With Help MTO Resolves another Lockout. 

Ms. Bueno is a Pilsen resident. She became unemployed because of COVID-19.  The landlord turned hostile and refused to negotiate a fair agreement, which would take into consideration her financial hardship. Instead, her landlord started harassing her. She called MTO to report the landlord shutting off her lights and gas. 

A utility shutoff is a lockout, according to the City of Chicago Municipal code, so we instructed her to follow the City of Chicago’s lockout reporting procedure. She made a complaint to 311 and called the Police.  The officers did not take the matter seriously and claimed the situation was a civil matter.  As happens all too frequently, the officers did not follow the CPD Special Order #SO4-01-03

It took a while for Ms. Bueno to get a miscellaneous police report from the police and a building code violation.  She was able to get her utilities restored though this did not last long.  


The utilities did not stay on for long.  She called MTO again about another light shutoff and this time the landlord locked the breaker room access. We partner with the Chicago Tenants Movement (CTM) in order to create a more proactive response to lockouts. CTM sent a volunteer response team that included an electrician. The team was able to enter the breaker room and restore Ms. Bueno’s lights. The Chicago Tenants Movement response team took action when CPD and DOB would not. We need to push for proactive solutions to lockouts here in the City of Chicago.

Ms. Bueno is one of many stories of lockouts occurring in Chicago. Since the Eviction Moratorium began in March 2020, MTO has received reports on 574 lockouts. In a normal year, MTO receives about 250-300 lockout reports.  The COVID-19 pandemic has only multiplied the already existing housing crisis here in Illinois. The lack of consequences from the police and building department allows bad landlords to continue the illegal lockouts as a way to dance around the Eviction Moratorium. As the housing crisis escalates, we encourage you to join us in pushing resolutions to lockouts. Contact Javier Ruiz at javierr@tenants-rights.org to become part of the solution.

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.

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

Drexel Tenants Win Relocation

Tenants at 4625 S Drexel formed a tenants association.  The building was in horrendous condition and the owner of the building in April of last year decided to close the building and evict all the tenants.  The tenants flyered the building and met monthly.  They all called the city to report  the building’s numerous building code violations and to request an inspection.  The City inspected the building.  The City told the owner to fix the building.  Then the heat went out.  The landlord tried to use this as an excuse to evict all the tenants and issued everyone 30 day notices to vacate the building.  At court the judge ordered the owner to fix it.  Then the water went out.  The judge ordered the landlord to pay each of the 17 remaining tenants $1200 relocation assistance.  This was on top of the 3 months the tenants did not have to pay rent.  The tenants won $51,000 plus months of additional time to find a new residence.

BHF Tenants Work Together

Tenants living in buildings owned by the Better Housing Foundation continue to advocate for the City of Chicago building court system to improve their housing. One such family – the Finkle’s – reached out to Amy de la Fuente, one of MTO’s Healthy Homes organizers, about mold, mushrooms and water damage in their unit. Ms. Finkle is wheelchair bound and lives with her son. She asked her son to email photos of the unit conditions to Amy, who in turn shared the photos with the program officer from the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), a partner in a citywide effort to preserve the Better Housing Foundation’s buildings. Mrs. Finkle’s son decided to attend the next court hearing to speak about the conditions.

Young Mr. Finkle, who suffers from asthma, attended court. He met with Amy and prepared his talking points. When the judge called his building, he and several neighbors from the building stepped forward to testify. With Amy by his side, Mr. Finkle advocated in favor of safe, decent and healthy housing for himself and his mother. The judge, city attorney and program officer all listened and asked questions. Because of the tenant testimony, the judge authorized the receiver to make repairs related to water damage and to relocate tenants as necessary. As he left the courtroom, Mr. Finkle turned to Amy, shook her hand and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” It is strong tenant advocacy, like that of the Finkle family, which leads to positive outcomes for residents living in these buildings.

MTO and CIC, have worked diligently for the past nine months to help preserve affordable housing and keeps tenants stably housed in over 75 failing Better Housing Foundation buildings. The work is ongoing. For more information or to see how you can help, contact Amy at amyf@tenants-rights.org.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: When It Inevitably Leads to Homelessness

On Monday, a mother called the Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s hotline because her son had stood up and laughed during a high profile criminal case after the judge had warned the crowd that no interruptions would be tolerated. The judged then ordered her son who has a mental illness into custody and sentenced him to 40 days in jail for criminal contempt of court.

It is difficult to imagine that sentencing a person with a bi-polar disorder to jail for his laughter will have any positive outcomes. Already, ramifications are being felt that extend beyond the 40-day sentence. His mother called our office because the onsite manager of her son’s apartment building was evicting her son because of the arrest. When his mother tried to tender the rent, the manager said, “No! Get out!” Her son had lived in the apartment for 15 years. This means that when he gets out of jail he will have no place to call home. This is one more devastating blow to an outburst of laughter in the courtroom.

While all this may be within bounds or our “justice” system, the end result is cruel and inhumane. It is not difficult to predict what will happen next. With an eviction on his record and a criminal conviction, few, if any, landlords will rent him an apartment. Thus without intervention, we will end up with another homeless person on the streets of Chicago. These circumstances are unique, but it is a situation faced by all too many people. This is but one of many examples of how a person can get caught up in events that quickly spiral out of control. We live in a very unforgiving system where housing is more of a privilege than a right.

MTO has partnered with the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing to start an eviction prevention campaign. We are attempting to negotiate a reasonable response, which will allow this individual to stay in his home. Stay in touch. Tell others about this case and consider becoming a hotline volunteer so that you can help tenants and be a part of humane response to problems that focuses on keeping people in their home.

June is National Healthy Homes Month… Do Those in Power Care?

June is Healthy Homes Month. The need to recognize this month poses the question: do policy makers, CEOs and property owners really care about people’s health or the housing they live in?

US health care expenditures totaled $3.3 trillion in 2016. This massive spending really did not help Tolanda McMullen’s family, especially her son who was severely poisoned by the lead paint in their Chicago home. Tolanda was shocked by her son’s poisoning as she felt lead was an issue of the past. It Is not and the poisoning haunts her family to this day. “My son will be forever impacted by lead and what is worse is this could have been prevented.” The sad fact is that so many illnesses, poisonings and hospital visits could be prevented if people’s homes were safe, healthy and affordable.

In the case of Tolanda’s son, all her landlord needed to do was to follow lead abatement protocols and repair the lead tainted windows. Profit won out. Window replacement is expensive. The landlord rented her an unhealthy and unsafe home because he could. After all, the assumption is that low-cost housing has problems otherwise it would not be low-income. This flawed belief is allowed to continue by policy makers and political leaders who excuse substandard conditions by saying that government cannot afford to do better.

For the entire month of June, MTO will tweet, write, photograph and otherwise scream out over social media to demand action on the part of public officials and property owners. No child should ever be poisoned by lead from their home. No child should miss school because home-based hazards triggered a child’s asthma. We ask you to support this campaign to forward these messages and images to friends, aldermen, the mayor, the governor and the president. In the end, there is nothing more important than our health and having a safe decent home in which to live.