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.


*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?


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


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

Federal Register Notice: Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19



On September 1st, 37 days after the expiration of the CARES Act moratorium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an agency order, halting evictions for some renters who meet specific criteria. The CDC issued the agency order citing its authorities provided by 42 U.S.C. 264 and 42 C.F.R. 70.2 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The agency order goes into effect on September 4, 2020 and will run through December 31, 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Does this agency order provide funding for rental assistance or otherwise provide rent relief?
A. No. Renters will continue to owe any unpaid rent amounts that have accrued so far and any additional amounts that come due.

Q. Does the agency order prohibit landlords from charging fees or other penalties for non-payment of rent?
A. No. The agency order does not preclude landlords from charging or collecting fees, penalties or interest from a tenant for failing to pay their rent, regardless of the financial hardships they may be facing during the pandemic.

Q. Does the agency action mean that all renters are safe from eviction?
A. No. Only certain renters are eligible for the eviction suspension and in order to avail themselves of the eviction suspension protection, they must provide their landlord a legal declaration form, attesting—under penalty of perjury with the threat of prosecution, jail time, or fines for lying, misleading, or omitting important information —that:
• The renter either i) expects to earn less than $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), ii) was not required to file taxes in 2019, or iii) received a stimulus check provided by the CARES Act; The renter used their “best efforts” in trying to obtain “all available government assistance for rent or housing”;
• The renter cannot pay the full amount of their rent because of a substantial loss in income, loss of employment or work hours, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
• The renter is still making partial rent payments using their “best effort” to make payments that are as close to the full rental amount as possible; and
• If the renter were evicted, they would likely become homeless or have to “double up” with another household.
Under the agency order, landlords would still be able to file evictions, claiming that their renters did not meet these requirements, placing the burden on renters to prove otherwise. Renters would be subject to
frivolous litigation as landlords try to remove them for their homes even after they have met all the conditions required by the order. It is unclear how courts would handle such cases and how they would determine whether or not renters fully met all of these stipulations. A renter who has been determined to have perjured themselves by a court could face criminal penalties, including substantial fines and even a year in jail.

Q. Does the agency order prevent evictions for other reasons other than on-payment of rent?
A. No. Renters can still be evicted for other reasons, such as violating conditions of their lease (other than timely payment of rent), damaging property, or engaging in criminal activity. Renters with leases that have expired could also be evicted if their landlord refuses to renew the lease.

If you or someone you know is facing eviction or threatened with eviction please reach out to MTO at 773-292-4988 Monday-Friday 1pm to 5pm or email tenants-rights. org. We can assist you in exercising your rights!!

What to Know About Illinois Housing Development Authority Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $3.5 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to Illinois. The Illinois General Assembly allocated $396 million in CRF to Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) to fund affordable housing grants, for the benefit of persons impacted by COVID-19, for emergency rental assistance, emergency mortgage assistance and subordinate financing. 

Emergency Rental Assistance Program IHDA developed the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA) to support Illinois tenants unable to pay their rent due to a COVID-19-related loss of income. Tenants whose application is approved will receive a one-time grant of $5,000 paid directly to their landlord to cover missed rent payments beginning March 2020 and prepay payments through December 2020, or until the $5,000 is exhausted, whichever comes first. 

Application Period Applications for ERA will be accepted August 10th through August 21st. Due to anticipated high volume, the application window may close early. IHDA will use a third-party entity to select a pool of applications to be reviewed for eligibility. Approximately 30,000 tenants are expected to receive funding. Apply at era.idha.org.

To apply for ERA program you will need:

  • access to internet and SMART device (SMART phone, computer, laptop, or tablet). If this is a problem please reach out to us at MTO).
  • an email address (no email, MTO is here to help)
  • 1 form of government issued ID (ex: State ID or DL, Temporary Visitors Driver’s License, Matricula Consular, Foreign Passport- regardless of expiration date, or Resident Identity Card) 
  • 1 document with current address, if different from address on ID (ex: a utility bill, bank statement, credit card or debit statement, social security award letter- no more than 90 days old)
  • your landlord’s email and phone number (so talk to them BEFORE APPLYING)
  • written and valid lease agreement (30 Day lease templates are available for tenants to give to their landlord at MTO. The landlord will have to upload the lease agreement)
  • your household income must be at or below 80% Area Median Income (determine eligibility here or visit era.idha.org
  • you must have an unpaid rent balance that began on or after March 1, 2020 due to lost income related to COVID-19 (the landlord will have to upload a letter or notices of unpaid rent)
  • to have NOT received any other COVID-19 related rental assistance in the household. ERA is 1 application per household
  • to NOT be a renter with a housing subsidy or voucher

Help Applying If you need assistance applying, IHDA has partnered with 62 Community and Outreach Assistance organizations (including MTO) that’s standing by to help you at no cost. You can find a list of these organizations via the Resource button on era.ihda.org. Services are available in English, Spanish, Polish, Italian, French, Romanian, Albanian, Croatian, Serbian, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Cantonese, Tagalog, Mandarin and ASL. For additional assistance you may also call IHDA’s call center at (312) 883-2720, or toll-free at (888) 252-1119. For those who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired, please contact Navicore Solutions for free assistance at (877) 274-4309 (TTY). 

Legal Assistance
If you are at imminent risk of eviction and need legal assistance, a legal aid clinic may be able to assist you. All services are free. You can find a list of legal assistance clinics via the Resource button on era.ihda.org

MTO is 1 of 62 Community Groups working with IDHA to  process applications. If you need assistance with the  application or have questions, if you or someone you know is facing eviction, or you want to know your Renters Rights reach out to us.

  1. Leave a voicemail 773-292-4980 anytime
  2. Call MTO’s Renters’ Right Hotline M-F 1pm-4pm at 773-292-4988. 
  3. Inbox MTO on Facebook 
  4. Email MTO Staff

Global webinar on tenant struggles in the COVID crisis: Saturday May 9 at 1 pm CST.

Housing Is A Human Right!

Global webinar on tenant struggles in the COVID crisis: Saturday May 9 at 1 pm CST. The National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) sister organization in the UK, Defend Council Housing, is hosting a Global Webinar on Saturday, May 9 at 2 pm EST/ 1pm CST! Panelists from Defend Council Housing; a private housing organizing group in London; a tenants movement group in Barcelona; CASA in the Bronx; and Michael Kane from NAHT will be featured!

Just click on here for Youtube Live and here for Facebook Live Saturday May 9 at 1 pm CST.

Know Your Renters’ Rights during COVID-19 TONIGHT LIVE Q&A, 6pm- TUNE IN!

Please join the Metropolitan Tenants Organization tonight for a “Crash Course on Tenants Rights: What Chicago- area Renters need to know before the 1st of the month.

Tonight!! Thursday, April 30th 6pm CST live-streamed. Be sure to get your FREE TICKETS here with Eventbrite

This workshop will review what tenants need to know for May 1st and we will take questions live. We will be discussing what your rights are if you cannot pay your rent, your rights on evictions, and what to do in case of an illegal lockout, and other critical issues for renters.

Panelists will include MTO’s Eviction Prevention Specialist, Philip DeVon & Affordable Housing Preservation Community Organizer, David Wilson.

Get your FREE TICKETS here with Eventbrite or follow https://www.facebook.com/MTOchicago/ to get the notification when the workshop goes live.

Click HERE to support MTO’s critical work today. Share this link https://bit.ly/39y69ey with friends, family, and community who can make a donation for housing justice on Tuesday, May 5th for a global day of giving. #Giving Tuesday Now.

Be well, and be safe. And see you tonight!

What’s New at MTO? Plus, Ways to Support Chicago Renters with MTO

Dear Friend,

Thank you for being a part of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization community.

While it was a difficult decision, our team decided to cancel the Annual Spring Affair which was scheduled for Tuesday, April 21st at 6:30pm because we care about your safety and well-being.

Although we won’t be gathering in-person, MTO has #5 ways outlined below to help raise $30,000 for our Tenant Stabilization Programs and Services as we work to prevent homelessness and keep low-income families housed. 

We are experiencing high call volume about threats of eviction, illegal lock-outs, unreasonable rent increases, and concerns about the lack of precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. We are dedicated to giving Chicago renters the answers and support needed in real-time to stabilize their housing. If you or someone you know are having issues with their landlord or apartment call our Tenants’ Rights Hotline at 773-292-4988. For swift results get your answers and online tools via our app and web page here at Squared Away Chicago.

We believe that with your help, we can lessen the impact of coronavirus on our mission to educate, empower, and organize low-income renters about their rights. Thank you for your support during this challenging time for our organization and our community as a whole.

Sincerely, Team MTO

#5 Ways You Can Continue to Support MTO

#1. Donate Your Ticket(s) OR make a donation here to MTO’s Tenant Stabilization Programs & Services

While the Annual Spring Affair is cancelled and we explore ways to get together virtually, you can choose to donate the cost of your ticket(s) to benefit housing stability for low-income renters in Chicago. You can choose to donate here and or share the link https://bit.ly/39y69ey with friends and colleagues. If you seek a refund contact Aisha-  aisha@tenants-rights.org.

 #2. Make your online purchases through Amazon Smiles.

MTO supports human rights. We stand in solidarity with labor movements for access and justice, like Amazon workers in Chicago who organized and won PTO for all workers. Our constituents who are Amazon shoppers can choose to shop https://smile.amazon.com/ and reply “Metropolitan Tenants Organization’ when asked about your supporting organization. 0.05% of proceeds from your purchase goes to MTO. 

#3. Stay tuned with Chicago Renters & Housing Advocates via MTO Weekly E-Newsletter

Choose to read and share our weekly e-news alerts with stories about what Chicago renters are dealing with during COVID-19 pandemic, housing resources, and updates on our fundraising, housing justices campaigns, and policies. 

#4. Let’s See if Your Employer Will Double Your Donation

Right now, every little bit helps. If you’re able to donate here today, together let’s find out if your company will match your gift. 

#5. Join Us on Facebook Live  https://www.facebook.com/MTOchicago/We can’t gather in person, but we can still gather! Join us in upcoming fun-raising events and discussions on Facebook Live. Follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss it!  

Working Remotely, Our Offices are Closed in response to COVID-19

To our community In order to protect the health and safety of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s staff, volunteers, members and community, our office are closed until March 30th.  More communications from our team is underway. Thank you for patience. 

We encourage everyone to follow CDC and Chicago Department of Public Health guidelines to limit social contact as much as possible.  

MTO’s staff and volunteers will continue to answer our tenants’ crisis line and to provide as much assistance as possible over the phone from our homes.  We promise to remain vigilant during this period of emergency to advocate for the housing rights of everyone.  If you need assistance, please call 773-292-4988 to reach our crisis hotline and leave message. 

Additional Resources on COVID-19
We understand the importance of timely, accurate and helpful communication to visit trusted sources of public health information,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chicago Department of Health
World Health Organization

The American Public Health Association has also released COVID-19 fact sheetsin EnglishSpanish and Chinese.