Join the Chicago Housing Justice League for a Community Forum on Housing Justice in Chicago’s South Side Communities
We would like to remind everyone that starting September 15th the heat should be turned ON. Heat minimum requirements are from September 15 – June 1. The minimum heat requirement for residential units is: 68 degrees between 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Chicago Building Code Chapter 13-196-410 states that: Every family unit or rooming unit to which heat is furnished from a heating plant used in common for the purpose of heating the various rooms of the dwelling shall be supplied with heat from September 15th of each year to June 1st of the succeeding year so that the occupants of a family unit or rooming unit may secure, without such undue restriction of ventilation as to interfere with proper sanitary conditions, a minimum temperature of 68 degrees at 8:30 a.m. and thereafter until 10:30 p.m. and 66 degrees at 10:30 p.m. and thereafter until 8:30 a.m. averaged throughout the family unit or rooming unit.
If you have no heat:
- Call 311 and ask for a building inspection – or make an online request here. Write down the Service request number for your records.
- Notify your landlord using Squared Away Chicago. If your landlord does not respond, click “Escalate” and send 24-hour notice.
- After sending notice, print it & send by certified mail, keeping a copy for yourself.
- Visit our Heat & Essential Services FAQ page for more information.
- Call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline – 773-292-4988 – to speak to a counselor for help.
Stay warm, Chicago. Exercise your rights – housing is a human right!
Monica loves spending time at home with her family. Unfortunately, her home has not always been a safe place for her children to grow and develop. Monica’s two year old son, Kyle, was diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels due to the presence of lead in their apartment. Despite her landlord’s assurance that he fixed the problem, repeat testing revealed that Kyle and each of his seven brothers and sisters had dangerously high blood lead levels.
Concerned about her children’s wellbeing, Monica immediately began looking for a safe place for her family to live. At the same time, Monica’s doctor at Erie Family Health Center contacted the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership between Erie Family Health Center and Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where an advocate was assigned to her case. Monica wanted to make sure her family could move into healthy housing without losing the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher that helped pay their rent. To help Monica break the lease and keep her voucher, the Health Justice Project worked with an Erie Family Health Center Nurse Practitioner to submit a reasonable accommodation request to the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). The request, which was approved by CHA, allowed Monica to transfer to an apartment where the children’s growth, neurological development, and endocrine systems would not be compromised by the presence of lead.
During the course of representation, the Health Justice Project uncovered that routine property inspections do not include lead assessments. This means that families housed through CHA programs could be approved to move into housing that presents lead poisoning risks like in the home Monica and her family were occupying. To ensure the health of Monica’s family, the Health Justice Project secured a Lead Hazard Home Test from the Chicago Department of Public Health in Monica’s new home. Test results showed no threat of lead exposure in the new apartment and Monica and her children were able to move in immediately.
When the Health Justice Project advocate called Monica a few weeks later to check in, she immediately noticed a change in Monica’s demeanor, “Every time I had spoken to her before, she sounded stressed and worried and preoccupied. But this time, she was really happy about the situation because she was finally in her new place and she knew that lead wasn’t a hazard anymore.” Unfortunately, Monica is one of the many tenants who experience the negative health effects caused by unsafe and unhealthy housing in Chicago. Lead poisoning causes irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system development, which may result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, developmental delay, seizures, and comas. Ultimately, these health conditions can lead to other social implications including academic failure, juvenile delinquency, and high blood pressure.
If Monica’s home had been inspected prior to their move-in date, her children could have avoided the lead exposure altogether. Instead, because of a lack of healthy housing policies, she and her children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead for years. Many cities across the United States are adopting best practices to avoid the health-harming effects and social implications of unsafe housing. We want Chicago to join in to help create and maintain a healthy housing stock for all our communities. The Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program is an initiative designed to enforce building code standards which will protect renters from health hazards in their home. To protect your own family, and other families from the negative effects housing can have on their health.
Read more: Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It comes into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation. All homes with or without basements should be tested for radon. You can’t see, smell or taste radon. It could be present at dangerous levels in the home without knowing. The best time to test homes is during the winter month when windows are shut and elevated levels of radon are more likely to be detected.
The Chicago Department of Public Health recommends taking action to fix radon levels at or above 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). Addressing high radon levels sometimes costs the the same as other minor home repairs. In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon. For info on how to test, find a qualified radon professional or obtain a test kit at http://www.epa.gov/radon or call the Cook County Radon Hot Line at 708-865-6177. Also check out the EPA’s Radon Guide for Tenants. Property owners are responsible for making repairs when radon is found in the home. If you have further questions you may contact MTO’s Healthy Homes Program at 773-292-4980 ext 231.
The City of Chicago has recently been named the nation’s #1 city infested with bed bugs. Everyday MTO’s tenants’ rights hotline receives calls from renters throughout the City and suburbs dealing with the pesky pests. Bed bugs are not unique to Chicago. They are undoubtedly a nuisance and hard to control. Controlling bed bugs requires tenants and landlords working together.
On June 5, 2013, the City Council passed an ordinance aimed at putting an end to the spread of bed bugs. This ordinance will go into effect December 23, 2013. There are key components of the ordinance that all renters should know. Let’s start with landlord responsibilities:
- To supply a tenant starting or renewing a lease with an informational brochure
- To maintain a written record of bed bug control efforts
- To send a written notice to the tenant explaining their responsibilities before the inspection
- To provide pest control services when bed bugs are found by a pest management professional as many times as necessary to eliminate the problem
- To inspect within 10 days and treat if necessary the two units on either side as well as the two units above and below of the infested unit
The ordinance also outlines what tenants’ responsibilities are to help eliminate bed bugs. Please note that this section of the ordinance does not apply to tenants living in assisted living or a shared housing establishment, when the establishment provides assistance with daily living activities. According to the ordinance, tenant responsibilities include:
- To notify the landlord in writing of any suspected or known infestation in the tenants’ unit, clothing, furniture or personal property within 5 days
- To notify the landlord in writing of any recurring or unexplained bites, stings or sores suspected to be caused by bed bugs
- To cooperate with the landlord in the control, treatment, and eradication of bed bugs including
- To grant access at reasonable times upon reasonable notice for inspections and treatments/to not interfere
- To prepare unit prior to treatment including: cleaning, dusting, vacuuming
- To properly dispose of personal property that cannot be treated or cleaned before the pest control services
The Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance also mandates the disposal of bedding, clothing, furnishings or other infested materials. For example, you may not place, discard or dispose of any bedding, clothing or furnishings infested on the public way (i.e. dumpsters, sidewalks, hallways). To get rid of infested items, you must enclose the item in a plastic bag and label it as infested. Doing so should prevent neighbors from bringing to their home infested items, therefore stalling the spread of bed bugs.
The ordinance will be enforced by the Department of Buildings and the Department of Public Health. If any person is found violating the ordinance, that person may be fined $300.00 to $1,000 per day for each offense. By complying with the ordinance, these fees can be avoided. The full ordinance can be found at www.cityofchicago.org. You can make a request for a City inspector here.
With mounting evidence that lead poisoning results in lower test scores, more children repeating grades, and worse, why has so little been done in Chicago to reverse the damage?
By: Megan Cottrell – Chicago Reader – October 31, 2012
Patricia Robinson recalls a time when she fondly watched her son, Michael, then a toddler, sit in the windowsill of her Englewood home, completely engrossed. Matchbox car in hand, he would run the toy back and forth over the brown painted surface, making little vrooms and beep-beeps as he played.
Ten years later, Robinson’s warmth for that moment has long faded. That was where it started—where she believes Michael ingested the lead-filled dust that poisoned him, leaving him with lifelong learning disabilities. “There isn’t a day I don’t think about it,” Robinson says. “It’s taken over my life.”
Doctors, organic food, costly tutors, special ed teachers—Robinson has tried whatever she can to help her son get ahead, despite the difficulties he’s faced because of lead poisoning. But Michael’s struggles to learn, to pay attention in school, and to get along with other children continue.
While there’s no doubt that the number of children affected by lead poisoning has dropped precipitously since the 70s (when lead was taken out of paint and gasoline), Chicago has the distinction of being home to more cases of lead toxicity than any large city in the U.S.
A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the blood lead levels of third graders between 2003 and 2006—students now likely to be roaming the halls at CPS high schools. It turns out that at three-quarters of Chicago’s 464 elementary schools, the students’ average blood lead level was high enough to be considered poisoned, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although lead poisoning is rarely mentioned in the debate on how to improve schools, the UIC research shows just how much it may be damaging kids’ ability to succeed. According to the study, lead-poisoned students in Chicago Public Schools are more likely to fail the third grade and score notably lower on their yearly standardized tests.
Lead paint, which was banned in 1978, is still present in thousands of older homes and apartment buildings across Chicago, particularly on the south and west sides, where the housing stock is older. And though lead hazards are clearly identifiable and inexpensive to eradicate, the city’s budget for lead-poisoning prevention has plummeted in recent years.
“Lead poisoning is one of the few causes of social and learning problems that we know how to solve,” said Anita Weinberg, director of Lead Safe Housing Initiatives at Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University. “We can resolve this problem within a generation, but it’s not a priority for the city.”
As money has dried up, the burden to get the word out has fallen on parents like Robinson. She tells parents about the dangers of lead poisoning every day as she helps Englewood residents obtain health care access and child care through her work at Children’s Home and Aid.
“I try to warn them,” says Robinson, who figured out what happened to her son through bloodwork and environmental tests of their home. “I want to let them know so they won’t have to go through what I have gone through.”
How do kids become lead poisoned? It’s not usually from eating paint chips. Instead, lead is typically ingested as dust—dust that’s created when old windows and doors are opened and closed, scattering a fine layer of the invisible stuff on a home’s floors and walls. As is presumed to be the case with Michael, children get this dust on their hands, then put their hands in their mouths. It doesn’t take much: a sugar packet’s worth of lead dust scattered over an area the size of a football field is enough to poison a child.
Once lead is in the body, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and can settle in the bones. It disrupts normal brain function, making a child more likely to suffer from learning disabilities, antisocial tendencies, and even violent behavior.
It’s a problem Anne Evens first became aware of when she was working on improving housing on Chicago’s west side in the 80s.
“I was sort of struck by the fact that so many low-income families and building owners were stuck with this situation of having so much lead in the environment—this huge burden that caused children to get sick and building owners to be stuck with the cost of removing the lead,” Evens says.
The problem bothered her so much that she joined the Chicago Department of Public Health and started working as an epidemiologist in the department’s lead-poisoning-prevention program. A few years later, she became the program’s director. In her ten years with the department, she revolutionized the city’s efforts to combat lead, turning the program from a slow-going effort that only helped children after they had already been poisoned to a proactive movement that aimed to prevent poisoning in the first place. Evens helped file a class action lawsuit in 2002 against the paint industry—an effort that later failed—to get more money to remove lead from Chicago’s homes.
Evens felt that to attract the money and attention necessary to rid Chicago of lead hazards, someone needed to quantify how much damage was being done. So she left the health department and got her PhD in environmental health. Her dissertation project? The largest study ever done on how lead poisoning affects schoolchildren.
Evens was able to get the health department and the Chicago Public Schools to share data, and she analyzed the records of thousands of students who were in elementary school between 2003 and 2006, looking at their lead-poisoning test results and comparing those with their standardized test scores. With the wealth of data from the two departments, she could control for outside factors that might affect a child’s learning ability, including poverty, the mother’s education level, and birth weight.
In addition to finding that a child with even low levels of lead in his or her body was more likely to fail the third grade, she also determined that lead-poisoned children scored an average of six points lower on standardized tests—enough to make a difference between passing and failing.
“When you think about how many kids in the CPS school system are just barely passing with regards to meeting the standards, absolutely it makes a big difference,” Evens says. “It impacts a huge number of kids.”
Economist Richard Rothstein has described lead poisoning as the “low-hanging fruit” of education reform, saying it is one of many factors that contribute to the achievement gap between white and minority students. He says the public perception is that lead is no longer a problem, but that’s not the case when it comes to poor, minority neighborhoods.
“Throughout the country, low-income children have more lead exposure than middle-class children,” Rothstein says. “All children are less exposed to lead than they used to be, but the biggest declines have been for middle-class children.”
A further analysis of Evens’s data looked at the average blood lead level for each school in the Chicago Public Schools system. The most widely recognized standard for lead poisoning is ten micrograms per deciliter in a child’s blood. Recently the CDC lowered that standard to five micrograms per deciliter—what the agency refers to as the “level of concern.”
Taking an average of the third-graders’ blood lead levels for each school, the data showed that nearly 75 percent of schools have an average blood lead level over five. In the worst schools, average levels top ten, going as high as 16. Using this new CDC guideline, the number of children considered lead poisoned in Chicago jumped considerably—from one in 80 children to one in ten, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Emile Jorgensen, an epidemiologist with the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that number likely overestimates the amount of children with lead levels above five because of limited accuracy in lab results. He estimates that the number of children with lead rates five and above is more like one in 12.
“When you think about all the challenges that our kids have in terms of performing in school—poverty, gang violence, the list goes on and on—lead is something you can actually do something about and have an impact,” Evens says. “It just seems crazy, as a community that cares about school performance, not to invest in preventing it.”
In addition to being the largest study of its kind, Evens’s research points out that even very low levels of lead can have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn.
Evens now works at CNT Energy, managing a program that replaces old windows to combat lead poisoning and increase energy efficiency. Since she left the health department in 2006, funding has fallen and inspectors have been laid off.
Says Evens: “As a city that has historically had so many lead-poisoned kids, to be substantially reducing efforts to fight it—that’s very worrisome.”
The corner of 69th street and Emerald in Englewood is occupied by two vacant lots, a small corner store, and a storefront office with boarded-up windows and a banner on the door that reads, “Imagine Englewood If . . .” As children file in for an after-school tutoring session, Joanna Brown locks the door after them. On the back of the door hangs a sign that reads, in scripted red marker, “Attention Children, do not open this door for anyone.”
If Chicago is the nation’s capital of lead poisoning, Englewood is its center square. In the 90s, the neighborhood had the highest lead-poisoning rates in the entire country.
“In poor neighborhoods, the lead just does not get cleaned up,” Brown says. “It’s in the soil, the windows, the floors, and the babies just walk through it.”
If Chicago is the nation’s capital of lead poisoning, Englewood is its center square. In the 90s, Englewood had the highest lead-poisoning rates in the country.
Brown sits at a long table, surrounded by the brightly decorated room, cubicles on one side and classroom-style setup on the other. She squints at her laptop, sending out e-mails about a meeting at the local school, Miles Davis Magnet Academy. Through a small grant from the Woods Foundation, Imagine Englewood If has been working to increase lead-poisoning awareness, talking to parents at local schools and encouraging local landlords to deal with lead hazards in their apartments.
“To me, it changes the whole conversation about why Johnny can’t read,” Brown says. “It’s no longer that he’s less able or less intelligent.”
Imagine Englewood If used to be able to administer lead tests to schoolchildren in the area, but the funding’s dried up. The group wants to petition Springfield for more funding and is hoping to develop legislation that would provide extra resources to communities like theirs.
Imagine Englewood If has gotten help from Loyola University’s child law program, which has also awarded a handful of small grants to aid efforts throughout the city to educate families about the dangers of lead. It’s not enough, says Loyola’s Weinberg. While making families aware of the lead is a start, the problem is too large to be taken on by the individual.
Weinberg points to potential legislation being drafted by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, an advocacy group for renters’ rights, that would require every apartment in the city to be inspected every few years, not just when a child is found to be lead poisoned.
“Right now, it doesn’t come to the city’s attention unless the child has already been poisoned,” Weinberg says. “We want to prevent the child from becoming sick.”
John Bartlett, director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, says they’re working on the ordinance. So far they’ve met with several aldermen, but none has signed on as a sponsor.
Chicago doesn’t directly spend a dime on lead-poisoning prevention. The lead-poisoning-prevention department is funded through grants from outside organizations: the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Illinois Department of Public Health, Cook County, and until recently, the CDC. From 2008 to 2011, the CDC gave the department nearly $5 million, but that ended in 2012, when the CDC’s national budget for lead-poisoning prevention was cut from $30 million to $2 million.
Dr. Cortland Lohff, director of Chicago’s lead-poisoning-prevention program, says the department was forced to eliminate some inspector positions and use those funds to support other nursing and administrative positions. He says a new, smaller grant from the Cook County Department of Public Health will help rehab 300 homes over the next three years and remove lead hazards.
So what does the city spend the rest of the grant money on? It’s not entirely clear. Although the 2012 city budget details what the department intends to spend in specific categories—inspectors, testing, epidemiologists, even office supplies—CDPH was unable to provide detailed numbers for previous years. Efrat Stein, a former department spokesperson, said those records were “not readily available,” and was unaware if the program spent every dollar collected on lead abatement. Quenjana Adams, the department’s current spokesperson, did not provide further information.
Lohff points to the department’s successes, saying the number of children found to have suffered lead poisoning has vastly decreased over the last decade. But the city mainly focuses on children with higher levels of lead: ten and above.
“The numbers of kids who have been lead poisoned have certainly come down, but when we start recognizing the dangers to kids at lower levels, those numbers are way up there still,” says Weinberg.
“All of my kids are different, but he was so different. It took a lot of one-on-one time.”—Kindergarten teacher Dorothea Lane
By law, a building owner has to safely get rid of a lead hazard once it’s identified, but Weinberg says this doesn’t always happen. When a hazard isn’t taken care of, the city pursues the property owner, filing a case with administrative hearings and escalating it to housing court if the hazard isn’t taken care of. The entire process takes months, sometimes years. This year alone, the city has filed 114 cases in housing court over lead hazards that still haven’t been abated.
In many households with toxic lead levels, families are often struggling to keep the lights on or put food on the table, says Judy Frydland, a city attorney who supervises lead cases in housing court. Frydland says her attorneys make sure lead hazards are cleaned up. She also says that, compared to the homeowners’ other struggles, the threat of lead can seem distant and vague.
“I remember handling cases saying to people, ‘You are hurting your own child,'” Frydland says. “But the population you’re dealing with has so many other problems.”
Nicholson Elementary kindergarten teacher Dorethea Lane first became aware of lead poisoning when a five-year-old boy named Michael ended up in her class. She had 32 kids in her classroom that year and the extra attention and help Michael needed was daunting. Lead poisoning had delayed his speech, he couldn’t focus, and he didn’t work well with the other children.
“All of my kids are different, but he was so different,” Lane says. “The other kids were affected by his behavior. It took a lot of one-on-one time.”
She could see that Michael was bright, but he couldn’t communicate or finish a task. When she noticed that he could calm down if he had something to do with his hands, she brought in Legos for him to build with. He loved learning about the solar system and astronauts, so she would find books, pictures, and computer games about space to help him.
Lane says no one—not teachers, principals, social workers, nor counselors—considers lead poisoning when trying to figure out what’s preventing a “low-performing” child from learning. She says lead poisoning has never been a part of her teacher training or professional development with the Chicago Public Schools.
“We as educators should know more about it,” she says
Michael’s progress has pushed Lane to learn more about how lead could be affecting her students. Ten years later, Michael has a larger vocabulary and no longer needs speech therapy. He still struggles with reading comprehension, but he excels in math. His attention span is getting better.
Lane says that if teachers knew more about what lead does to the brain and how it was affecting kids in their classrooms, more could be done to help them. But there’s currently no coordinated effort between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Department of Public Health to inform teachers or parents about the dangers of lead poisoning.
CPS spokesperson Robyn Ziegler says the school system tries to encourage students to get tested for lead poisoning, as required by law, before they start school, and works to connect students who have lead poisoning to medical help and special education.
But according to city data, less than half of Chicago’s kids have been tested for lead. In some neighborhoods, the testing rate is as low as 13 percent.
Ziegler says CPS works with supporting organizations to address the issue of lead poisoning, but did not give names of any specific organizations or programs the district is involved in.
Officials at CPS received Evens’s study, but had no official response. Ziegler notes that the district’s leadership has changed since the study was released.
Patricia Robinson, Michael’s mother, believes that officials don’t care because the kids who are affected live in neighborhoods like Englewood, not where their own children live and go to school.
“If it’s not in your family, if it’s not in your area, why should you care about it?” she says. “It’s not a concern for you.”
She blames herself, too, for what she wishes she’d noticed a decade ago, when her little boy sat playing in the windowsill.
“Why didn’t I know?” she says. “I should have known—but word don’t get out, so you don’t know.”
Are you interested in helping others? Doing something positive with your free time? Being an advocate for social justice? Learning about current landlord/tenant issues and laws? Join us for a tenants’ rights hotline training on Saturday, June 8, 2013. The training will take place from 10 am to 4:30 pm. Light breakfast at 9:30 & lunch will be provided. Please RSVP by May 31st, 2013 to Rocio Lugo at 773-292-4980 ext 229 or email@example.com.
What: Hotline Volunteer Training
When: Saturday, June 8, 2013 – 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Where: (MTO office)
RSVP: by May 31st, 2013 to Rocio Lugo at 773-292-4980 ext 229 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer and help us prevent homelessness and improve quality life for Chicago tenants!!!
On May 8, 2013 the Cook County Board of Commissioners, in a landmark vote to end discriminatory housing practices throughout Suburban Cook County, voted to pass the Source of Income Amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. The amendment passed with 9 votes in favor and 6 against.
Housing Choice Voucher holders and advocates across suburban Cook County are celebrating this great victory. “This historic vote by the Cook County Board of Commissioners brings us one step closer to the America we all want. An America that is inclusive, where real opportunity is given to everyone, including the right to live
wherever they choose to live.” said John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. Brendan Saunders Director of Advocacy and Community Organizing at Open Communities said: “This victory puts the choice back in Housing Choice Vouchers.”
This amendment, introduced by Commissioner Jesus Garcia, and cosponsored by Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Commissioner Robert Steele, effectively prohibits landlords in suburban Cook County from discriminating against renters with Housing Choice Vouchers by refusing to consider them as tenants. Renters seeking to live in suburban Cook County have been struggling for the passage of this type of protection for years, which renters in the Chicago area already enjoy through the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.