MTO’s Black History Month hero: David Wilson

February is Black History Month, a time to remember and celebrate the people and the history of the African diaspora, and we’re honoring staff member David Wilson as MTO’s Black History Month hero.  The following short story is part of what makes David and his work so special. 

Mr. Roberts inside his unlit apartment.

I don’t know what I am going to do but the property manager is over here threatening to change the locks and lock Mr. Roberts in. There’s no heat, or water, and the lights have been turned out!”. It was 4:30PM on February 11. David called the office to relay what was happening inside Mr. Roberts apartment at 7907 S Laflin. “They’re threatening to arrest anyone who enters the building to help him. I am not going to let the property manager do this” he said. For years the previous owners had allowed the building to slowly deteriorate. The current owner just wanted to vacate the building and force the tenants to move, so they quit doing repairs, turned off the water and heat, and threatened the tenants with invalid eviction notices. But the tenants fought to preserve their home against the unjust eviction. 

David and Victoria Ogunsanya, an attorney from the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, were at the building because the tenants had just negotiated a cash settlement to move-out. Mr. Roberts, a 70-year old black man who uses a wheelchair, was the last remaining tenant. For many like Mr. Roberts, this building was home.  One tenant had lived there for 28 years.  Mr. Roberts had lived in the building for more than 10 years.  He lived on the second floor, which was not the best situation because he always needed assistance to go out.  Even though the conditions were horrendous by the end, Mr. Roberts was more terrified of ending up in a shelter.  This place was his home; he could afford the rent.  And now his property manager was threatening to put him on the street. David didn’t budge. He let the manager know that there was no way Mr. Roberts was going to be left alone in the cold, dark building.  With the joint effort of MTO and other tenants, we were able to find him a place to go.  In the end, with the help of six strong people, Mr. Roberts was moved to a new temporary home.

David Wilson

When asked about the incident, David said, “It’s really horrible how heartless and uncaring the manager and the owners were.  I kept thinking ‘is this how you would want your mom or dad treated?’” Unfortunately, there are too many landlords like this. “Its why tenants need to organize and why Chicago needs better laws”, he said.

David has been with MTO for over 19 years as a tenant leader, Board member and now as a community organizer.  Every day David brings his fearless determination and compassion to his job. And Chicago’s low-income renters are better off for it.

You’re Invited to the Party

Get Your Tickets to MTO’s Spring Affair
as we celebrate
Champions of Freedom & Fairness


Wednesday, May 8, 2019 6pm-8pm
  Masada’s Restaurant, 2206 N. California Ave. (Lower Level)

This event is accessible

Sponsorship Opportunities are Available (here)
General Admission Tickets $75.00
MTO Members only rate $65.00

Click here for Tickets

For general questions and info about sponsorship opportunities, membership status, ticket purchase, donations, and accessibility contact Aisha Truss-Miller, Development Manager (773) 292-4980 ext. 236 or aisha@tenants-rights.org

A Home for the Holidays, and Beyond

Caroline, a 73-year old retiree living on the western edge of Humboldt Park, is so grateful for MTO’s new Eviction Prevention Collaboration.  Caroline lives on Social Security.  On the third Wednesday of each month, she receives her SSI check and pays her rent.  Unfortunately, Caroline ended up in the hospital recently and suddenly couldn’t pay the rent.  Caroline informed her landlord that the rent was going to be late.  The landlord agreed and told Caroline could pay the late rent in installments.

When Caroline went to make her next payment, the landlord suddenly refused the rent and gave her a 30-day notice to vacate her home of the past 5 years by the end of December. The landlord further threatened her by telling her she was going to start showing the unit the very next day.  Frantic and not knowing what to do, Caroline called MTO’s Eviction Prevention Collaboration.  MTO’s case manager suggested that she talk with the landlord before writing a letter. The landlord said no, and told her to just “get out.” With help from MTO’s case manager, Caroline wrote a letter which reiterated the verbal agreement between they had made.  The landlord did not respond to the letter.  The case manager suggested she write one more letter and try paying rent when her next check arrives. 

This time the landlord accepted the rent.  Caroline was ecstatic.  There would be no court case. The sheriff would not be coming to her home. She would still have a home after the holidays.  You can make sure that Caroline and others like her continue to have a home by donating to MTO.

Every year there are more than 25,000 evictions filed in Cook County.  Many more are evicted outside of the court system. Thousands of tenants are displaced.  Their lives disrupted.  Their communities destabilized.  With your financial help, MTO can help stop evictions.  Donate now.

Giving Back to Community

Black Friday. Cyber Monday._0-cropped.png

#Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. It’s grown as part of the kick off to the holiday season with vast choices of social causes to support online and via social media platforms. #Giving Tuesday is simply a Day of Giving.

For MTO, like many organizations working to build a fair and just society, Giving Tuesday outreach is about more than charity. Giving Tuesday is an opportunity for us all to invest in social change. No gift is too small or too large when it comes to supporting Chicago & Cook County renters through the work of MTO. Every year we serve over 10,000 low-income households. These families are vulnerable because their housing is at risk.  And like you, tenants want and need is access to healthy, safe, and affordable housing to stabilize their lives and our city’s’ future. Without a stable and healthy home, children are stressed and less likely to excel in school, parents and young adults struggle to sustain employment, and emergency room visits become routine; even worse, unstable housing may lead to a family’s homelessness or displacement. Our communities are resilient and will grow and thrive if given the opportunity.  At MTO, we fight with renters for housing stability and equity, which is needed and long overdue. You can join us in taking a stand by donating and volunteering.  Donate now to invest in the change Chicago’s renters and communities deserve.

Read about how the Borner Family took action for their health, housing, and stability here:

Ms. Borner lives on the Southside with her daughter and granddaughter.  The family was referred to MTO because of severe housing repairs.  The home had major water damage which resulted in significant areas of mold, chipping paint, and large holes in the ceiling.  Both Ms. Borner and her daughter suffer from asthma which under the apartment conditions could lead to them being hospitalized.  The family welcomed MTO’s Healthy Homes Organizer into their home to do an assessment. After the inspection she discussed the apartment’s health homes hazards with the family.  MTO worked with the family to document the problems and sent photos and letters to the landlord requesting repairs.  At first the landlord did nothing.  So the family followed up with more pictures and a statement from their doctor stating the housing problems could be triggering the family’s asthma and impacting other health concerns.  After going over their rights and getting insight on landlord retaliation the family decided to call the City and requested an inspection from the Department of Buildings.  After the inspection the landlord finally acted.  Now all the issues have been repaired. The Borner Family used the tools and support of MTO to stabilize their health and housing. The still live in their Southside apartment and now they are breathing easier.

It’s stories of families like the Borner’s that inspires MTO to keep pushing housing solutions to advance the accessibility and stability of healthy affordable housing that every child and person needs and deserves. Housing is a Human Right!! Take a stand with MTO. Invest in change this holiday season. Your donation makes a world of difference.

 

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.