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.
Last summer, Mae Whiteside did something that’s highly unusual in the world of non-profits.
"I picked up the phone and called to see if Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing had any openings for board members" she shares. "I needed to get back involved in this fight, because being homeless shaped me into who I am today."
Whiteside's childhood homes included tiny kitchenette studios, rooms with no heat, acquaintances' couches, and even homeless shelters. Her family's journey through homelessness began in 1985 when Mae's older sister turned 18 and financial support for her ended. Mae's mother tried but couldn't get their household income adjusted with the Chicago Housing Authority.
"She met with many pro bono and legal service providers – they couldn’t help, didn’t care," Mae says.
Giving Tuesday is finally here and we’re grateful to have a supportive community of volunteers, staff, and clients to help us reach our goals. Our partnership with Forefront for the #ILGive campaign has already produced results with our total for today surpassing $5,000, but we want to go even further. Chicago renters facing unfair eviction orders, poor housing conditions, and skyrocketing rents need our help and there’s no better way to do this than donating or volunteering here!
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 have started assessing this year's progress and thinking about what's ahead in 2020, our 40th anniversary as an organization. There's much of which to be proud and yet, new goals in housing justice will require considerable strategy, collaboration and coordination.
Celebrating accomplishments began on Monday, November 4 at our 39th Annual Bringing Justice Home event. At a gathering of LCBH’s staff, alumni, volunteers and friends, we recognized Emily Coffey, a former LCBH Loyola Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Intern and then Fellow, now at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, with the inaugural Sharon L. King Distinguished Alumni Award, as well as our friends at DLA Piper LLP, who were selected for the Pro Bono Service Award. It was a terrific night, hosted by our friends at Kirkland & Ellis.
Did you know that Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing was founded in 1980 by a group of attorneys in the Rogers Park neighborhood to combat deteriorating conditions in multi-family buildings?
As LCBH approaches our 40th anniversary as an organization, we are gathering stories from former and current staff, legal volunteers, and organizational friends.
How have the avenues of pursuing safe, affordable housing for Chicagoans evolved while you’ve been part of LCBH? What were the roadblocks you encountered and key victories achieved? Who was involved in shaping housing justice efforts with you?
After a somewhat lengthy process, our newest staff attorney Sally Robinson was recently sworn in to practice here in Illinois.
Sally joined LCBH in May after moving to Chicago from New York City, where she held staff attorney and supervisory positions as a tenant-side housing advocate. Most recently, she was a managing attorney in housing at Legal Services of New York City, an organization that saw unprecedented growth in the wake of the New York passage of right to counsel for housing cases.
That experience is proving extremely beneficial. While waiting out the admittance process, in addition to her supervised assistance in eviction defense cases, Sally has been involved in LCBH’s advocacy work around Right to Counsel and Just Cause.
Right to Counsel advocacy efforts are taking shape with our community partners.
You'll learn more about each of these when you attend the 39th Annual Bringing Justice Home Fall Networking and Awards event on Monday, November 4. I'm grateful to LCBH's Young Professionals Board for their hard work - this evening is one of my favorites. Get your ticket today and save $10.
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.