As pandemic lifts, evictions are not the answer

The April 26 article “As Pandemic Lifts, Landlords Await Relief on Evictions” favors landlords and presents a superficial analysis of what is happening in Chicago’s rental market as it relates to COVID.

First, the article interviews Corey Oliver, a  developer/landlord who owns 140 units on the South and West Sides.  A developer of this size should not be viewed as a mom and pop owner or even a small property owner. We are sympathetic to the plight of small landlords weathering the pandemic who truly find themselves in a tenuous situation.  A property owner of 140 units is an investor.

Second, rents make up only a fraction of the way that investors/landlords make money. The article makes no mention of the money property owners make when selling property and the tax breaks and depreciation they receive.

Third, the article wonders whether landlords are “being left behind in official recovery plans.” It makes no mention of the tens of thousands of dollars in COVID rent arrearage funds that have already been allocated and distributed directly to landlords, not to mention the tens of thousands in the pipeline.  This article also failed to include the voice of a single tenant who might speak to the difficulties of keeping up with rent payments while losing employment during the pandemic.

Further, the notion that landlords do not want to evict tenants is false. As evidence, before the pandemic, the majority of evictions were for less than $2,500 in back rent. Most landlords make little if any effort to negotiate terms with renters struggling with financial problems, and when landlords bring a case to eviction court, it results in an eviction order 60 percent of the time.

Another example demonstrating landlords’ disposition toward eviction is their effort to undermine the proposed Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance in Chicago. The ordinance would require landlords to provide a fair reason to terminate a lease and evict a tenant. Organizations such as the Neighborhood Buildings Owner’s Alliance vehemently oppose having to state a reason for eviction and are against this ordinance. Four states and more than 20 cities have a Just Cause ordinance, and over 10 million rental units nationwide are governed by “just cause.” Chicago should join them in protecting renters from being uprooted from their homes through no fault of their own.

Without trying to get into a conflictual tenant versus landlord perspective, it is important to understand that rental market problems are systemic. Pre-pandemic, almost a fifth of renters paid over half their income to rent and utilities. This is obviously a recipe for disaster for these tenants who have no rainy-day savings and cannot weather a crisis such as the one the pandemic created. Thus, tenants, who are disproportionately people of color, have fallen behind in rent.

The underlying assumption made by the article is that housing is viewed as a commodity for the landlords to use to accrue wealth, and not as the human necessity for renters. The answer to the current problem is not to give landlords the ability to evict people without any checks and balances once again, but rather is changing laws to guarantee everyone the right to decent, safe, affordable, and accessible housing. To start, Chicago Alderpeople and Mayor Lightfoot should support and pass the Just Cause to Evict ordinance.      

Annie Howard, Organizer, Chicago Housing Justice League, and John Bartlett, Executive Director, Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization

Now Hiring Assistant Director

Reports to:                       Executive Director

Classification:    Full-time, Exempt

Organization:

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) is a 30-year old grassroots organization working to empower tenants to have a voice in decisions that impact the availability and affordability of safe, decent and accessible housing. MTO’s programmatic areas are: Citywide Tenants Rights Hotline, Affordable Housing Preservation Project, and Healthy Homes Project.  Each of MTO’s programs work together to form a comprehensive tool box to help tenants improve their housing and their lives.  Programs provide tenants with information, support, organizing assistance and a means to work towards broader social change goals.  MTO has also recently begun to expand its programs to serve tenants in suburban Cook County, creating challenges and opportunities for growth of programs.

Basic Function:

The Assistant Director (AD), under the general supervision of the executive director (ED), is a Senior Management position.  The AD will be primarily responsible for oversight of the MTO’s programs and ensuring the effective and efficient running of the agency’s internal operations.  The AD will report to the Executive Director and will be responsible for supervising program staff.    

Responsibilities:

Program Management

  1. Responsible for MTO’s program operations ensuring that all program goals are set and met;
  2. Work with ED to sustain and grow programs and services;
  3. Review services on an ongoing basis and with the ED develop new program as needs emerge;
  4. Oversee program staff including the assignment of tasks and duties;
  5. Provide training and guidance to program staff, including recommendations for external trainings;
  6. Work with the ED to develop programmatic job descriptions and to participate in hiring interviews;
  7. Identify and implement best practices;
  8. Create ongoing opportunities for staff members to provide feedback on program operations;
  9. Inform the ED (and other staff members and Board of Directors as advisable) of program issues, changes and accomplishments

Advocacy Campaigns

  1. Oversee leadership development of MTO’s constituents
  2. Under ED’s leadership implement MTO’s campaigns and participate in strategic planning meetings.
  3. When needed create presentations for and attend public meetings
  4. Represent the organization to the public, public officials, key stakeholders and funding partners
  5. Implement calendar of activities including special events and fundraising activities
  6. Strengthen relationships with community partners

Administration

  1. Administer grants (governmental and private foundations);
  2. Help create budgets and track program expenditures;
  3. Assist in grant writing, editing and individual fundraising;
  4. Participate in implementation of agency’s communication plan as necessary;
  5. Ensure the ongoing maintenance and updating of information systems and infrastructure including hardware, software and ASP applications.

Human Resources

  1. Work with ED to manage human resources, including responsibility for employee evaluation, employee policies, and legal compliance;
  2. AD will make recommendations to ED regarding discipline, pay increases and promotions;

Other

  1. Work with the ED to implement strategic plan
  2. Fulfill duties delegated by ED

Requirements:

  1. Passion for MTO’s mission and the ability to articulate the agency’s philosophies, values and practices to internal and external stakeholders
  2. At least 10 years of experience working with not-for-profit, with five years in a senior management position, such as program director, lead organizer or other supervisory position;
  3. Excellent written and verbal communications skills including public speaking and presentation skills.
  4. The ability to relate well to tenants, staff, Board of Directors, funders and public officials;
  5. Solid working knowledge of non-profit management, strategic planning, capacity building, program development, and personnel management;
  6. Works hard and is able to encourage the same in others;
  7. Proven effectiveness at forming strong and effective working teams.
  8. A solid understanding of community organizing and leadership development.
  9. Public policy experience required, preferably in housing.
  10. Proven track record working in a diverse,  multi-cultural setting
  11. Bachelors Degree and proficiency at Microsoft Office required

Compensation:

Base salary $55,000 with additional salary based on experience

Excellent benefits including health and dental

To apply send cover letter, resume and 5 references (at least 3 professional) to John Bartlett,  johnb@tenants-rights.org

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Apply now to join the Access to Justice team as an MTO Community Navigator

Community Navigators will promote MTO’s Access to Justice Eviction Prevention Project.  Navigators will represent MTO online and/or in their community – informing tenants of their housing rights and available resources and encouraging them to seek relief. Ideal candidates will be comfortable using Social Media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc), drafting social media posts, creating outreach materials, conducting email outreach, and other communications related tasks.

MTO agrees to:

  1. Compensate Navigators by providing individuals with a $700 monthly stipend. 
  2. Compensate Navigators for use of personal phones and internet services.
  3. Provide all Navigators with training on Chicago Residential Tenant Ordinance and State of Illinois eviction laws, including the Just Housing ordinance.
  4. Supply Navigators with flyers, handouts and sign-in sheets as needed.

Navigators Agree to:

  1. Develop a monthly work plan in coordination with project supervisor.
  2. Participate in Tenants Rights training within first month of agreement.
  3. Maintain written or computerized records of their outreach work.
  4. Act professionally and abide by all city, state and federal laws while working as a navigator.
  5. Will not discriminate, harass or debase anyone based on race, gender, sexual identify, disability, ethnic background, etc.
  6. Work on average 10 hours per week.  Routinely working less than 10 hours per week will result in a smaller stipend.

Navigators are independent contractors. The Community Navigator Contract can be terminated by either party with a 7-day notice. 

To apply, please send a resume to philip@tenants-rights.org

Do you live in Suburban Cook County and need help paying rent and utilities due to COVID-19?

The Cook County Emergency Rental Assistance program pays up to 12 months of missed rent and utilities payments and up to 3 months of future rent payments.

Applications will be accepted until April 2, 2021. Start the application process at cookcountyil.gov/recovery.

How do I know if I’m eligible? To be eligible, renters must:

  • Live in suburban Cook County and rent their home (Landlords may apply on behalf of tenants)
  • Lack access to other support (e.g., don’t live in public housing or receive rental assistance from other programs)
  • Have proof of financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Have a household annual income at or below these requirements:
Household size12345678
Income$51,000$58,250$65,550$72,800$78,650$84,450$90,300$96,100

What documents do I need to apply? For the initial application, renters need:

  • Photo ID
  • Social Security card (if available)
  • Verification of income for 2020 (e.g., recent paystubs or tax returns)
  • Documentation of COVID-19 financial hardship (e.g., unemployment claims or proof of income decrease)
  • Latest utility bill (if applying for utility assistance)

To apply and learn more:

For assistance with your application and language translation services, please contact the Cook County Emergency Rental Assistance Program helpline at 877-426-6515.

If you live in the City of Chicago and need rental assistance, visit chi.gov/housinghelp for more information

Leland Building- Organizing Success

For most of us, 2020 has been a year of trials and tribulations. A seemingly never-ending barrage of new challenges has confronted us at the turn of each season. As Chicagoans continue to grapple with a deadly global pandemic, many are struggling desperately to hang on to the only thing that can keep them safe: their homes.

After moving into her two-bedroom Albany Park apartment with her teenage daughter in January, Ferrus Najemba felt safe and secure. Victor Munoz, who had lived next door with his wife and two daughters for 13 years, felt the same way. But that all had changed by May of this year, when all 20 or so tenants in the seven-unit building were told that they had to go. Just five days after purchasing the building on May 23rd, the new owner, Brian McFadden, sent 30-day notices to the tenants telling them they must leave by the end of June.

Salvadore Alvarez holds up a copy of the 30-day notice he received outside of his apartment building on September 4, 2020.

Everyone in the building had always paid rent dutifully. Many of the tenants, most of whom are immigrants with children, have lived in the building for years. Their former landlord never mentioned anything about selling the building. The tenants were surprised, confused, and angry. In hopes of delaying their ouster from the building, Ferrus and her neighbors worked with organizers from Metropolitan Tenants Organization and the Autonomous Tenants Union to form a tenants union and demand one-year leases for all current residents.

The newly formed Leland Tenants Union (named after the street where they reside) tried to meet with the owner, but he ignored them for weeks. They worked with their Alderman (Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), and held a press conference outside their building in September. “He has not called me back. Pick up the phone, Brian. Sit down with these tenants. They’re prepared to sign permanent leases. They’re prepared to pay rent. Do the right thing,” Rosa said. One by one, tenants from the building shared their stories and demanded a meeting with McFadden. “When we got the eviction notices, it was heartbreaking and scary. I was angry,” Victor Muñoz said during the press conference, his voice cracking with emotion. “I started worrying about my kids. How am I going to keep a roof over their heads during this pandemic?”.

Victor Munoz speaks during the press conference outside his apartment on September 4, 2020.

The tenants union didn’t stop making their demands, and their dedication paid off. A week after their protest, negotiations with McFadden resumed. In October, McFadden agreed to waive back rent and give all the tenants one-year leases.

Today, MTO is joining the Leland Tenants Union and the thousands of renters across Chicago calling for a Just Cause bill, which would eliminate no-cause evictions, give more time to tenants who do have to move, and put certain limits on reasons why a landlord can displace a tenant. With such a bill, tenants like Victor and Ferrus would be protected, and our communities would be that much safer.

Renters Resources during COVID-19

What You Should Know

(Updated on 11/16//20)

Are You Unable to Pay Rent?

  • Talk to your landlord or property manager right now if you anticipate an issue paying rent. Put all your conversations in writing.
  • If you live in private market housing, use the sample letter below to draft a letter to your landlord immediately.
  • If you live in subsidized housing, make sure you request a re-certification immediately. Use the sample letter below to send a request to your housing provider.

LEGAL ISSUES DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

*For more info about a specific topic, click any headline below*

How can I get help from HUD or CHA?  

  • HUD is open for business but will NOT accept walk-in visitors at this time. They will provide services via phone/online while they focus efforts on serving people most in need.
    • Online: Click Here
    • Email: Send an email to: IL_Webmanager@hud.gov  (note: underscore between IL_ and Webmanager)
    • By Phone: Call your local office: (312) 353-6236

  • CHA is open for business but will NOT accept walk-in visitors at this time.
    • By Phone: Call your local office: (312) 742-8500
  • No matter who your housing provider is, you should contact them immediately if your income has changed. Send them a letter requesting an income re-certification.

Have a specific question?

CLICK HERE TO SEND US AN EMAIL

More COVID-19 Resources

City of Chicago Corona Virus Response Center

  • Food
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Utilities
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Illinois Housing Action’s comprehensive COVID-19 Resources website

  • State, County and local resource lists
  • Situation updates
  • Information specific to renters who need assistance

Centers for Disease Control website

  • Downloadable factsheets and flyers in English, Spanish and Simplified Chinese
  • Health and hygiene recommendations
  • Travel guidance
  • Situation updates
  • Information specific to schools, workplaces, etc.

Illinois Department of Public Health COVID-19 website

  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Regularly posted updates on new cases in Illinois
  • Updated cautions and advisories
  • Recommendations specific to Illinois

Cook County Department of Public Health website 

  • Information for healthcare providers and communities
  • Detailed health and hygiene recommendations
  • Contact information for suburban Cook County
  • Information for individuals: Clean, Cover and Contain

COVID-19 INFO HOTLINES

Illinois Dept. of Public Health’s hotline: 800-889-3931 or email dph.sick@illinois.gov

The City of Chicago hotline: 312-746-4835 or email coronavirus@chicago.gov 

Do you live in Evanston? Check out the virtual training below:

#Giving Tuesday or #GT has grown as the kick-off to the holiday season with vast choices of social causes across the world to support online. #GT is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Invest in a cause you believe in here today or give on Dec. 1st.


Housing stability and equity is MTO’s cause. Our mission is to learn with and from community, and organize low-income renters advocating for transformative housing policies. During COVID-19 we, at MTO, continue to build the power and voices of our communities most impacted by unfair and unjust housing practices. This year, MTO prevented 275 households from being displaced and/or evicted and developed 75 tenants’ associations that worked hard to preserve over 1200 units of affordable housing throughout Chicago & Cook County.


Your contribution helps to keep families housed and supports our campaigns for policies to protect and uplift our communities most impacted by housing instability. Make your #Giving Tuesday contribution today by clicking here or visit our website again anytime on December 1st. Everyone deserves safe, decent, and healthy affordable and accessible housing. And we need you to help us get the job done!


Make a contribution today

Metropolitan Tenants Organization | 1727 S. Indiana Ave. Suite G03 Chicago, Il 60616 | Our office is currently closed.

Visit us at www.squaredawaychicago.com or call MTO’s Tenants’ Rights Hotline – M-F 1pm to 5pm at (773) 292-4988