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.
I can't believe a year has zipped past since LCBH's office closed to the public. The expression that parents often share, "the days are long, but the years fly by," acutely resonates with me as I try to work remotely and struggle to get much of anything done. I know I speak for many here at LCBH about how hard the year has been, especially for parents with small children. I keep reminding myself of how lucky we are at LCBH to be able to do our work remotely. Still, I am relieved that as legal aid providers, we qualify as Phase 1C Essential Workers and can now get in line to be vaccinated, a critical step to returning to the physical office.
April is Fair Housing month. While fair housing often conjures thoughts of eliminating discrimination in the context of purchasing a home— as well it should, given Chicago's history of redlining and deed restrictions— I am mindful of the racial disparities we see in eviction court daily, and how this also raises fair housing alarms. I often come back to this Matthew Desmond quote from his 2013 article, Evicting Children: "Policymakers interested in identifying and sanctioning discrimination … should focus not only on the front end of the housing process—the freedom to obtain housing anywhere—but also on the back end: the freedom to maintain housing anywhere."
While many assume evictions are not an issue for Chicagoans right now due federal and state evictions moratoria, the reality is quite different. Last December, Legal Director Michelle Gilbert interviewed LCBH client Graciela Wade, who generously shared her experience of eviction during the pandemic.
Miss Wade, a 65-year-old Chicagoan, previously lived on a fixed income with her granddaughter and her girlfriend. When her granddaughter and her girlfriend both lost their jobs this past July, it became very difficult for Miss Wade to keep up with monthly rental payments. Due to Miss Wade’s severe health issues, finding another accessible apartment that meets her needs is a difficult task. Despite this knowledge about her tenant, Miss Wade’s landlord declined her proposal to continue to try to pay as much of the rent as she could each month to stay in the apartment. In addition, the landlord refused to make any repairs needed in the apartment. Shortly after, Miss Wade was presented with an official eviction notice. She appeared in court over Zoom for the first time in November 2020, and the case was ultimately extended into February. In the meantime, Miss Wade was referred to LCBH, where volunteer attorneys from the COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) worked on her case. This past week, Legal Director Michelle Gilbert was able to dismiss Miss Wade’s case and seal her file. Today, Miss Wade is stably housed.
"The landlord cut off my lights and heat and forced me to move," says Auburn Gresham resident Tamy, "It was the day after my birthday." Tamy, a client of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), is one of many renters who despite Governor JB Pritzker’s eviction moratorium have experienced an illegal lockout or unlawful eviction.
At a virtual town hall forum on Thursday, December 17, LCBH announced a new report, "Eviction Filings, Unemployment, and the Impact of COVID 19," in partnership with Loyola University Chicago's Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL). The report uses statistical modeling of the historical relationship between unemployment and eviction filings to address concerns about a possible wave of eviction filings due to COVID-19. Chicago may see as many as 21,000 formal evictions in the first month after the moratorium is lifted, according to the model. For comparison, prior to the health crisis, the average number of eviction filings the first two months of 2020 was 1,567. The forum also discussed informal evictions and the much larger number of renters at-risk of displacement due to COVID-19.
After LCBH closed its doors in March, we pivoted our services to a digital and virtual world where we continue to provide the same level of services and advocacy for Chicago tenants. Through "Renny" and Rentervention, LCBH provides legal information available to Chicago tenants 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, in some cases, connects tenants with LCBH attorneys through Rentervention's Virtual Legal Clinic. In May, LCBH launched "Tenant Thursdays," a Facebook Live series that hosts segments on essential topics for Chicago tenants. Tenant Thursdays allow viewers to directly ask their question's to our subject matter experts on the live stream.
The COVID-19 health crisis has further amplified the need for emergency rental assistance as a means of helping tenants pay back rent to landlords and remain stably housed.
A new program administered by The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IDHA) called Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) was created to help tenants that have not been able to pay rent due to COVID-19. ERA can provide up to $5,000 to assist tenants in paying their rent. The money will be sent directly to landlords and can be used to cover the rent due between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
To be eligible, tenants must have a written lease, loss of income due to COVID-19, unpaid rent, and have below-average income. Applications will be online through the ERA Portal and will be open from August 10, 2020, through August 21, 2020, the portal may close earlier due to high demand, so we recommend tenants apply as soon as possible. Many organizations, including LCBH, have partnered with IHDA to help people apply. Call LCBH at (312) 347-7600 for more information and to get assistance determining if you are eligible. You can find more information about this fund on the Illinois Legal Aid Online website here.
Our client, Gerald S., has worked hard throughout his career and never missed paying his rent. However, in October, Gerald's company began laying off employees, and unfortunately, Gerald was one of them.
He had enough savings to pay for November and December's rent, but Gerald was already focused on how he was going to pay January's rent. "I was already talking to people trying to see if I could get help," Gerald said. "You aren’t even behind yet," he remembers being told, to which Gerald would respond, "I know, but I’m about to be."
Once January came, even after searching profusely, Gerald still did not have employment and was falling behind on rent. He began trying to communicate with his property manager, who became unresponsive, causing Gerald more anxiety as he had never been in this situation. To make matters worse, Gerald was served with an eviction notice in late February. Gerald turned to the Salvation Army for help, "They gave me a couple of leads and you guys' [LCBH's] information."
He contacted LCBH immediately and left a voicemail about his situation.
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:
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.