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 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.
When Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing launched it’s Chicago Evictions data portal last May, a key finding was the number of Chicago tenants being evicted over relatively small amounts of money.
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 44% were under $2,500.
In October, LCBH expanded a successful pilot project that provides eligible Chicago renters supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds (the Funds) up to $5,000 for back rent and/or security deposits.
Prior to the pilot, renters summoned to appear in eviction court were not screened for eligibility. Jude Gonzales, Supportive Services Director, and his group of Masters of Social Work interns are leading the effort to change that through our Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.
In addition to financial assistance, the CERA team works to address underlying issues that led to the eviction filing by providing referrals to job training, financial literacy, and other beneficial programs. If needed, they can help households find replacement housing.
We are pleased to share that Carl Sessions, a recent graduate of ITT Chicago-Kent School of Law, has returned to LCBH as an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow, sponsored by the Rossotti Family Foundation.
During two student volunteer stints with LCBH, Carl saw firsthand the inequities of representations in eviction court.
A key finding from LCBH’s Chicago Evictions data portal has revealed that 79% of landlords appeared with legal counsel though only 11% of tenants were represented.
More importantly, Carl witnessed improved outcomes for tenants that LCBH was able to assist.
"The truth comes out when you have advocates with equal skills on both sides of a case," Carl shares.
Based on these observations as well as the desire to combine his legal interests with community organizing and mobilization, Carl developed a fellowship project that serves two functions:
During her TFA training, Kaitlin explored the historical causes of student achievement gaps, with access to housing as an important contributing factor. Her efforts as a LCBH law student volunteer further connected those dots.
"My understanding of student displacement and how it disrupts a child’s education solidified here at LCBH," Kaitlin shares.
With the help of our staff, she created her EJW project proposal to develop a school-based clinic that offers housing-focused legal aid with the help of pro bono volunteers.
Kaitlin hopes to reach out to schools in the Austin and South Shore neighborhoods, two areas of Chicago with high rates of eviction as well as rising housing costs, although any school with high risk of student displacement would be a potential candidate.
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.