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 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued a new federal rule that will ban smoking – cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and water pipes (hookah) – in all public housing units nationwide. HUD’s rationale for the rule is to “improve indoor air quality in public housing; benefit the health of public housing residents, visitors, and PHA staff, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires; and lower overall maintenance costs.” The rule, which will take effect in the fall of 2018, was first proposed last November and has been met with praise and criticism since its formal announcement was issued last week.
Currently, around 200,000 public housing units are smoke-free under voluntary smoking bans enacted by public housing agencies (PHAs) across the country. The nationwide ban would expand this to impact upwards of 1.2 million households. Here’s a basic summary of this rule: residents or visitors may not smoke in public housing units or within 25 feet of housing and office buildings. Individual PHAs may designate additional restrictions or ban smoking from the grounds altogether.
For this month’s Q&A, we sat down for a conversation with Noah Magaram, an LCBH staff attorney who focuses much of his work on eviction defense. A graduate of DePaul University College of Law, Noah came to LCBH in Fall 2011 as a volunteer, and has been a staff attorney since September 2012.
Q: What made you choose to work at a legal aid agency?
I resolved when applying to law school to enter a practice area that was oriented toward the public interest. I became interested in housing law specifically after writing a legislative history of the Fair Housing Act in undergrad.
Q: What program(s) do you work on at LCBH?
My time is spent mostly in the Tenant Advocacy Program. Most of my caseload is composed of eviction defense, with a minority of cases relating to affirmative lawsuits for illegal lockouts and Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) violation cases.
Q: How many cases are you working on at a time? How do you manage?
I usually have 30-40 open cases at any given time. I use our case management system and my calendar to schedule and document as many details of the cases as possible so that my mind is free to deal with the client in front of me.
John is a young disabled man who has had asthma all of his life. John is unable to work and he lives on very limited resources and income from Social Security. John recently moved into a new apartment and every time there was a heavy rain, his apartment would flood. As a result, mold was visible on his living room walls and kitchen cabinets, which he would scrub with soap to remove the mold. John documented the damage and contacted his property manager every time it happened. The property manager tried to address the flooding issues with various repairs, but the mold continued to come back.
While seeing his doctor for something unrelated, John mentioned he had some difficulty breathing in his home sometimes. During his examination, the issue of the re-occurring mold came up. Because mold spores can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals, the doctor was concerned that John’s housing situation may be the cause.
Luckily for John, his doctor works for PCC Community Wellness Center – a medical partner of Healthy Housing Chicago – a medical-legal partnership between LCBH, Loretto Hospital and PCC. The program is a bridge for patients to connect them to legal services, because health issues can be caused or exacerbated by unsafe housing conditions.
Edna is a funny, vibrant single mother of three small children. For five years she provided a wonderful home for her family in a building where she a great relationship with her landlord and property manager. Having a stable, decent and affordable place to call home gave her a lot of comfort and gave her the ability to focus on her job and her kids. She was looking forward to many more years in a neighborhood she loved and in a school that was great for her kids. That is until one day, it all changed – her landlord lost the building, including her home, to foreclosure.
Thanks to the hard work of many Chicago advocates, including LCBH, Chicago now has an ordinance that helps to protect renters who are scooped up in the foreclosure process through no fault of their own. When a landlord loses an apartment building to foreclosure, the new owner must either offer to renew (or extend) the existing tenants’ lease or offer to give them relocation assistance. Edna was relieved that the new owner of her building was going to work with her to keep her in her home rather than evict her.
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.
Bianca Brown recently contacted the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline. An LCBH attorney counseled Ms. Brown about her apartment building, which was in foreclosure and now owned by the bank. The attorney explained that under Illinois law there are rights protecting renters in foreclosed buildings, as well as a Chicago ordinance which provides additional protections to renters, the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosed Rental Property Ordinance, commonly known as the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO).
In 2014, 55 attorneys donated more than 3700 hours to the Pro Bono Program at Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helping families in crisis. In the process, these attorneys developed their litigation skills, learned a new area of law, created new professional relationships and most importantly MADE A DIFFERENCE in the lives of many Chicago renters! Here are some highlights from the LCBH Pro Bono Program from just the 1st quarter of 2015:
Following is a recent letter to LCBH from a client expressing her gratitude for the support she and her family received from LCBH. We want to share this heartwarming story with you, as your support is what makes these stories possible. Thank you!
My name is Charlotte. I came to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing in February, very distressed and afraid of being put out on the streets of Chicago. My landlord, I had been renting with for 8 years, went into foreclosure. I found out when the bank came and put a sign on the front door while I was shoveling snow. They told me I could call the bank and they would tell me what to do. I did not know anything about foreclosure, 90 day notices or being served a forceful eviction notice. I called the bank and they told me I would probably have to move.
Last month, LCBH partnered with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) as featured presenters for their Building Bridges workshops. CHA’s workshops provide continued education for members of their Housing Choice Voucher program, including both renter and landlord participants, on issues they may face in the housing market.
Through this coordinated effort, LCBH led six successful workshops that provided valuable information on the purpose, intent, and protections afforded by Chicago’s newly enacted Protecting Tenants in Foreclosed Rental Properties Ordinance, also known as the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance. LCBH staff attorneys Aileen Flanagan, Jim Sojoodi, and Frank Avellone, and program manager Patricia Fron, led the educational presentations at CHA training sites across Chicago. In total, the workshops were attended by 268 CHA program participants, who were engaged and informed by LCBH’s presentations about the new legal protections afforded to renters during the judicial foreclosure process in Illinois.
LCBH would like to thank CHA for the opportunity to join forces in educating Chicago’s renters and landlords on their new rights. We are also pleased to announce that we will be leading another six CHA workshops this month, continuing our partnership together!
Veronica Bey came to LCBH in May 2013 looking for help. Veronica, her father, and her four (soon to be five) children participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program. The apartment they were living in was no longer eligible for the program because of failed apartment inspections by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and, as a result, the landlord evicted the Bey family from their home. With the help of the LCBH legal team, Veronica and her family were able to reach a settlement that provided the family with additional time to move out. Housing Choice Voucher holders often encounter difficulty in finding places to rent, and since the Beys were unable to find new housing by the agreed deadline an “Order of Possession” (eviction order) was entered against them.
At this point, the LCBH Supportive Services team stepped in to help. In July, the Beys located a suitable unit with a landlord who was willing to rent to them. The CHA was not able to issue the required moving papers until August and sadly, the landlord decided to rent to another family.
In that same month, Veronica gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby. With the help of their friends, family and church, the Beys were able to temporarily move into an apartment above their church.