Tenant Fights Retaliation and Wins

Natasha’s neighborhood in Gresham.

When Natasha Johnson moved into her new apartment in May 2017, she was excited to finally have a place that was in her budget and close to her job. However, within a couple of months of moving in, Natasha noticed mice in her dream apartment. “The manager said they would bring out an exterminator,” Natasha explained. After months of no action, Natasha took matters into her own hands and purchased some poison and traps.

The traps and poison did their job, but the safety concerns started to worry Natasha, “When I bring my grandson over, I have to put the poison in a place where he can’t get to it.” Furthermore, bed bugs and a cold draft from a gap in the door became problems as summer turned to fall. That’s when, Natasha decided to call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline. Hotline staff provided her with assistance and sample letters for Bed Bugs and repair requests.

Natasha asked her building manager to hire an exterminator and fix the gap in the door.  Months went by. “I didn’t sign up for this,” Natasha expressed. Still paying her full rent and fed up with the service, Natasha called the City of Chicago’s 311 assistance line to request the City inspect her unit. The apartment was not up to code.  The City fined Natasha’s landlord.

When they got fined, that’s when they got really mad,” said Natasha. In December 2017, building management claimed they had not received Natasha’s rent, though she had the money order receipt to prove it, plus had been recorded on video dropping the payment at the collection box. They served Natasha a Five-Day Eviction Notice, which Natasha then paid by the deadline. Management again claimed they had not received payment, and filed an eviction. 

Luckily, Natasha stayed in touch with MTO throughout the process, and they had advised her to document her conversations with building management and keep all her payment receipts. Then MTO connected Natasha with Attorney Joan Fenstermaker who represented Natasha in eviction court. Ms. Fenstermaker proved the management’s actions were retaliation, and Natasha was able to stay in her apartment.

Recently, Natasha’s landlord fired the responsible employees responsible. And, Natasha has been spreading the word about her success with the Tenants Rights Hotline. Her advice to others in a similar situation is, “Don’t leave, fight for it. If you pay your rent and don’t do anything wrong, there shouldn’t be a problem. I did every step they [Hotline staff] told me, and it worked out in my favor. You got to fight for your rights. I did and ended up winning.

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.

Celebrate with us! MTO June Fundraiser

MTO’s Annual Fundraiser is around the corner and this year’s theme is in recognition of women of color who take action to fight for housing justice and human rights, like Shirley Chisholm– an advocate for civil and human rights, as well as, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives 50 years ago and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Our theme drives home a notable Chisholm quote:

If they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair.”

             

Like Chisholm, MTO and our supporters are committed to building shared, collective power and responsibility through the education and empowerment of renters in need. People most impacted by decisions and policies must have seats at the decision making tables because the inclusion of their voice, expertise, and creativity is what democracy looks like. Democracy is an inclusive action that requires the time, energy, and investment of us all to create positive social change. Thank you for supporting housing justice, equity, and human rights with MTO!

Get your tickets here! Join us in celebrating the impact women of color who have not only brought their voice, brilliance, and folding chair to the decision making table, but who empower women, youth, communities of color, and everyday people to use their voice, share their brilliance, and place their chairs aside sisters at the table.

Honorees include: Pamela Silas (Alfonso); Dr. Beth E. Richie; Deborah Bennett; and Tolanda McMullen.

 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018, 6 pm to 8 pm

 

(doors open at 5:45 pm)

2206 N. California Ave.
Chgo. IL 60647

Tickets Prices:

$75 General
$65 Nonprofit Employees
$60 for MTO Members
(Updated Membership Req’d for member rate)
   Sponsors as of 6/1/2018
Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law
Landon Bone Baker Architects
West Town Law Office
David Orr
                          For more info email Aisha Truss-Miller  or dial 773-292-4980 ext. 236 

 

“How-To” Guide – Dealing with Extreme Cold

Landlords in Chicago must heat residential buildings to at least 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees overnight (from September 15 to June 1). 

If you are unable to resolve a heating problem with your landlord, call our Hotline between 1-5PM, M-F at 773-292-4988. You can also send your landlord a 24-hour notice using Squared Away Chicago.

It is vital to know your rights and to look out for the homeless, elderly, and your most vulnerable neighbors during extremely cold weather.

  • If you are worried that your pipes might freeze, leave the tap dripping overnight to ensure they do not freeze. Also, put a towel under your door to help keep the heat inside.
  • When it snows, make sure to clear off sidewalks for the elderly, disabled and young children in strollers. For snow removal assistance, call 311 or click HERE
  • Keep extra hats, gloves and scarves with you when you’re on the move. Your extra gloves might save someone’s fingers from frostbite.

Call 3-1-1 to:

  • Request a well-being check for someone suffering due to extreme weather
  • Report inadequate heat in a residential building (inspections can take up to 3 days!)
  • Learn about programs that assist with home heating costs
  • Connect to shelter and supportive services

IMPORTANT NOTE: Anytime you call 311, get a reference # so you have a record of your call!

The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) operates six Warming Centers during work weekdays when temperatures dip below 32 degrees. DFSS Warming Centers are not open on weekday holidays unless specifically indicated. Additional facilities are opened as needed including Senior Centers, libraries, and Park District buildings, so it is important to call 3-1-1 for info concerning Warming Center locations during off hours and on weekday holidays. The centers below are open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday (but hours may be extended during extreme cold.)

DFSS WARMING CENTERS 

 Garfield Center (Open 24/7)
10 S. Kedzie Ave.

Chicago, IL 60612

Englewood Center
1140 W. 79th Street

Chicago, IL 60620

King Center
4314 S. Cottage Grove
Chicago, IL 60653

  North Area 
845 W. Wilson Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640

South Chicago
8650 S. Commercial Ave.
Chicago, IL 60617

Trina Davila
4357 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60639

Make a Difference this Giving Tuesday!

This Giving Tuesday, Give to the expecting mother, and her 3 young children, whose only wish is to secure decent housing. No child should have to live with a falling ceiling that impacts their safety and their quality of air. This family has lived in their Englewood apartment for 5 years with little to no repairs by the owner. MTO is supporting the resilient mom who is learning and advocating her rights to safe and decent housing.  Your donation to MTO helps keep this family and others from being homeless this holiday season. Stable housing is the gift that keeps giving. Help make a difference by donating HERE today. 

  

HELP Educate. HELP Organize. HELP Empower.                                      

The mission of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization is to educate, organize and empower tenants to have a voice in the decisions that affect the affordability and availability of safe, decent and accessible housing.

Youth Stand Up for Parkway Gardens

One of the most effective ways to get involved in improving your community is to join or form your local Tenant Association. Young people at Parkway Gardens have done just that; they formed a Youth Tenant Council. Parkway Gardens’ teens are organizing to ensure they have a voice in the decisions affecting them and their community. The teens formed the council to focus on issues impacting young people at Parkway Gardens.

 

The youth are concerned about resources available to employ teenagers, crime in their neighborhood, and creating solutions to issues that plague their community. In the short time the Youth Tenant Council has been meeting, they’ve made their presence known. They met with the Building Manager to articulate their vision for Parkway Gardens. Management agreed with the need for resources to employ youth in the community, and committed to start providing youth with stipends to write stories, take pictures, and document the progress of work in the community gardens.  The group also met with CAPS to create a working relationship between police and community, and to express their concerns about the lack of safety along King Drive, which is where most of the violence takes place, as described by community. The Youth Council created a petition and are now gathering signatures demanding increase to resources for community safety through the Chicago Police Department.
 
Empowering youth to identify and respond to community needs helps us all become more empathetic and reflective community and instills a sense of hope in our present and future. As youth and community organize together, young people (and not so-young people) realize their the power to influence decisions impacting their communities the most. Consistently, research suggests youth who are engaged in their communities are less likely to fall into the traps of school-to-prison pipeline. As young people work for change and the future they envision for Parkway Gardens they are gaining and sharing skills to be the leaders of today and tomorrow

MTO receives 2017 HMRPG Social Justice Award

Like healthcare, housing is a human right”, said John Bartlett, MTO’s Executive Director, Friday night while receiving the 2017 Health and Medicine Policy Research Group Award at the #hmprggala. The Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (Health & Medicine) held the Awards Gala to honor the accomplishments of activists and professionals making important strides towards health equity and social justice. MTO was recognized for its work protecting tenants health and promoting social justice in housing.  

“Like Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, MTO believes that it is essential to work at the intersection of different social needs”, said John Bartlett, MTO’s Executive Director. It is when we work at these intersections that we begin to understand the barriers to health and well-being. For instance, if a family does not have a decent, stable home, children will not do as well in school. And without a good education, it is harder to get a good job. And without a job it is next to impossible to obtain a stable decent home, and on and on. It is for this reason that we maintain that ike healthcare, housing is a human right”.

To see a list of this years Award Winners, click here

 

 

MTO Sponsors Water at Risk: A Tribal Leaders’ Perspective

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization is co-sponsoring “Water at Risk”, a program highlighting the Standing Rock Sioux and Menominee Tribes’ campaigns to protect their tribes’ water resources. Several people have asked why would MTO, a housing organization, sponsor an event like this.  There are four basic reasons for our support.

First, as a social justice organization, MTO believes that it is essential to stand in solidarity with other groups and peoples demanding their rights. The Standing Rock Sioux and Menominee Tribes are in a major political battle to defend their sovereignty and water rights. Their demands are just.  When we stand in support of community struggles, we learn from and create bonds between groups and peoples and build power through unity.

Second, the underlying values of our struggles are similar in that each calls into question who gets to determine what gets built on tribal or community land. In one case, we have corporate interests taking the Standing Rock Sioux’s land to build a pipeline. In Chicago and other cities, developers take over land to build apartments, condos, etc.  and displace the residents.  Whether it is the tribes demanding control over their land or communities demanding a voice in development, we are working for self-determination.

Third, both are a struggle for human rights. In the same way that we need water to survive, people need housing to survive. Fighting for human rights has at its core the demand for justice and inclusion. MTO’s mission is one of justice and inclusion.

Finally, the struggle at Standing Rock is about people taking action. The encampment at Standing Rock is an inspiration for all and suggests a path forward. Thousands of people came to support the Standing Rock Sioux and to nonviolently confront through prayer and action the illegitimate construction of an oil pipeline which endangers the major source water for the tribe. 

MTO hopes to see you at these important events. Two programs are scheduled for August 17. The first at Lincoln Hall at Northwestern University starting at 8 am. The second is at the American Indian Center, 3401 W. Ainsley, starting a 7 pm. Featured Speakers are: Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault and Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw.  

In Solidarity,

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization