Blog: Interns

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.

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.

Carl Sessions

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:

Katilin Cutshaw

LBCH welcomes Katilin Cutshaw, an Indiana University Maurer School of Law graduate and alum of Teach for America (TFA), as an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow.

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.

Summer Interns 2016

Summer Interns 2016

Every summer LCBH is fortunate to have the best and brightest legal and supportive service interns working with us. Without these students and recent graduates who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the legal and supportive services our clients need. Here are a few highlights from each of them:

Ethan Domsten will soon start his second year of law school at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He has counseled numerous tenants, facing a wide range of legal problems, advising them on their rights under various state and local laws. He has enjoyed seeing the tangible benefits he can secure for LCBH clients simply by making a few phone calls. With Ethan’s assistance, tenants have asserted rights they did not know they had and have been able to secure legal outcomes that protected their tenancy and stabilized their housing.

Privacy Considered

The Supportive Services team at LCBH helps provide holistic solutions that go beyond the short term legal crisis. Our social workers help our most vulnerable clients by performing assessments, locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing guidance to other essential services. The collaborative environment we have built between our lawyers and our social workers has become a crucial part in our efforts to best serve our clients. One of our ongoing struggles in fostering this team approach has been about how to best resolve the conflict between privacy and mandated reporting.

Social workers are “mandated reporters” and are required to report any suspicions of abuse/neglect with regards to children, seniors or people with disabilities as well as any suspicions of self-harm. Lawyers, on the other hand, are not required to report this information but are instead bound by attorney-client privilege to protect the client’s confidences.

Last year, we started hosting DePaul University students seeking their MSW (Masters of Social Work) in our Supportive Services department as interns. A core feature of the program at DePaul is a requirement that students, in addition to the regular clinical internship duties, also work on a “macro” project. The project we decided to tackle was to create a formalized privacy policy for LCBH.

Q & A with PILI Intern Adrien Fernandez

Each year Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) hosts a legal intern through the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Law Student Internship Program. The program connects law students from across the country with legal aid agencies in Illinois. Interns work part-time during the school year to help increase the impact of the agency and develop their legal skills.

This year, LCBH is excited to work with Adrien Fernandez. Adrien grew up in a suburb of Akron, Ohio and moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State University. She always wanted to live in Chicago so when she was applying to law schools, she mainly focused on schools in the city. She now attends Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

We sat down with Adrien for a Q & A to learn more about her.

Q: What was your major at Ohio State?
A: I double majored in History and Spanish.

Q: What inspired you to attend Law School?
A: While at Ohio State, I became interested in working for the government but I was not sure in what capacity. During my senior year, I had an internship with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office in their Death Penalty Division. I enjoyed the work and thought that what the attorneys did there was admirable. This really cemented for me that I wanted to work for the public and becoming an attorney was a way I could do that.

LCBH’s 2015-2016 social work interns (from left to right: Nicol, Samantha, Sylvie, Emily, Aileen, and Mary)

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) is proud to introduce our six 2015 – 2016 social work interns who will be assisting LCBH clients with wraparound services to help to break down housing barriers. They will be here at LCBH through the spring and are excited to learn and assist in the struggle for affordable housing and we are excited for their help!

Mary Difino – Mary is a first year student at Jane Addams College of Social Work at University of Illinois at Chicago . After working and volunteering with Chicago Public Schools in the Austin and Cabrini Green neighborhoods, Mary decided to pursue a degree in School Social Work to become a better equipped and informed advocate for Chicago’s youth. She hopes to one day take the skills she has acquired to serve the Native American population of Northern Minnesota.

Nicol Elio – Nicol is in her final year of the Masters of Social Work Program at DePaul University. Nicol is originally from New York and has had many new experiences while in Chicago. She wants to become a social worker in order to help those less privileged. She is looking forward to gaining a macro level experience at LCBH.

Foreclosure: a Renter’s Perspective

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.

2015 Legal Interns

This summer, five legal interns spent their summer working with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), advocating for the rights of renters. Without these students, and recent graduates, who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the legal services our clients need to resolve their housing issues. We asked each intern to share highlights from their LCBH experiences this summer:

Chloe Noonan came from Boston University School of Law to work with LCBH’s affordable housing preservation efforts. As part of her internship, Chloe regularly travels to buildings throughout Chicago to work with tenant unions. One of her favorite collaborations has been with a group of tenants on the south side living in a building that had fallen into disrepair. Chloe worked with the group to help them identify their common goals and used her knowledge of housing law to empower them to push for better management in the building.

Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award

Claire Battle, ArcelorMittal USA
LCBH Executive Director Cheryl Lawrence (left) with Board Member Claire Battle

The Chicago Bar Foundation presented LCBH board member, Claire Battle, with the Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award at their 17th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon July 14, 2015.

While a busy and successful in-house attorney at ArcelorMittal USA, spouse and parent, Claire Battle continues to make pro bono a priority in her career. Her commitment to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) dates back to her undergraduate years at Northwestern University volunteering as an intern in the late 1990s. After law school, Claire was a volunteer attorney and has been an LCBH board member for 14 years. Lending a variety of talents, Claire has been involved with various LCBH committees and made contributions in whatever capacity she is needed. Her lasting contributions include co-founding and LCBH’s Hearts for Housing fundraiser, which has grown from an informal gathering to a flagship event attended by hundreds of attorneys and sponsored by the city’s biggest firms as well as co-founding LCBH’s Young Professionals Board. In addition to all of her contributions to LCBH her work proliferates as she encourages and helps her fellow in-house counsel find meaningful pro bono work in her position as Co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.