Albany Park Community Center (APCC), and Melissa McDaniel, Program Director for the North River Commission (NRC). “We dropped everything we were doing at the time to help these families because it was the right thing to do. The first thing we needed was legal representation,” said Melissa. Alderman Laurino contacted LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Project (AHPP), headed by staff attorney Victoria Ogunsanya, knowing the project works to preserve habitable housing by representing tenants in building court and supporting renters to collectively influence negligent landlords.
The rapidly forged partnership between the APCC, NRC and LCBH resulted in a strategy to keep these families in their communities and the children in their schools. Victoria and Melissa obtained a month-long extension so that all the families could be properly relocated. Victoria secured 100% reimbursement of relocation expenses for each family in court. Meanwhile, Gisele and Melissa led the charge on relocating the families. They worked in constant collaboration and monitored each family to ensure their new housing met their specific needs and financial capacity.
After the families were secured in their new apartments, Melissa and Victoria worked to recover their security deposits. However, a judge ruled that the security deposits would be returned only after the building began collecting revenue. It took a while, but in April of last year, after essential renovations, the building started receiving new tenants. Melissa and Victoria then had to apply some pressure on the banks to get them to return security deposits. By August of 2012, their joint efforts and hard work paid off and the former tenants started receiving the funds they were owed.