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 City of Chicago’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate met today. The agenda included a quarterly progress report on the Department of Housing’s 5-year housing plan. Mark Swartz, LCBH’s Executive Director, provided the following statement on Chicago’s ongoing eviction problem:
Good Afternoon. My name is Mark Swartz and I am the Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
As we embark upon the new 5-year Housing Plan, I want to address the topic of eviction both as a driver of displacement of our most vulnerable citizens as well a threat to the Plan’s principals of diversity and equity between and among our communities. I also want to share with you a resource that LCBH designed to help understand Chicago’s eviction landscape.
On May 16 of this year, LCBH launched the Chicago Evictions data portal along with a series of 3 reports highlighting some of the impacts eviction has had on the City. The data show that since 2010, on average, there have been just over 23,000 evictions in Chicago each year – that’s about 1 in 25 renters and their families each year who are facing eviction.
On Monday, February 6th, State Representative Will Guzzardi introduced H.B. 2430, which seeks to repeal S.B. 531, known as the Rent Control Preemption Act. Real estate lobbyists drove the passage of S.B. 531 in 1997 with the intent of preventing any thought of rent control in the state, despite the fact that no city had any form of rent control or rent stabilization in place.
The basis of the bill to repeal S.B. 531 is that the Illinois Constitution allows for "municipal home rule," where cities can make decisions for themselves unless a state law explicitly prohibits them from doing so. Thus, repealing S.B. 531 is foremost about honoring local decision-making.
It is important to note that repealing S.B. 531 would not institute any form of rent control or stabilization in any region of Illinois on any level. Repealing S.B. 531 would simply eliminate the preemption of rent control in order to prioritize local decision-making. This is a critical distinction.
Imagine you’re sprawled out on your couch after getting home from work, taking a moment to unwind from the day, thinking about what you might make for dinner. In the midst of your thoughts, you hear a knock at the front door, so you roll off the couch and answer it. The next thing you know, you’re standing on the street as you watch the sheriff lock you out of your house, with no warning, no explanation.
For thousands of families across Chicago, what happened to Ms. Thomas—unjust eviction from her home—is more than a simple hypothetical; it’s a frightening reality. Standing on the street with her son and two grandchildren, Ms. Thomas watched as she was suddenly barred access from the house she’d rented for years. And then she heard the word that she should’ve heard months ago: foreclosure. Knowing that she needed legal assistance, Ms. Thomas called Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH).
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.
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.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helps preserve the vitality and affordability of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The attorneys and staff at LCBH work with community partners to ensure those affected by unfair evictions, deplorable living conditions or foreclosure have viable and affordable housing options currently and in the future. The LCBH Supportive Services team is available for the most vulnerable LCBH clients and their families to avoid homelessness and achieve stable housing. This includes assessment of needs, assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing links to essential services. The multi-disciplinary and holistic approach that LCBH provides has proven an effective way to assist clients moving towards a goal of attaining more stable housing beyond the immediate crisis of eviction.
Last winter, tenants living in an 18 unit apartment building in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood found out the building they called home had a new owner. Shortly after they were informed of the new ownership, tenants received a letter with two options: either leave their unit in 30 days or re-apply to remain in the building. Most of the tenants had limited resources and were unable to move within thirty days. Most of the tenants took the option to re-apply as a genuine invitation to remain in their homes with no interruption to their lives. However, the so-called re-application process was only a disguise of goodwill when, in fact, the new owner’s plan was to remove all the tenants. The terms of the new rental application and rental agreement were designed so that none of the current residents could qualify. Frustrated and upset, and now threatened with eviction, the tenants contacted Centro Autonomo, a community based organization located in Albany Park for help. Centro Autonomo helped organize the tenants and they contacted LCBH to help form a tenants association. After much negotiation, the new owner responded to the formation of the tenants association and the threat of fighting the evictions in court and decided to negotiate with the tenants.
Following is a recent letter from a client describing her experiences living in a recently foreclosed apartment building and dealing with the new bank owners. Her words resonate in a way that ours cannot. We wanted to share her letter with you, as your support is what makes our interventions in these situations possible. Thank you!
I, and most of the tenants in my bank-owned building, would have given up our rights out of frustration and fear if it were not for the services of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
We had known for some time that our building was in the process of foreclosure. But we were not worried because we knew the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) required the bank to either renew our leases or pay a $10,600 relocation fee. However, our collective peace of mind began to crumble as we came to understand that the bank was neither equipped nor inclined to perform the basic duties of a landlord. Soon after, our anxiety rose even further, as the bank engaged in scare-tactics designed to persuade us to move out on our own accord (therefore circumventing the requirements of the KCRO).
Thus far, the bank has used two tactics. The first is a passive approach: they benignly neglect the responsibilities of building management. The second is more aggressive, entailing periodic eviction threats. The only reason these tactics are not working is because we are represented by Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
The housing landscape of many Chicago neighborhoods is changing quickly, especially in terms of affordability and stability. Buildings are being sold to developers, many times from outside Chicago, who increase rents and push out long-term residents. Humboldt Park is one of these neighborhoods. Tenants living in a 44 unit apartment building in Humboldt Park received notices informing them the building had a new owner and they had 30 days to move. As soon as the notices expired, the remaining 20 remaining tenants, who were unable to move, had evictions filed against them by the cash investors who purchased the building. LCBH attorneys tackled this matter head on in both eviction and building courts.
With the assistance of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), a citywide organization that helps tenants organize to assert their collective rights, LCBH was able to form a tenants association to request more time and relocation assistance from the new landlord. These requests were ignored.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing staff attorney Frank Avellone and clients recently contributed to an ongoing series of exhibitions by ART WORKS Projects. ART WORKS Projects’ mission is, “to use design and the arts to raise awareness of and educate the public about significant human rights and environmental issues.” ART WORKS Projects accomplishes this by doing focused exhibits centered on humanitarian issues, using a combination of storytelling, photography, and videography, to portray and disseminate a given issue. The current project they are focusing on is the nationwide affordable housing crisis as the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the U.S., and the individuals and/or families who have been directly impacted by this crisis in America.
The ART WORKS Projects is titled House of Cards: Rebuilding
Opening Reception with Artists & Experts
April 8, 6:25 PM - 9:00 PM
Panel: Confronting Housing Insecurity
April 29, 6:25 - 8:00 PM
All events are held at 625 N. Kingsbury Street, Chicago FREE & Open to the Public