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.
Following is LCBH’s statement of support for HB 5574, House Amendment No. 1, the COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) is one of the few legal aid organizations in Chicago that provides free legal assistance to working-class and low-income tenant families. Though LCBH represents primarily Chicago tenants, we are all too aware of the widespread perils of eviction court and the scars that housing instability and forced displacement can leave on a family and a community.
Money is certainly needed to maintain housing. But if we ignore tenants’ due process rights and the devastating effects of eviction, Illinois will face an unprecedented crisis that will devastate the housing market and lead to homelessness and housing instability for thousands. Around 57,000 eviction cases are normally filed in Illinois every year, with almost two-thirds of those cases arising outside of Chicago. Yet today, over 605,000 Illinois renters are expected to suffer from COVID-19-related income and job loss. Eviction filings and homelessness are likely to astronomically increase across the State unless tenants are provided with protections that extend beyond mere financial assistance. Passing HB 5574 is necessary to preserve the housing market, safeguard public health, and ensure that Illinois can recover from this crisis.
On March 13th, 2020, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County issued General Administrative Order 2020-01, which lays out the emergency measures being taken by the court to address widespread concerns about transmission of COVID-19. The order communicates important information for tenants who are facing eviction, or are currently involved in eviction proceedings:
In response to the public health crisis, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) has closed its office to the public until further notice. LCBH staff is working remotely, and LCBH is still taking applications by phone at 312-347-7600. However, the quickest way to get help if you have a problem with a housing issue and see if you qualify for legal representation is to visit www.rentervention.com to start a conversation with Rentervention, and Renny, LCBH’s bot.
Keep in mind that even though courts may not be hearing eviction cases, renters should still be responsive to any lawful notices (5-day or 10-day notices) so that they can remain in their homes after this public health crisis passes.
I hope that you and your family had a happy month of February! The year has begun to ramp up for LCBH, and I’m pleased to share two critical updates:
The Just Housing Amendment (JHA) took effect on January 1, 2020. Before JHA, landlords could ask prospective renters about prior arrests and convictions and deny their application solely based on their criminal history. In many cases, this blanket form of discrimination leads to homelessness and family instability for returning citizens and their families who have served their time and pose no threat to personal safety or property.
LCBH is an Access to Justice Grantee. Access to Justice is a new statewide program administered by the Westside Justice Center and The Resurrection Project. It seeks to mitigate the devastating consequences of incarceration and family separation related to immigration on vulnerable communities by expanding effective and holistic community-based legal services.
I had the privilege to attend Mayor Lightfoot's Chicago Solutions Towards Ending Poverty (STEP) Summit on February 20, 2020. The Summit convened academics, researchers, artists, grassroots community activists, business leaders, and government officials to launch a year-long movement to address poverty and economic hardship affecting Chicago residents. Among the many thoughtful panel discussions, a few remarks stood out to me. Dr. Luke Shaefer, from the University of Michigan, stated, "we can also intervene to make sure people have more money so that they can pay more of their rent." LCBH couldn’t agree more!
One of the key findings our Chicago Evictions Data Portal revealed is that 82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and an additional 44% were under $2,500. LCBH's new Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program provides eligible Chicago renters with supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds—up to $5,000—for back rent and or security deposits as a means of resolving unpaid rent claims.
Our client, "Michael," worked hard throughout his career to save for retirement. He was enjoying his new home in a senior living facility and volunteering his services by working at his building's front desk.
Unfortunately, Michael began experiencing problems with a fellow tenant. Michael was eventually removed from the front desk volunteer position to reduce the potential for interaction but received a thank you letter from the building manager for his service. The tenant's complaints continued. However, after living through months of unprovoked conflict, Michael's health had begun to suffer, and he developed depression. Finally, through a lawyer, the tenant made false allegations against Michael to the senior living facility's management.
Without any meaningful investigation, Michael was served with a "notice to terminate" that offered him ten days to refute the claims made. He followed up multiple times to do so, but no one returned his phone calls. He asked his building manager, "Did you advocate for me?" The manager replied, "Michael, it doesn’t matter; no one listens to me."
Then Michael received a summons to eviction court.
He quickly turned to the internet to try to understand what was happening and how to proceed. After seeing statistics about eviction rates, Michael was petrified. When his search turned up information about the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing's services, he called immediately.
For this month’s Alumni Spotlight, we sat down for a conversation with Patricia Bronte, a former LCBH Board Member, Legal Director, and Acting Executive Director.
As part of LCBH’s 40th anniversary, we’re reaching out to our alumni, those individuals who have supported LCBH’s growth by serving as an intern, board member, or employee. Patricia Bronte is a special person who has worn all three hats in service to LCBH!
Patricia joined LCBH as an intern after her first year at Northwestern’s School of Law in 1985. Patricia said, "LCBH’s mission resonated with me and has remained in my heart ever since."
After her graduation from Northwestern, Patricia remained actively involved with LCBH. She served as a member of the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1999 and occupied the role of Board President from 1995 to 1998. In 1996, she was heavily involved with the editing of Time to Move, LCBH’s first significant report on Chicago’s eviction court.
In 2000, Patricia transitioned to the role of Legal Director and acting Executive Director, where she expanded the Attorney of the Day program, which provided legal representation for tenants with limited resources and advocated for systemic reforms. This expansion included paralegal volunteers, which increased the number of cases accepted.
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:
Last summer, Mae Whiteside did something that’s highly unusual in the world of non-profits.
"I picked up the phone and called to see if Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing had any openings for board members" she shares. "I needed to get back involved in this fight, because being homeless shaped me into who I am today."
Whiteside's childhood homes included tiny kitchenette studios, rooms with no heat, acquaintances' couches, and even homeless shelters. Her family's journey through homelessness began in 1985 when Mae's older sister turned 18 and financial support for her ended. Mae's mother tried but couldn't get their household income adjusted with the Chicago Housing Authority.
"She met with many pro bono and legal service providers – they couldn’t help, didn’t care," Mae says.