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.
January in Chicago usually consists of sub-zero temperatures and high winds. The kind of weather that insists that you stay inside, nice and warm in your home, with your family. Sadly, that nice, warm home was not an option for some tenants in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood whose building had serious issues affecting their health and safety.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) often collaborates with various community organizations, like the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), to address building issues in Chicago. MTO offers a tenants’ rights hotline for people to report building problems, and MTO had received calls from multiple tenants at the South Shore building complaining that they did not have heat. MTO went to the building to investigate. The building conditions were poor. Not only was there no heat, but tenants also had no running water due to frozen pipes and parts of the ceiling were breaking off inside some of the units.
This past summer LCBH joined the Chicago For All Coalition, which was formed by ONE Northside, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, to address the loss of Single Room Occupancy (SROs) hotels in Chicago. The coalition has been working with the City of Chicago to create a long-term solution that would help stabilize tenancies and preserve this affordable housing resource.
The Chicago For All Coalition was convened by ONE Northside, and includes LCBH and many other tenant advocate and social service organizations. The purpose of the coalition is to address the rapid depletion of Single Room Occupancy (SROs) hotels in Chicago. SROs provide short and long-term affordable housing options for some of the city’s most vulnerable, very low-income residents, like the recently homeless, veterans, and persons with disabilities. SROs are often located in desirable areas of the city—walkable neighborhoods, close to public transportation and with abundant social service agencies. In the past several years, many SROs have been sold to investors who rehab the buildings and raise rents far beyond what former residents could afford. Chicago stands to lose this crucial affordable housing resource.
As LCBH notes in its 2013 Foreclosure Report, “One scenario that has played out frequently over the past few years is the purchase of low-income buildings and single room occupancy buildings or hotels (SROs) by investors hoping to cash in on the growth in the rental market. Investors buy buildings, rehab units, and increase rent, virtually ensuring that former residents cannot return. Recent examples of this phenomenon include the purchase of the Lawrence House, Astor House, Abbott Hotel, and Chateau Hotel, all high-rise buildings in Rogers Park, Lakeview, and Uptown.”
This year the LCBH began a partnership with the Hope Manor Apartments, which is a supportive housing development specifically designed for veterans in Chicago. Attorneys with LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program are providing trainings for veterans about their rights as renters in Chicago. The trainings also cover changes in the law, including recently passed Chicago ordinances, including the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance and the Bed Bug Ordinance. At each training veterans are provided with real-life examples of issues that arise in a landlord/tenant relationship and are given advice about the laws and how to resolve these issues. Training is one of the many activities Hope Manor provides as a social service for veterans, and LCBH is proud to be a partner.
Lately, LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) attorneys have been working with many renters confronted with displacement and eviction because of redevelopment. In the Logan Square neighborhood stands an extraordinary apartment building. It was quaint, diverse, and had rents of only $600 - $700 a month. It had one vintage elevator with an iron gate to close. The building was close to public transportation and lots of shops, and was in a safe and quiet area. The renters living there loved most everything about it.
The building was sold to an investor who intended to gut and rehab the building, and, of course, substantially increase rents. In order to do this, the investor would need to vacate the building of its current residents. A few weeks before Christmas, a barrage of 30-day notices went out followed by eviction filings and court summonses. A few tenants attempted to renew their leases, but were refused. Some of the tenants moved out, accepting that they would no longer be able to live there.
During this push to move the tenants out, unpermitted construction at the property began. The construction was noisy and disruptive. The tenants watched as their building underwent rehabilitation that they would not have an opportunity to benefit from. At the same time, basic maintenance and repairs to their individual units had just about stopped completely.
LCBH participated in the Sustainable Vows community event on Saturday, August 2nd. Sustainable Vows is an art, sustainability and urban farming festival with events for all ages including sustainable practices, farm tours, food workshops, craft tables, and outdoor art studios. LCBH was compelled to participate due to the often overlooked link between sustainability issues and affordable housing issues. Under the umbrella of environmental justice, both initiatives (sustainability and affordable housing) seek to ensure that environmental issues (including housing) are approached from a bottom-up perspective, meaning those most impacted have a voice in shaping their environment and the policies that impact them.
LCBH had a booth set up at the festival to provide participants with information about our organization while also hosting fun and family friendly activities like LCBH’s Drawing Contest. Participants were asked to draw a picture about their neighborhood. We received many creative and insightful pictures from the children (and adults) who participated – check them out on our Facebook page.
Overall, the event was very successful. We generated a lot of feedback from the community about ways to link sustainability, community development, and affordable housing in Chicago!
On Saturday, May 31st, LCBH participated in Chicago Dream House, an interactive community event organized by Albany Park artist Karen Yates. The event was created using a unique artistic and symbolic vision to generate social engagement and awareness, focusing on housing issues in the neighborhood of Albany Park. Throughout the day, local artists and members of the public created murals on a symbolic house structure. Inside the structure, a circle of chairs served as a discussion ring where organizers, volunteers, and community members delved into specific housing issues affecting the community. In addition to discussion panels, the event featured skits performed by community groups to bring to life recent campaigns to preserve affordable housing. Community and advocacy groups hosted booths around the structure to provide housing and social service information and to answer community members’ questions.
Patricia Fron, LCBH’s Housing Policy Specialist and TFIP Administrator, lead a discussion panel which focused on the general effects of foreclosure on the City of Chicago over the past five years. Her conversation was informed by our recently released 2013 Annual Foreclosure Report, which sheds light on a range of issues that have affected affordable rental housing since LCBH first reporting on the foreclosure crisis in 2009.
Chicago just had one of its coldest winters in history – with the coldest four month period from December 2013 and March 2014 since record keeping began in 1872. With such harsh weather conditions, proper building and utility maintenance is even more important to protect the health and well-being of residents. To that end, this winter LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) focused on cases where utilities, such as heat (or lack thereof), were in question. In one such case, LCBH worked with renters in a large apartment building in the South Shore neighborhood where all of the units were without heat for the later part of January.
At a time of persistently high foreclosure rates, increased rental demand, and a shortage of affordable rental units, displaced renters find themselves in particularly difficult situations. Reasons for displacement range from building condemnation to foreclosure to developers’ interests in rehabilitation or condominium conversion, but the consequences are the same: renters bear the burden of being forced to move, often with little or no warning and with little to no extra resources to do so.
What’s better than winning a case in eviction court? Not having to go to eviction court in the first place! That’s the philosophy behind the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at LCBH. TAP relies exclusively on volunteers to resolve landlord-tenant disputes before they escalate, with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes and out of court.
For many months, LCBH was forced to reject many TAP cases that came in because there weren’t enough resources to handle them internally. Last fall, we began a partnership with the West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN), an Oak Park-based group of attorney moms and solo practitioners looking to balance their passion for pro bono with the demanding requirements of family life. Every week, one or two WCPBN members sign up to be “on call” for LCBH and handle any TAP cases that come in that week. WCPBN volunteers are able to work from home on their own schedule and our clients are able to get great pro bono representation from a team of experienced and talented volunteer attorneys.
Since October, WCPBN volunteers have handled almost 20 TAP cases for LCBH! Here are a few highlights of their work: