PHOTOS: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Chicago Rental Housing

Last updated: January 14, 2011 – 8:05 PM

Chicago’s current 311-reporting process does not work to protect renters against their slumlords. A mandatory rental housing inspection program with strong enforcement power is imperative for Chicago and the health of its communities. Below is a brief photographic summary of the conditions MTO witnesses on a regular basis.

Low-income renters experience higher rates of disease than their higher income counterparts. In my work as a healthy homes organizer, it has become strikingly clear why.

We have entered hundreds of apartments over the past few years and in them,  seen deplorable housing conditions that were the direct cause of a child’s disease which brought us to that apartment in the first place. For some unconscionable reason, the landlord chose not to invest the money needed to maintain the apartments in a livable condition and the city was often unresponsive to calls for help from the parents of these sick children.

Because of decades of activism, the City of Chicago has set up a system that is helpful to parents whose children have been lead poisoned. But – children are still the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ in the vast majority of cases. There is no program in place to prevent kids from lead poisoning and in particular, the most vulnerable children suffer.

There are even fewer controls in place for other healthy homes issues such as cockroach and rodent infestations, and mold problems. As of right now, there is little help in place for renters enduring unhealthy housing and absentee landlords. These conditions can be particularly harmful to children with asthma and other respiratory ailments. In most cases, especially in today’s economy, parents do not have the option to pick up and move. Instead, they make the difficult choice of having a roof over their family’s head or watching their kids suffer from their illnesses that are exacerbated right in their own home.

There needs to be programs with strong enforcement mechanisms for these families to turn to in order to correct these grossly negligent – and sometimes criminal – building code violations. Children living in unhealthy housing will suffer the effects of environmental injustice for the rest of their lives. This fact has been repeatedly proven and documented in numerous medical and public health academic journals. A recent Shriver Center report demonstrates how socioeconomically-integrated, safe, affordable housing offers children access to good schools, stability, and the health necessary to achieve their potential.

MTO is calling on Chicagoans to support a mandatory inspection program that would identify healthy homes issues and force landlords to maintain their buildings according to the Chicago building code requirements.

Sign the CHHIP Petition


If you are having Healthy Homes issues in your apartment, contact MTO’s Hotline for assistance at 773-292-4988, or notify your landlord directly online at Squared Away Chicago.  

If you would like to join the CHHIP campaign, contact Sheila at 773-292-4980 ext 231, or via email at

Warning: Some of the following photos are graphic and may be disturbing for sensitive viewers.



All 1 Comments

  1. Part of the problem is that the City of Chicago has too few inspectors who need to inspect too many apartments. It is impossible for the City alone to do all that needs doing.

    Not for Profit companies are “missing the boat”, as the old saying goes, because where governmental bodies lack the human resources and adequate funding to pursue the needs of society, lawyers in private practice are given proper incentives to act as “informal” Attorneys’ General, and can go after slum-lords either in individual actions or class actions. And, “horrors”, imagine that, that lawyers can help the causes so badly needed as evidenced by this story, and at the same time actually, at least in some case, earn legal fees!!!! Lawyers earn their money from the bad landlords!

    Why should this be a barrier to justice being done? Does anyone else work for nothing? (Perhaps a few, but not many can afford to do so.)

    It is time for MTO and other Not For Profit Companies to understand and collaborate with the power that exists to work with lawyers in private practice and help get there to be more habitable housing, as well as, hopefully, affordable housing.

    Paul Bernstein, lawyer in
    Private practice.

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