Blog: LCBH News

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.

Celebrating Housing Justice!

Thank you for attending our Annual Fall Benefit - Bringing Justice Home! It truly was an amazing time where we laughed, cheered, and virtually chatted with the LCBH community!

This year we celebrated Lynette Barnes as the recipient of the Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate Award, Sharlyn Grace as the recipient of the Sharon L. King Distinguished Alumni Award, and Peter Rosenblatt on behalf of Loyola University Chicago's CURL (Center for Urban Research and Learning) as the recipient of the Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award!

In case you missed the event, don't fret. We have saved the video on LCBH's YouTube page and you can go watch it now.

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.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

We are living in uncertain times. Eviction court is no exception. While the governor continues to extend the statewide moratorium on eviction filings in 30-day increments (the longest timeframe allowed by law) there is no certainty that these extensions will continue to be granted. The latest extension is set to expire on November 14th. LCBH is advocating for further extensions at least until all of the state’s emergency rental funds have been disbursed.

How has LCBH responded in the face of the uncertainty surrounding eviction court? We doubled our staff size. Last month, LCBH hired 19 people for the Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) to respond to the avalanche of eviction filings we expect to see once court reopens. This Project is funded through the Chicago Department of Housing using funds appropriated by the CARES Act and these funds need to be spent down by December 31, 2020. I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hire all the staff attorneys we would require in such a short window of time. I needn’t have worried. With the bar exams delayed until this month, there was an enormous amount of pent up energy and talent that wanted to join the cause. We currently have nine, mostly new, housing attorneys raring to go.

Michelle Gilbert, LCBH Legal Director

The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) family just got a little bit bigger. We are happy to welcome Michelle Gilbert as our new Legal Director. Michelle is leading LCBH's COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project.

LCBH is grateful to have Michelle's voice and advocacy. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

Why did you choose to work in housing in legal aid?
I had practiced a lot of housing law in the HIV Project of Legal Aid Chicago (then LAF). When LAF was divided into subject matter practice groups, I knew that housing was my first choice, immediately, instinctively, like how you know when you have met the person you will marry. Housing is fundamental – my chronically ill clients could not take their meds without housing. I feel like a missionary for eviction prevention – our society can’t solve homelessness until we stop making so many new people homeless. Plus, honestly, I like the practice. I like writing briefs and making arguments in court.

Sharon King

The Sharon L. King Alumni Award recognizes outstanding professional achievement among Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) former legal fellows and interns. Sharon joined LCBH as a volunteer in the Attorney of the Day Program in 1997 and then became a member of the Board of Directors, serving two terms as President.

LCBH is grateful for Sharon's long service and the contributions she has made to sustain the future of LCBH. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

Tell us about your legal career. Where did you work, and what type of law did you practice?
My legal career began when I graduated from college and became fully aware of women's lack of workplace opportunities. Mount Holyoke College, a women's college in Massachusetts, had affirmed my understanding from childhood that women could and should make their opportunities, so I enrolled in law school even though the legal profession was not particularly welcoming to women at that time.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Granted, it’s still months away. There are many sunny days left in the summer, before the crisp, fall weather arrives. Yet, as I think about the grueling work ahead for LCBH and others who advocate for renters in eviction court, I am filled with gratitude and a desire to say thank you, now, to some of the funders that make our work possible.

For many years the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois (LTF) has supported LCBH. In 2015, LTF selected LCBH to be one of several legal aid providers throughout Illinois to receive funding from the CitiBank and Bank of America mortgage foreclosure settlements. The LTF funding arrived just as a multi-year Illinois Attorney General National Mortgage Settlement grant was coming to an end. Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) helped administer the AG’s Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement Funds grant and was instrumental in ensuring that the funds did not only go to assist homeowners, but renters as well. IEJF has also been a long-time supporter of LCBH.

April Ikengah, CERA Intake Coordinator

The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) family just got a little bit bigger. We are happy to welcome April Ikengah as our new CERA Intake Coordinator. As many of you may know, what makes LCBH different is our holistic approach to helping those in need, which involves providing additional supportive services to our most vulnerable clients.

Here is a chance for you to meet April, who joined the team just a few months ago. LCBH is grateful to have April's voice and advocacy. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern we encourage you to Share Your Story.

How did you first get involved with LCBH?
I first contacted LCBH because I was going through an illegal eviction with my rental company.

What was your first impression of LCBH?
Speaking from a former client's perspective, it was very professional, and the staff was kind and caring.

Rentervention - Housing Problems Solved

In response to the public health crisis, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) has closed its office to the public until further notice. LCBH staff is working remotely, and LCBH is still taking applications by phone at 312-347-7600. However, the quickest way to get help if you have a problem with a housing issue and see if you qualify for legal representation is to visit www.rentervention.com to start a conversation with Rentervention, and Renny, LCBH’s bot.

The Circuit Court of Cook County has also announced that most civil legal cases like evictions will be postponed for 30 days starting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th, through April 15th, and no eviction orders will be entered during this time. Additionally, Sheriff Tom Dart has announced that the Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing Eviction Orders until further notice.

Keep in mind that even though courts may not be hearing eviction cases, renters should still be responsive to any lawful notices (5-day or 10-day notices) so that they can remain in their homes after this public health crisis passes.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope that you and your family had a happy month of February! The year has begun to ramp up for LCBH, and I’m pleased to share two critical updates:

The Just Housing Amendment (JHA) took effect on January 1, 2020. Before JHA, landlords could ask prospective renters about prior arrests and convictions and deny their application solely based on their criminal history. In many cases, this blanket form of discrimination leads to homelessness and family instability for returning citizens and their families who have served their time and pose no threat to personal safety or property.

LCBH is an Access to Justice Grantee. Access to Justice is a new statewide program administered by the Westside Justice Center and The Resurrection Project. It seeks to mitigate the devastating consequences of incarceration and family separation related to immigration on vulnerable communities by expanding effective and holistic community-based legal services.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I'm excited to share some of the "new year" resolutions we've set here at LCBH.

Plan ahead. Housing justice in Chicago is ever-evolving and we want to ensure LCBH is both nimble and effective for our clients and community. This week, we begin the process of creating a new three-year strategic plan for the organization. Email me if you have thoughts or suggestions for us to consider.

Build on 2019 Accomplishments. It was a big year for LCBH! Among many accomplishments, I want to highlight three of our most notable: