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.
Ms. Wiles lived peacefully above her landlord in an owner-occupied building for over a year. During this time, she underwent training to become a foster parent, with the hope of adopting a child one day. To her surprise, she had the opportunity to adopt three siblings and keep a family together.
Unfortunately, Ms. Wiles’ landlord did not share her enthusiasm about the situation or like the idea of three children joining her in the upstairs apartment. The following month, the owner demanded an immediate rent increase of 47% and refused to accept the previously agreed upon rent listed in the lease. When Ms. Wiles was unable to pay the higher rent, the owner served her with a five-day notice to terminate the tenancy and then filed an eviction lawsuit.
Ms. Wiles came to LCBH seeking legal representation in eviction court where she was referred to the LCBH’s Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense program. Ms. Wiles had a compelling defense based on discrimination against her due to her parental status, which is protected both in Chicago and Cook County. She also had a strong technical defense based on her landlord’s failure to provide her with proper notice.
Ruby is a disabled, single mother and struggling to get by month to month. Financially, it helps that Ruby’s family lives in a subsidized building. Ruby recently fell behind on her rent payments because her building’s management company refused to accurately record the changes in her income and adjust her rent as required by the Chicago Housing Authority. This kept a balance on her rent account and the management company consistently refused to make the necessary adjustments and through these disputes Ruby fell further behind on her rent. Ruby received a series of termination notices that did not accurately state her rental rate, rent payments, or her outstanding balance. Upon receiving each termination notice, Ruby approached management in an attempt to clear up any inconsistencies but to no avail. Her plan was to repay any deficiency in the rent she might owe but management refused to accept any payments or to meet with Ruby to resolve the matter. After months of run around, the management company filed an eviction case against Ruby. Fearful of losing her home, Ruby came to LCBH seeking legal assistance.
This past summer LCBH joined the Chicago For All Coalition, which was formed by ONE Northside, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, to address the loss of Single Room Occupancy (SROs) hotels in Chicago. The coalition has been working with the City of Chicago to create a long-term solution that would help stabilize tenancies and preserve this affordable housing resource.
This summer LCBH has seven legal interns and volunteers 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 services our clients need. Here are a few highlights from each of them:
Sarah Barnes is a rising third year law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law. At LCBH, Sarah works with the Tenants in Foreclosure Intervention Project (TFIP), assisting renters who are facing eviction due to a landlord’s mortgage foreclosure. Prior to law school, Sarah volunteered with the AmeriCorps program where she helped Michigan homeowners avoid foreclosure through counseling and home retention services. “When individuals and families do not have stable housing it affects every other aspect of their life.” Sarah enjoys working with tenants, especially at LCBH’s help desk. “There are many laws protecting tenants in this position, but most tenants do not know their rights and do not know where to turn for help.” Sarah has enjoyed working with the TFIP program and hopes to continue volunteering at the help desk in the fall.
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The Chicago For All Coalition was convened by ONE Northside, and includes LCBH and many other tenant advocate and social service organizations. The purpose of the coalition is to address the rapid depletion of Single Room Occupancy (SROs) hotels in Chicago. SROs provide short and long-term affordable housing options for some of the city’s most vulnerable, very low-income residents, like the recently homeless, veterans, and persons with disabilities. SROs are often located in desirable areas of the city—walkable neighborhoods, close to public transportation and with abundant social service agencies. In the past several years, many SROs have been sold to investors who rehab the buildings and raise rents far beyond what former residents could afford. Chicago stands to lose this crucial affordable housing resource.
As LCBH notes in its 2013 Foreclosure Report, “One scenario that has played out frequently over the past few years is the purchase of low-income buildings and single room occupancy buildings or hotels (SROs) by investors hoping to cash in on the growth in the rental market. Investors buy buildings, rehab units, and increase rent, virtually ensuring that former residents cannot return. Recent examples of this phenomenon include the purchase of the Lawrence House, Astor House, Abbott Hotel, and Chateau Hotel, all high-rise buildings in Rogers Park, Lakeview, and Uptown.”
This year the LCBH began a partnership with the Hope Manor Apartments, which is a supportive housing development specifically designed for veterans in Chicago. Attorneys with LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program are providing trainings for veterans about their rights as renters in Chicago. The trainings also cover changes in the law, including recently passed Chicago ordinances, including the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance and the Bed Bug Ordinance. At each training veterans are provided with real-life examples of issues that arise in a landlord/tenant relationship and are given advice about the laws and how to resolve these issues. Training is one of the many activities Hope Manor provides as a social service for veterans, and LCBH is proud to be a partner.
Lately, LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) attorneys have been working with many renters confronted with displacement and eviction because of redevelopment. In the Logan Square neighborhood stands an extraordinary apartment building. It was quaint, diverse, and had rents of only $600 - $700 a month. It had one vintage elevator with an iron gate to close. The building was close to public transportation and lots of shops, and was in a safe and quiet area. The renters living there loved most everything about it.
The building was sold to an investor who intended to gut and rehab the building, and, of course, substantially increase rents. In order to do this, the investor would need to vacate the building of its current residents. A few weeks before Christmas, a barrage of 30-day notices went out followed by eviction filings and court summonses. A few tenants attempted to renew their leases, but were refused. Some of the tenants moved out, accepting that they would no longer be able to live there.
During this push to move the tenants out, unpermitted construction at the property began. The construction was noisy and disruptive. The tenants watched as their building underwent rehabilitation that they would not have an opportunity to benefit from. At the same time, basic maintenance and repairs to their individual units had just about stopped completely.
LCBH participated in the Sustainable Vows community event on Saturday, August 2nd. Sustainable Vows is an art, sustainability and urban farming festival with events for all ages including sustainable practices, farm tours, food workshops, craft tables, and outdoor art studios. LCBH was compelled to participate due to the often overlooked link between sustainability issues and affordable housing issues. Under the umbrella of environmental justice, both initiatives (sustainability and affordable housing) seek to ensure that environmental issues (including housing) are approached from a bottom-up perspective, meaning those most impacted have a voice in shaping their environment and the policies that impact them.
LCBH had a booth set up at the festival to provide participants with information about our organization while also hosting fun and family friendly activities like LCBH’s Drawing Contest. Participants were asked to draw a picture about their neighborhood. We received many creative and insightful pictures from the children (and adults) who participated – check them out on our Facebook page.
Overall, the event was very successful. We generated a lot of feedback from the community about ways to link sustainability, community development, and affordable housing in Chicago!
This summer LCBH has four undergraduate interns working in our Supportive Services Department. This is a BIG help as our graduate interns are only here during the regular school year from September until June. Without these students who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the level of service our clients need. Here are a few highlights from each of the students:
Helena Bassett is interning at LCBH through the Summer Links program at the University of Chicago, where she is entering her third year. She is studying history and critical theory, and spends most of her time organizing with the student arm of the Trauma Center Coalition. Working with Supportive Services, Helena is crafting a survey to help get a clearer picture of tenants’ actual needs beyond legal help when they are accepted as an LCBH client. Right now, that means she gets to connect with some of the amazing tenants that have already gone through Supportive Services so that the tenants’ own perspectives help shape the survey and the direction of the program. “I believe that one of the most fundamental ways that asymmetrical power structures are expressed is through the often unjust relationship between tenant and landlord. Working at LCBH shows me one of the avenues possible for challenging that structure.”