What does the reliance on eviction say about our society? Every day we hear stories from the tenant’s perspective of a housing market gone horribly wrong. The result is trauma and harm to thousands of Chicago’s working families. The stories are not black and white. They are about life, good and bad habits, eccentricities, prejudice, and privilege. The following articles are the real life stories of Chicago tenants. We invite you to read, think about and debate why there are some 25,000 evictions are filed annually in Chicago. Is there another way?
Chapter 1 – “Ms. Cat”
MTO first heard from the senior who hotline staff affectionately refer to as “Ms. Cat” in 2018. Ms. Cat had just received a 10-day notice for violating the lease provisions around pets. She had two cats of her own, and often fed the numerous alley cats outside her apartment. Ms. Cat can be a bit cantankerous at times. She loves her cats, they’re her family. She was so concerned about the alley cats well-being that one day she left a trail of cat food from the alley to her apartment.
However, others in the apartment considered the cats – and her actions – a nuisance. The cat food was attracting rats. Yet, Ms. Cat either would not or could not (as she put it) abandon her cats. They were her life. Unfortunately, her landlord didn’t attempt to talk to her about a solution, and instead moved to evict her. With her home and housing subsidy in jeopardy, Ms. Cat was able to secure an attorney. For several months the landlord, Ms. Cat and her attorney negotiated. In the end, our senior who is living on SSI had to leave her subsidized unit as a part of deal to avoid eviction.
Ms. Cat’s story does not end here. Ms. Cat’s next destination was a homeless shelter that did not allow pets. Every night Ms. Cat would try to sneak the cats into the shelter. Management found out and then the notices came. Management served her with an eviction notice. In one conversation with Ms. Cat, she said, “I would rather be homeless than to give up my cats.” With that in mind, Ms. Cat decided to leave the shelter and move to an SRO (Single Room Occupancy Hotel).
She then moved into an SRO, which is often a last resort for many of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents. Within a couple of months of moving, Ms. Cat was again running into problems with the owner and her neighbors. Her lease allowed two cats, but she was still trying to sneak more into her unit. Neighbors complained of an odor. Ms. Cat said, “it’s not the cats, it’s me. I can not help that I am incontinent. It’s a condition I can’t control. It’s like cancer. You wouldn’t evict someone for having cancer.” The owner served Ms. Cat with a 30-day notice to vacate. Rather than fight the eviction notice , Ms. Cat decided to move in with friend. The expectation was that this would be for a short time. She was desperately looking for housing she could afford.
With an eviction filing on her record and limited income, her housing choices were extremely restricted. Several months have passed since Ms. Cat last called. We reached out to her, but her cell phone has been cutoff. We also await her next call. We hope that Ms. Cat has found stable housing and is getting the help that she needs.
But her situation begs an important question: why is eviction always the first resort?
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Last year, with the support of donors and volunteers, MTO served over 15,000 low-income households through direct service, community organizing, and policy change. And that work continued in 2019.
Early this year MTO worked with Demetrius Stewart, whom like many tenants had insufficient heat during a harsh Chicago winter. Demetrius reached out to MTO to better understand his rights so he could take action to secure a habitable unit. And it paid off. With your support, we can help more renters like Demetrius stay warm this winter.
Click HERE for Demetrius’ story on CBS News
Ms. Daniels had lived in a modest Auburn Gresham apartment building for over two years. And things had been going relatively smoothly for the retired senior. That all changed one day when Ms. Daniels came home from the Doctor’s office to find frost on the inside of her windows. Her heat was not working. She talked to her neighbors, who reported they too had no heat. She called her landlord, who never even showed up. Ms. Daniels didn’t want to cause problems, but she really needed her heat turned on. She is diabetic and was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, so the lack of heat was complicating her health.
Ms. Daniels called 311 to report her lack of heat, among other problems, like a leaking roof and holes in the exterior walls. Instead of sending someone to fix the problems, her landlord showed up and told her and her neighbors that they had to pay more rent or leave. They asked why, and the landlord told them if they want repairs they would have to pay up. This type of retaliation is harmful and immoral, but all too common for tenants who call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline. And that’s just what Ms. Daniels did when her landlord started refusing to accept her rent checks.
After calling and speaking with a Hotline Counselor, Ms. Daniels was connected with MTO’s Eviction Prevention Specialist (EPS). Because Ms. Daniels’ landlord had already filed an eviction against her, the EPS knew time was of the essence, and knew that while Ms. Davis had a “good case”, it could be very difficult for her to win it on her own. She would need an attorney. With this in mind, the EPS fast-tracked Ms. Daniels case to the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing (LCBH). MTO and LCBH have formed a partnership to combat the eviction crisis, deploying a new joint intake form and streamlining the referral process. LCBH swiftly accepted Ms. Daniels case, and represented Ms. Davis in court, not only winning the case, but also sealing the public record.
Today, Ms. Daniels is safe and recovering in a warm apartment – without the stain of eviction on her record – thanks to fast action and an Eviction Prevention partnership that works to address evictions proactively at their earliest point. Evictions are a scourge to our communities, deepening poverty and segregation, and must be addressed head on if we want to bring justice to Chicago’s working class communities and begin to solve the housing crisis that affects so many of Chicago’s families.
If you or anyone you know is facing the threat of eviction, please call MTO at 773-292-4988.
MTO and its allies in the Our Homes Chicago coalition, protested Thursday outside of 811 W Montrose, the site of a luxury development in Uptown that received $16 million in public TIF money despite opting out of the city’s affordable housing requirements. According to the Coalition, Alderman Cappleman received $36,000 in campaign donations from the developer, JDL, in exchange for arranging the TIF handout. It’s this pay-to-play culture of corruption that is driving the housing crisis in Chicago, causing massive increases in rent and property taxes, gentrification, and displacement. The Our Homes Chicago ordinances are a package of transformative affordable housing laws that would create inclusive, equitable development and the integration of affordable housing into all 50 wards.
City Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara committed Thursday that the City’s new Task Force to reform the Affordable Requirements Ordinance will consider the CHI Coalition’s Our Homes, Chicago Legislation. 25 Aldermen have urged the Mayor’s Task Force to take the Development for All Ordinance as the Task Force’s official starting point for reforming the ARO. We look forward to participating.
LISTEN TO WBEZ COVERAGE:
After 15 years of living in what could legally be considered a storage unit, Mr. Piper was served a 30-day notice telling him to get out his unit or go to court and face eviction. While most of us would not consider living in a storage unit, Mr. Piper, a Vietnam Veteran and victim of Agent Orange, did so happily for the last 15 years. He did this not only because he lives with a disability and it was the only thing he could afford on his monthly fixed income, but also because it allowed him to live in the neighborhood he wanted to live in, Hyde Park, Chicago.
Mr. Piper reported that his management company has changed hands five to six times over the last 15 years, and while conditions never improved, none of the other companies tried to put him on the streets. When he reported a bed bug problem to the latest landlord, two weeks later he received a letter terminating his tenancy. The letter stated that it was unsafe for him to continue living there, as it was not a legal unit.
Is this what the housing crisis in Chicago has come to? Where low-income tenants live in substandard housing, with an insect infestation, and without proper plumbing just to have a roof over their heads? Most of the renters calling MTO’s tenants’ rights hotline are fighting to keep their homes in neighborhoods where the rent is too high and/or repairs are going undone. Therefore, tenants make do with what they can afford, in a neighborhood they consider home.
While the management company did offer Mr. Piper a $1000 to be out in two weeks, he felt that it was not an honest or realistic offer, since they knew he had been there 15 years and that he lives with a disability. We also feel like the owners could have done more. Why not offer Mr. Piper another unit in the building, or more time to be out and relocation assistance? While we cannot fault them for closing what may be an illegal unit, we can fault them for retaliating by serving the notice only after Mr. Piper complained about bed bugs or for not looking for other ways to resolve the problem, not the least of which is creating affordable housing for all.
Getting their security deposit back was supposed to be a simple task. All they needed to do is tell their old landlord where to send the check. But for this immigrant couple, a routine housing transaction soon became a life-changing nightmare.
The northwest-side couple had just moved from their apartment, leaving it clean and tidy, and requested that their landlord return their security deposit. Instead of doing what is right, the landlord became irate and refused to return their money. The landlord even threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the husband, an undocumented immigrant.
Much to their shock and horror, he followed through on his threat. ICE came out and arrested the husband, who has been in their custody ever since. Now, a Chicago woman stands to lose much more than her security deposit. “This isn’t the first time we’ve received calls from renters whose landlords are threatening to call ICE on them”, said Javier Ruiz, a Hotline Counselor at MTO. This type of blatant, racist retaliation cannot and should not be tolerated in Chicago, a town that takes pride in its reputation as a sanctuary city. In 2018, A federal judge sided with Chicago, ruling that Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding just because it is a sanctuary city.
Today, we must resist
policies like HUD’s proposed
new rule that would prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving federal
housing assistance. We must strengthen protections for undocumented Chicagoans.
No human is “illegal”; landlords cannot be allowed to uproot families by
reporting them to ICE! We must do all we can to ensure that no one is denied
housing, public services, or resources based on their immigration status.
May 10th 2019
Chicago, IL. – Twenty-five tenants and their supporters picketed outside the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices at 77 W Jackson in downtown Chicago today. The tenants were sick and tired of inaction on the part of their landlords and the lack of oversight by HUD. One tenant asked, “How can I celebrate Mother’s Day in my home when my kitchen cabinets are falling apart?”
It was almost a year ago today that HUD representatives met with tenants at a Town Hall meeting of subsidized renters organized by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO). At the Town Hall, HUD representatives promised action. They assured tenants they would come out to the buildings and hold the landlords accountable to very basic housing standards.
For the tenants living in Barbara Jean Wright Courts, Germano Millgate and Indian Trails Apartments, HUD has not made good on its promise. Tenants are living with rats, bed bugs, holes in the walls, elevators that don’t work, plumbing problems and more. One parent, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, is worried that DCFS is going to take her children away because the conditions are so bad.
Tenants were preparing to deliver a letter to HUD officials demanding a meeting. As the tenants chanted, “HUD don’t delay, Repairs in time for Mother’s Day!” outside of HUD’s downtown office, Joseph Galvan, HUD’s Regional Administrator for Region V, came out to talk. Jesse Johnson of Barbara Jean Wright Court asked Mr. Galvan to meet with the tenants and to inspect the complexes. Mr. Galvan agreed to inspect the above three apartment complexes and to meet with the tenants in his office on May 31st. The tenants left feeling fired up and ready to keep the pressure on HUD and their landlords to provide decent and safe housing.