Chicago Needs Proactive Home Inspections!

The Chicago Healthy Homes Coalition (CHHC),  a coalition of renters and advocates, proposes to create a citywide rental housing registry and a proactive healthy homes inspection program. This is a matter of racial and health equity.  No Chicago renter should get sick or die because health hazards, such a lead or a lack of smoke detectors, exist.  No renters should have to live with mold, rats, or use their stove for heat.  We call upon the city to create a citywide program to hold bad landlords accountable and to ensure that all housing is safe, decent and accessible.  

Chicago does not regularly inspect housing for basic safety standards. This means that poor housing conditions can go unaddressed until a tenant makes a report to the city, often after an injury or illness. Proactive inspections will ensure that unsafe housing issues are addressed sooner, fewer people will be harmed or injured, and Chicago’s housing stock will be improved.

 

History + Background

A little over half of all Chicagoans are renters. The city is also home to higher-than-average rates of water leaks, heating and plumbing equipment breakdown, problems with broken plaster and peeling paint, and sewage disposal issues, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing. In 2019 renters made more than 30,000 complaints for occupied blight and other habitability issues, with most complaints coming from the South and West Side.

Simultaneously, the city does not currently require proactive inspection of rental units. Dangerous conditions are only addressed after a complaint is filed with the City. Minor issues are not addressed and unreported hazards often transition into disasters before a complaint is filed. Complaint-based inspection is additionally inadequate because inspectors often limit the the investigation only to what is reported. Many complaints are also never investigated; inspectors regularly have trouble accessing properties without landlord cooperation. The lack of a rental property registration system exacerbates this problem, as many owners do not have discoverable contact information, particularly when the property is owned by a limited liability company (LLC).

 

The Consequences

Lead Poisoning: Because over 81% of Chicago’s housing stock was built before the federal government  banned lead-based paint in 1978, most of these buildings, many of which have not been appropriately  maintained, repaired, or renovated, likely contain lead-based paint. Lead is a major neurotoxin that causes lifelong learning disabilities, hearing loss, speech delays, intellectual disability, ADHD, and aggressive/violent behaviors, even at relatively low levels. In many community areas, the childhood lead poisoning rates are more than double or quadruple the city-wide rate: from 4.4 and 5.7 per 100 children in Austin and West Garfield Park, and as high as 7.2 and 7.3 per 100 children in Englewood and West Englewood.

Asthma: Researchers have found excess moisture allows for the breeding of mold, mildew, mites, and  cockroaches, and that cracks allow pests like rodents and bugs to enter the home, all of which have been  linked to greater asthma morbidity and mortality. In Chicago, Black children have twice the prevalence of asthma when compared to White and Hispanic children. 

Societal, Economic, and Educational Harms: Other poor housing conditions, such as presence of rats and cockroaches, missing or malfunctioning necessities (e.g., toilet, stove, windows), and other structural,  electrical, and plumbing issues have been connected to higher  school absenteeism, reduced performance on standardized tests, and cognitive deficiencies in students. 

Fires and Fatalities: Between 2014 and 2019, 140 fires killed 92 Chicagoans. Nearly half of those fires  involved buildings without a working smoke detector. A Chicago Tribune / Better Government Association investigation into fires in the same timeframe found more than two dozen cases in which safety conditions played a role in the fires, but records showed the buildings had not been inspected for five or more years. 

Public Fiscal Costs: Chicago’s inability to address dangerous housing conditions is expensive to the public. Very conservatively estimating that just one-half of Chicago’s 1,376 lead-poisoned children in  2017 required special education, Chicago therefore spent roughly $7.5 million to $15 million per year in additional instructional costs for those students alone. Other studies corroborate that every dollar spent to prevent lead poisoning saves hundreds of dollars in the form of greater earnings and reduced taxpayer-funded health  care, special education, and law enforcement costs.

In  2018, Chicago’s Office of Inspector General found that our current complaint-based system permitted safety and health hazards to go unaddressed for longer than the law allowed. A follow up report in 2019 gave the City recommendations to improve inspections.

 

Our Solution

CHHC is proposing a three-year pilot to begin the transition from Chicago’s ineffective and dangerous complaint-driven inspection system to a proven proactive rental inspection and rental registry program. 

The pilot includes three major components: 

(1) healthy homes inspection of all residential rental properties  in two select community areas; 

(2) a citywide residential rental registry

(3) community outreach to  educate and engage tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders. 

The program is designed to be budget neutral, as it will be funded by registration fees paid by landlords. It  will be implemented by a project manager hired by the city, in collaboration with the Departments of  Housing, Buildings, and Health.

 

Healthy Homes Inspections. The City will develop a healthy homes inspection program to be used citywide and pilot the program in two community areas—one high-need and one mixed-need. The pilot’s healthy homes inspections will incorporate nationally-recognized principles of healthy homes,  including that they be dry, clean, safe, contaminant-free, well-ventilated, thermally controlled, well maintained, and accessible.

Rental Registry. As part of the pilot, the City of Chicago will establish a citywide residential rental registry, to be managed by the Department of Housing. All landlords will be required to register their rental  properties with the City annually, paying a registration fee and providing some basic information about the property.

Repair Grants for Small Landlords. The rental registry fees would go into a fund that prioritizes grants for small landlords who own 6 or fewer units to make necessary repairs. This will encourage landlords to participate in the program.

Community Outreach. Because community buy-in and support is critical to the success of the pilot, the  City will involve key stakeholders in the community at all stages of pilot development and implementation by creating a community advisory board to assist with oversight and evaluation at the  end of the pilot. The City will also hire inspectors and other City personnel from pilot  communities, which will help to ensure that the pilot is implemented equitably and with the needs of the community in mind.  

9 Potential Solutions to Keep Chicagoans Safer From FiresBetter Government Association

 

Evaluation

To evaluate the pilot project, the City will hire an independent professional who is a healthy housing expert. This individual will design and implement a robust evaluation, collecting and analyzing both qualitative  and quantitative measures. 

Quantitative Measures: Identified hazards; hazards remediated; cost to the City; cost to landlords; training needs; number of inspections/inspectors; frequency of inspector success in property entry; estimated fiscal benefits for the public; financial and health  benefits for impacted households.

Qualitative Measures: Qualitative measures will include open-ended interviews with inspectors,  community stakeholders, advocates, landlords, and tenants about their experiences during the pilot. 

The evaluation will also use the inspection data to identify common housing hazards that are not considered  violations under Chicago’s Building Code and make recommendations for possible amendments. The  evaluator will additionally ascertain compliance with the rental registry requirements, to inform potential  incentives and penalties to ensure compliance.

**Read our full white-paper here.**

 

 

Take Action!

We need City Council to implement this project. Call your Alderman today and demand they support Chicago Healthy Homes!

Join the Coalition! Sign up to be a sponsor.

Don’t Get Evicted – There is still Rental Assistance

Don’t Get Evicted – There is still Rental Assistance

Are you a renter or landlord suburban Cook County? Has COVID-19 made it difficult for you or your tenants to pay rent and utilities? You may qualify for @cookcountygov assistance. The first step? Check your eligibility and gather your documents. Start the process at cookcountyil.gov/rent-help. Applications open October 4th. Landlords and tenants may apply.

While the State of Illinois applications are closed, Cook County has opened a new round of emergency rental assistance for renters impacted by COVID.  Millions of dollars have already been distributed to tenants and landlord so avoid eviction.  There is still more money.  Apply today.  Application deadline is October 29.  Don’t get evicted, get resources that can help you stay in your home.  Go to https://cookcountyil.gov/rent-help or call MTO’s hotline 773-292-4988 for assistance.

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.

Apply now to join the Access to Justice team as an MTO Community Navigator

Community Navigators will promote MTO’s Access to Justice Eviction Prevention Project.  Navigators will represent MTO online and/or in their community – informing tenants of their housing rights and available resources and encouraging them to seek relief. Ideal candidates will be comfortable using Social Media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc), drafting social media posts, creating outreach materials, conducting email outreach, and other communications related tasks.

MTO agrees to:

  1. Compensate Navigators by providing individuals with a $700 monthly stipend. 
  2. Compensate Navigators for use of personal phones and internet services.
  3. Provide all Navigators with training on Chicago Residential Tenant Ordinance and State of Illinois eviction laws, including the Just Housing ordinance.
  4. Supply Navigators with flyers, handouts and sign-in sheets as needed.

Navigators Agree to:

  1. Develop a monthly work plan in coordination with project supervisor.
  2. Participate in Tenants Rights training within first month of agreement.
  3. Maintain written or computerized records of their outreach work.
  4. Act professionally and abide by all city, state and federal laws while working as a navigator.
  5. Will not discriminate, harass or debase anyone based on race, gender, sexual identify, disability, ethnic background, etc.
  6. Work on average 10 hours per week.  Routinely working less than 10 hours per week will result in a smaller stipend.

Navigators are independent contractors. The Community Navigator Contract can be terminated by either party with a 7-day notice. 

To apply, please send a resume to philip@tenants-rights.org

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

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.