MTO’s offices are located directly across the street from the Fisk Generating Station and very near Perez Elementary School.
New monitoring data obtained by the Tribune reveal that high levels of toxic lead frequently lingered in the air last year outside an elementary school in the predominantly Latino enclave that is attended by nearly 500 children.
Average lead levels at Perez Elementary School were at or above federal limits during three three-month periods in 2010, the data show. Lead pollution exceeded health standards during a fifth of the days monitored and, on one day in December, spiked more than 10 times higher — findings that alarm even veteran investigators.
In January of 2011, tenants from a senior building at 353 E. 53rd Street called MTO complaining of repair problems in their building. The hotline counselor suggested building organizing to help address the building problems and shortly after, an MTO organizer contacted the residents to arrange a visit to the building. At the first meeting, MTO conducted a Residential Landlord and Tenants Ordinance (RLTO) workshop.
Problems in the building included poorly hung apartment doors that would sometimes trap residents in their apartments, large gaps around the doors and peepholes that were too high to use. Together, tenants began organizing by electing acting tenant officers, writing joint letters to management and HUD that notified them of the building conditions, and joining the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as members.
On February 16, tenants met with management. Tenant leaders expressed their concerns to management, who promptly provided a timeline for some of the needed repairs, including the poorly hung apartment doors. Management committed to working with the newly formed resident organization to resolve repair issues.
As the month of February concludes, tenants are reporting that work is being completed as promised. The resident organization will continue to meet monthly to advocate for residents’ rights in the building.
On Friday evening February 25th, 400 people, mostly low-income tenants, braved a chilly winter day to take to the streets in Chicago to stand up against the proposed Republican budget cuts. The cuts would decimate many of the nation’s affordable housing programs. Initiated by the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of organizations focused on preserving subsidized housing, the demonstration included acts of civil disobedience. Although many of the organizations had never previously engaged in civil disobedience, the Coalition felt that the situation is so dire that we have to take stronger action. Eleven people blocked a main downtown street to send a message that low-income and working families are ready to fight.
People came to the demonstration to tell elected representatives that the economic crisis is not over for the majority of people living in this country. Rents are too high. Foreclosures have not slowed down. Millions are still looking for work or working at jobs that don’t pay enough. So many people are struggling just to survive and to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families. Ms. Adrena Townsend, one of the protestors, said, “I came here because I cannot tighten my belt any more. I cannot do without my home. The House’s proposed cuts are aimed at basic human needs such as housing, food, education, and health care. These are not extra trimmings, they are basic necessities.”
Just before it left for its February recess, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash $61 billion from the current federal budget. They want to cut the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by 66%. The program provides people with money to pay for heat in the winter. Are these lawmakers willing to turn down or turn off their heat to cut the deficit? They want to cut Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program by 10 %. This program helps pregnant women, new mothers and young children eat well. The House’s spending bill would discontinue housing assistance for homeless veterans and cut housing subsidies, job programs and more. In addition the House wants to cut programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that fund the agencies that provide necessities such as rental subsidies and energy assistance. These cuts are direct hits to “human services” programs the help meet the basic needs of so many.
The government may need to make cuts, but who decides what to cut? On February 11, 2011 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised that budget cuts will be historic. The Republican controlled House proposed cutting the Housing and Urban Development’s $43.5 billion 2011 budget by over 21%. Yet on February 24th we learned that the Air Force is awarding Boeing a $35 billion contract to build air tankers. Why do the House’s proposed cuts almost solely target human need programs? Why is it that Congress does not ask working families what is most important to them?
During the demonstration, protestors chanted, “Tax cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor, we can see who you’re for and we won’t take it anymore,” a slogan that highlights a very real division in this country. One aspect of this division is defining the role of government. The Tea Partiers and their (billionaire) backers want people to think that government is too big and business can handle things on its own without any government interference. According to Herman Bonner, a subsidized tenant and protestor at Friday’s demonstration, “I believe the role of government is to ensure that the basic needs of everyone are met and that people have a voice in how this is done.”
How you view the government and its role shapes what you think causes the crisis facing this country. For those Tea Party budget cutters in Washington the crisis facing our country is the huge deficit. If nothing is done about the deficit then the country will fall into default and decay. Yet less than two months ago those same representatives voted to cut the taxes on the rich. These cuts were pushed through in the face of growing evidence that wealth disparity in this country has reached epidemic proportions. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the wealthiest 1 % of the population owns 33 % of all the wealth and the top 10 % own over 70 % of all the wealth. The last time there was such inequality was the 1920’s just before the depression. Rather than ask the rich to pay their fair share, the Tea Party plans to cut the deficit and to do it on the backs of the poor.
For millions of Americans, the day to day struggle to maintain food on the table and a roof over one’s head defines the crisis. For many families, the economy is stuck in a depression. They worry whether they will have a job next week or next year and what will happen if they don’t. Young and old alike worry about social security benefits and retirement. They are afraid that the government will abandon any commitment to help and that they will be left to fend for themselves. They don’t expect handouts but they do expect – and deserve – support.
The tenant representatives who blocked traffic on Friday are the beginning signs of a budding movement to demand economic justice. This brewing discontent can also be seen in Madison, Wisconsin where union workers are battling for their right to collective bargaining. There will be more protests as people are asked to “compromise” and to forgo basic necessities. In January, the wealthy won their tax cuts and now they want more. It is in this context that the tenants took to the street chanting “They say cut backs and we say fight back.” It is for this reason that people need to unite and fight the draconian cuts to human services that are happening across the country on the local, state, and federal level.
Additionally, LIHEAP is being slashed 66% and WIC is being cut 10%
Funding for Community Health Centers is cut 46%
We need you to come out and make your voices heard! RSVP to Sara Mathers at 773.292.4980 x 240 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsored by the Chicago Housing Initiative, Kenwood Oakland Community Organizations, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Lakeview Action Coalition, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, O.N.E., Southside Together Organizing for Power
Co-Sponsoring Organizations: Access Living, Action NOW, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Bickerdike, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Coalition to Protest Public Housing, Housing Action Illinois, Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and growing.
During the winter season, MTO’s hotline receives numerous calls from tenants about a lack of heat in their units. When we ask what steps the resident uses to address the problem in the meantime, a frightening number report that they are using their gas stoves as a solution. Some residents leave the burners on, some continuously boil large pots of water, and others leave the oven door open. All of these actions can and do lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
What prompted the writing of this post was a recent conversation with a tenant. The tenant was following up to report the lack of heat in her unit. She explained that not only was this problem irritating, but that her entire family has experienced constant headaches and she was even having trouble waking up, which was not normally a problem for her. She mentioned that her sister had called her earlier and she hadn’t heard the phone ring. Her kids – especially her daughter who slept in the back bedroom near the kitchen— was having a lot of difficulty waking up for school. All of these incidences are major symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide can slowly put you to sleep and once asleep, you are unable to escape the hazard. Hundreds of people die in a carbon monoxide induced sleep every year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Those that don’t die from heating their homes with gas stoves still experience less than lethal, but still harmful, side effects. “At low concentrations, [CO can cause] fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, [CO can cause] impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Fatal at very high concentrations.” (USEPA)
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.