Blog

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.

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.

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.

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.

My LCBH Attorney and Court Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) Prevented me from being Homeless

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.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope you, your family, and your colleagues are safe and healthy. As we stand in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, we do so in recognition that the majority of LCBH’s clients are Black and that the structural racism and racial disparities in our health, criminal law, and other systems are equally evident in our eviction system. As such we will continue to prioritize LCBH’s advocacy in Chicago’s hardest-hit Black communities.

As we have for 40 years, LCBH pledges to partner with you to reform eviction court and leverage technology to better serve renters facing serious housing issues. In this newsletter, I invite you to learn more about Renny and how you can help prevent COVID-19 related evictions.

Renny is Here to Help

Rentervention - Housing Problems Solved

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

Tenants who use Rentervention.com can now find answers to questions about their housing amid the current health crisis. This expansion is already proving to be a valuable resource. In March, there were 804 visitors to Rentervention.com, followed by 2,898 in April and nearly 3,750 in May.

Renny is programmed to address users' concerns and provide them with the appropriate resources. For example, Renny provides sample letters for tenants to edit and send to their landlords about issues such as difficulty paying rent or needing repairs done.

Moreover, Renny informs renters what their landlords can and cannot do and connects them to free lawyers who can review the user’s conversation with Renny to provide legal help.

During this crisis, the common types of questions that Renny receives are about not being able to pay rent and COVID-19 specific issues. As the laws and guidelines change, Renny is provided with the most current legislation to inform tenants about their rights during this unprecedented time.

Laurel Chen

Laurel Chen was an intern in LCBH's supportive services department during the 2018-2019 academic year. LCBH is grateful to have Laurel's voice and advocacy. If you are a former pro bono attorney, supportive services intern, or legal fellow, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

How did you get involved with LCBH?
I was an intern at LCBH during my 2nd year at the University of Chicago School of Service Administration (SSA). Before applying to SSA, I worked for the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, where I focused on a range of homelessness prevention strategies.

Why did you want to intern at LCBH?
I was interested in learning more about on the ground housing issues. I found LCBH in SSA's field placement catalog and I liked its holistic approach to housing issues by combining social work and legal-aid. So, I reached out to Jude Gonzales, LCBH's Supportive Services Director, about a position.

What was it like to be an intern at LCBH? What work did you do?
I worked with clients who were receiving legal services. I assisted them in finding a new housing situation. I would check in with clients by phone or person. A lot of this involved reaching out to landlords, going through affordable housing listings and supporting clients to find a good match for them. I did this in partnership with the attorneys on the case.