After Carl (not his real name) repeatedly contacted his landlord about needed repairs in his apartment, without success, he didn’t know what to do. He had rented the apartment in a Pilsen three-flat when he moved to town to accept a job as an associate professor at a local community college. As someone who always paid his rent, he never expected to have an issue with his landlord.
Carl was sure he had a right to demand that repairs be made, but he didn’t know how to make that happen. Eventually, he heard about Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s Hotline (773-292-4988) and called seeking help – that was in September 2012. After discussing his situation with a Hotline Counselor, he was counseled that for his next step he might want to consult a lawyer.
MTO referred him to Joan Fenstermaker, an attorney who often represents clients referred by MTO. She drafted a “demand letter” for Carl and sent it to his landlord, asking for the needed repairs to be made and informing the landlord that he would be reducing his rent check until the repairs were complete (following the guidelines that are part of the city’s Residential Landlord Tenants Ordinance).
Twice the landlord refused to accept the demand letter, sent via certified mail. And, instead of sending workers to repair the building problems, the landlord sent an Eviction Notice. Fenstermaker immediately contested the eviction case, claiming it was retaliatory, and demanded a jury trial. The jury agreed, and the Judge threw the eviction case out.
Fenstermaker then filed a lawsuit of her own seeking compensation on Carl’s behalf. The lawsuit outlined all of the previously cited issues and added the new charges of illegal late fees (charged when he lowered his rent payments), an illegal lockout from his garage space, and the retaliatory eviction.
When the case went to trial in February, the judge ordered the landlord to pay Carl $10,642.73, along with legal fees – proof that tenants do have rights, even if they sometimes have to fight for them.
Every day the Metropolitan Tenants Organization works with renters who are facing the negative effects of gentrification and other economic forces that threaten their housing. Thousands of low-income renters and homeowners are displaced every year by a property law system with misplaced priorities. As a society, we all pay when people are involuntarily displaced because of increased crime, skyrocketing medical costs and a failing educational system. It is imperative that as a nation we confront this housing crisis and ensure that everyone has a home.
The insights of visionary Black leader Malcolm X, who would have been 91 this year, are key to the discussion around gentrification and housing. Malcolm X championed a new vision, reframing the character of the struggle for equality from civil rights to one of human rights. He also raised the concept of self-determination as essential to any struggle for equality. I want to use the lens of human rights and self-determination to contextualize gentrification and look for solutions to the nation’s housing crisis.
The foundation of current gentrification can be traced to the very beginning of the United States.
What is gentrification? From the perspective of the community members, gentrification is the loss of community (and individual) control over the land they live on, a forced displacement of residents from their homes and their communities. It generally occurs in low-income neighborhoods in which people of color reside. Gentrification is not a haphazard process that happens by accident. It is systemic in nature and sanctioned by a faulty legal system.
Gentrification is not just a modern-day occurrence. The foundation of current gentrification can be traced to the very beginning of the United States. In 1823, the US Supreme Court in Johnson v. McIntosh legitimized the concept of ownership through conquest. In Johnson, the Court held that “savages” (the Court’s term for Native Americans) had no right to sell or control the land because the land was “discovered” by settlers. Only the US government could give Native people the right to sell or transfer the land.
The case is important to understanding gentrification because the Court declared that the indigenous population does not have any inherent right to determine the use of their land. In this case, the Court ruled that the colonization of the continent had in fact erased the slate and thus nullified any Native people’s claims to the land. It made the government the sole arbiter of sale or transfer of land. At the same time, it legitimized the government’s use of force to take over the continent and gain control of indigenous people’s land.
Furthermore, the Court’s opinion is indicative of the primary role that race plays in community development. The Court called indigenous people “savages.” Intrinsic in this name-calling is the idea that Native Americans are the “other” – that European culture is superior – and that as an inferior community, they could not possibly make good decisions as to how they use their land. This inherently wrong, racist decision enshrines the legal and conceptual basis of gentrification, or what I have called ownership through conquest.
Many of the first people to move into a changing neighborhood are described as “pioneers.”
If we look at what is happening today in major cities throughout the United States, the same principles and legal precepts are at work. Now, instead of military might, overpowering economic forces are pushing low-income people of color out of their neighborhoods and often out of the cities and into the suburbs. This is happening because public and private investments in the downtown business core have made these areas extremely important and valuable. As the core of the city expands, the neighborhoods that abut the downtown area and those along transportation lines leading to downtown have dramatically increased in value.
Investors and their partners in the public institutions have “discovered” these communities and swooped in to take control of abandoned and vacant properties, at first; but soon all properties in these neighborhoods become targets for takeover. The outside investors then develop the land to fit the needs of the downtown elite. They build new and high-cost apartments and high-rises and demolish and get rid of properties suitable for people of more modest means. Many of the first people to move into a changing neighborhood are described as “pioneers,” the same term used to refer to the initial invaders of North America who imposed the White man’s ways on the Native peoples.
This means families who have often lived in these neighborhoods for decades are forced to relocate. Tenants in particular, because of the lack of a secure tenure, face an onslaught of economic pressures to move. Outside investors will often close buildings and evict all the tenants as they develop properties to cater to wealthier non-community members in an effort to get them to move into the community. Tenants are then forced to find and move into an ever-shrinking supply of affordable housing.
At the same time, landlords are increasing the rent as the neighborhood becomes “hot.” In the end, the vast majority of the tenants will be forced out. It is beyond their means to resist these economic forces on their own. For instance, in Chicago, more than 50 percent of tenants are rent burdened, meaning more than one-third of their income goes to housing costs. Obviously, when tenants are barely able to pay rent, any changes in rent, job status or medical situations will result in displacement.
It is not only renters who face challenges. In the case of homeowners, many long-time residents are losing their properties to foreclosure or seeing dramatic increases in their property taxes, which once again force them out. The current gentrification of US cities is an economic conquest backed up by the courts.
The current gentrification of US cities is an economic conquest backed up by the courts.
Many of the same racist justifications for this conquest are still at play today. Gentrification is often explained away as a needed phenomenon. The community “needs” the often White and well-to-do invaders to move into the neighborhood to improve it. In other words, the current residents are not “invested” in the neighborhood, as they are “not good enough” to develop it on their own. The local culture is destroyed as new, wealthier people flood into a community. The newcomers take over all elements of the community, bringing in their own “superior” culture, such as more expensive restaurants and entertainment venues. This escalates and expands the dislocation to include existing businesses. It is all legal, built on decades of laws based on the rights of the powerful few and not on the human rights of the many.
It is for this reason that Malcolm X’s vision of moving toward a struggle for human rights is so important. Housing is a basic human necessity that any individual needs in order to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without a home, it is next to impossible to find work, to educate your children and to better your conditions. Housing needs to be made into a human right, a right protected by law.
What would it mean if housing was a human right? It certainly means more than just ensuring a roof over one’s head. It means making sure that everyone has decent, safe and accessible housing. It is hardly a home if that home does not have heat during the winter, or is infested with mold and other pests. Housing needs to be affordable. If housing becomes so expensive that a person needs to decide whether to eat or pay the rent, then they will always be at risk of losing their housing. Housing also needs to be stable. People should be able to choose where they live. No one should be forced to move just because someone else wants to live there.
So, how can we change policies and begin moving toward a human rights framework based on community needs, as it relates to gentrification? To begin with, we could implement:
Laws to end lockouts, self-help evictions outside of the legal system: No tenant or homeowner should lose their home without due process.
Mandatory inspections laws: Municipalities and other government agencies need to be responsible for ensuring that all residential properties meet certain codes of health and safety.
Just cause laws: A property owner should be required to have a justifiable reason to evict a resident. No one should have their tenure interrupted because of discrimination, retaliation or any other unfair reason.
Laws to limit foreclosures: Banks and other agencies ought to be held accountable for their actions in creating the housing crisis.
Property tax laws: Property tax laws should promote stability. Tie property taxes to the purchase price of buildings, which would help keep taxes affordable for long-term residents and in addition provide low-income residents with tax relief.
Rent controls: This can take two forms. Rent increases could be regulated by law to give current tenants the opportunity to continue to live in their homes. Or secondly, current residents could receive a rental subsidy to make up for the increase in rent due to gentrification.
Create community-based zoning boards: These boards can regulate zoning changes and give communities control over development.
Create eviction-free zones: Activists and legal services providers work to prevent any eviction in these areas of gentrification to slow down the development process and challenge the investor-invaders’ assumption that they can do what they want.
All these potential policies and actions can begin to ameliorate the effects of gentrification and provide communities with a legal and moral basis to fight gentrification and promote housing stability. No one should be forced to move from their home against their will.
Adopting a human rights framework can provide individuals and communities with new tools and perspectives that offer the hope of ensuring that everyone has the right to secure safe, decent and accessible housing that is affordable. Defining housing as a human right allows for an expansive outlook that goes beyond viewing housing as merely a roof over one’s head or a commodity for sale. A human rights framework will benefit the majority and move society onto a path of social equity. As Malcolm X said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
John Bartlett is the executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. John is a dedicated social justice advocate who has spent decades fighting to protect people’s homes and environment. John’s expertise and experience – from civil disobedience to landlord-tenant mediation – has proved irreplaceable in Chicago’s continued fight for affordable housing.
This article was originally published in TruthOut.
Fifty Years After Freedom Summer / And the Fight Goes On
This year’s Spring Event recognizes the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer — the Chicago Campaign, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the city to help lead events that would result in the passage of a local ordinance to begin addressing the reality of Chicago’s institutionalized housing discrimination. The theme drives home the statement Dr. King made in August of 1966, when he called the city’s new fair housing ordinance “the most significant program ever conceived [in Chicago] to make open housing a reality,” yet, he accurately characterized it as only “the first step in a 1,000 mile journey.”
May 10, 2016, a Tuesday, 6 pm to 8 pm
2323 North Milwaukee; Chicago
Revolution Brewing Brand Beers, Wine, or Soft Drinks
Tickets: $65 Each; $50 Employees of Nonprofits
We are honored to be presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to:
Timuel Black, a legendary Chicago civil rights activist who: was responsible for first introducing Dr. King to Chicago in 1956; helped organize the Freedom Trains from Chicago to the Capitol for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and was a key ally of Mayor Harold Washington. Born to an Alabama sharecropper, Black was part of the Great Migration to Chicago, attended DuSable High School (along with classmates Nat King Cole and John Johnson), and received his Master’s degree from the University of Chicago. His memoir, Sacred Ground, will be published soon.
We are honored to be presenting Housing Champion Awards to:
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), which was founded in the 1960’s as an instrument for grassroots democracy in the Kenwood and Oakland communities, organizing campaigns to increase the resources and services available to residents. It continues to work as a vehicle and voice of low-income and working families.
Fearless Leading By the Youth (FLY), engages youth around issues that directly affect them. In its short history it has played a major leadership role in the successes won by the Audy Home Campaign, and the Trauma Center Campaign. FLY is a program of STOP: Southside Together Organizing for Power.
We are honored to be presenting our Ralph Scott Award to:
Willie Green, who is the President of the Lake Vista Tenants Association. Mr. Green has been working with MTO for over six years and is a longtime housing justice activist.
As of 4-15-2016
RELATED Midwest — Event Sponsor
Law Offices of Hall Adams LLC – Silver Sponsor
CIMC, Chicago Operations – Silver Sponsor
West Town Law – Bronze Sponsor
NICHE Realty / Melissa Stanley — Bronze Sponsor
The Viatorians — Bronze Sponsor
For sponsorship information, contact: 773-292-4980 X230, or firstname.lastname@example.org
BMO Harris Bank, once one of Chicago’s proudest banking institutions, moved to foreclose on the 24-unit complex at 72nd & Wentworth in April of 2015. When banks foreclose on buildings, the law requires them to appoint a “Receiver” in order to maintain the property and avoid disrepair. Millennium Properties – who BMO Harris Bank chose to oversee the Englewood property in July of 2015- has failed miserably on that requirement.
Major repairs are needed at the building, yet, according to 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer’s office, no building permits have been applied for. The only application is for the renewal of a now 8-year old permit for scaffolding. The situation is dire. Rotting floors are everywhere, including the common area, while Millennium is nowhere. Tenants throughout the building report bed bugs, mold, and competing rodents: rats, cats, mice, roaches. Other unaddressed issues include a collapsing ceiling in an apartment corresponding to the sink hole in the floor of the apartment above it.
Last week the City ordered Millennium to board up the doors that led to collapsed porches. The building is crumbling due to neglect. Tenants have no indication from Millennium on when the porches themselves might be fixed. What Millennium has done instead is move to evict tenants including an elderly veteran woman.
Confusion reigns because mandated notification requirements have been ignored. No less than three separate entities have tried to collect rent, often at the same time. If Millennium is able to empty the building by the time the foreclosure becomes final, then BMO Harris Bank will be “off the hook” in paying up to $10,600 in relocation assistance to tenants as mandated by the city’s Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance. Without immediate action, Chicago is likely to lose more affordable housing units. BMO Harris Bank’s website advertises that one of its corporate Principles is Follow Both the Spirit and the Letter of the Law. Will BMO Harris Bank live up to its principles? Please tell BMO Harris and Millennium Properties to:
1.) Follow the law
2.) Pay tenants relocation assistance, and
3.) Respect the human rights of Englewood tenants!
What You Can Do To Help: Share this story and your comments on social media
We know exactly how to eliminate lead hazards to keep children safe. Yet federal regulations that are supposed to protect families in any kind of housing, public and private, have lagged far behind current scientific research and mean thousands of children across the country are being poisoned by their homes.
In fact, it’s just as common for families in run-down private homes in Chicago to be faced with the prospect of lead poisoning, a reality John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, sees firsthand. The poor families who call [MTO’s] hotline are often forced into unbearable choices in private housing. Preventative measures are even rarer in private housing, as inspections aren’t required at all. As a result, parents often have no idea what they’re moving into. “The question becomes, is it better to have a home or not,” he said. “Do you end up in a shelter situation or do you take what you can get? Tenants lack the resources to go anywhere else, but they also lack the resources to stand up to the landlord,” Bartlett said. And they might risk getting kicked out of their home rather than an actual fix.
“Oftentimes landlords, instead of wanting to get rid of the lead, want to get rid of the tenant,” he continued. That’s a particular problem in private housing, where the protections against wrongful evictions are weaker. Some cities and states have instituted proactive rental inspection programs, which require housing to be checked at regular intervals, rather than waiting for a resident to make a complaint. That not only means that lead hazards are hopefully abated before poisoning becomes an issue, but that tenants who might fear taking action against landlords don’t have to shoulder the burden.
That proactive approach is what Bartlett has been pushing his city of Chicago to adopt. His group wants the city to mandate inspections every five years to catch lead hazards before children become poisoned. “If you’re not going out and pre-inspecting things, then kids move in, and they get poisoned.”
When MTO organizers arrived this week to speak with tenants at a south side property, building violations became readily apparent, and downright terrifying. The floors and ceilings in many units are literally caving in. Other units’ balconies have collapsed, leaving tenants with second-floor doors that open up to sheer drop-offs. It is difficult to fathom how the owner, the bank, and the City have allowed the property to deteriorate to such a horrendous condition. It seems criminal. The property, located on W. 72nd Street, is being foreclosed on by BMO Harris Bank. A receiver, Millenium Properties, has been court-appointed to manage the building. They’ve asked the tenants to leave.
This isn’t the first time BMO Harris bank has endangered Englewood residents. In December 2015, we reported on BMO Harris’ attempts to skirt Chicago’s foreclosure law at another building just one block away. BMO’s actions there caused the eviction of five families. BMO offered “token” relocation assistance instead of the $10,600 required by the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance. This is the same building where BMO’s receiver hired a white contractor to board the place up. He arrived for the job driving a truck proudly displaying a Confederate flag.
How will the latest saga with BMO Harris Bank end? Will the bank do the right thing?
Donna Johnson always paid the rent on time in the south side apartment where she lived with her daughter. She enjoyed living in the modest three-unit building near Marquette Park. By any definition, Donna was a model tenant and a loving mother. But when her apartment became infested with bed bugs, her landlord treated her like anything but. Initially, her requests for repairs were ignored. Donna made phone calls and even sent letters to her landlord. Eventually, a representative of the landlord would respond, but the response would be anything but professional.
On more than one occasion after Donna requested repairs, the property manager showed up unannounced, letting himself into the apartment with no warning. Donna’s daughter awoke one day to find the property manager looming over her as she slept. One day soon after, Ms. Johnson was taking a shower when she heard a noise outside the bathroom. She listened and soon realized the property manager was in her apartment again! He had illegally entered her home, and now he was face to face with Donna, making sexual advances towards her. Feeling shocked, angry and violated, Donna kicked him out of the apartment and called the police. In retaliation, the landlord cut off her gas. Donna was being illegally evicted – because she wouldn’t put up with her landlord’s criminal behavior.
That is when Donna called MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline for help. She spoke with a counselor who explained her rights and how she can document the situation. They spoke about Donna’s desire to terminate her lease and find a new apartment where she and her daughter felt safe. To aid her in this effort, MTO connected Donna with a trusted community partner, the Law Offices of Brian J. Gilbert. Donna brought suit against her bully landlord for illegal lockout, illegal landlord entry, and other violations of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. Rather than fight a battle he was certain to lose in court, the landlord agreed to settle.
And while Donna has a settlement check in her hand today, she did anything but settle. Donna has a new home, a fresh start, and is free from the fear of illegal lockouts or harassment. Her daughter is happy and safe today because Donna followed through and did what is right. Donna fought for her rights. And she couldn’t have done it with out the assistance of strong community partners like the Law Offices of Brian J. Gilbert.
MTO believes safe housing is a human right. We have a number of ways you can lend your skills to make that a reality.
There is a strong consensus that we need more inclusive and stronger democratic societies. We all acknowledge that access to decent affordable housing in integrated societies where everyone can feel ‘at home’, is one of the fundamental pillars in well- functioning democratic societies. Exclusion, poverty and insecurity foster fear and hostile environments.
With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, in Beirut, in Sharm el-Sheikh and so many more in the towns and cities of the Middle East, it is hard not to link these atrocities to the social situation in many of our communities. As I see it, poverty, alienation and a desperate lack of any positive signs for a better future are some of the main causes for this development.
So do our societies provide for this human right to a decent home? Yes, for many of us who have a steady job and can rely on the market to provide us with good and, for us, affordable homes. But for all others? The simple answer is ‘no’. Neither society, nor the market, has been capable of providing enough decent affordable homes in a safe environment to low income citizens. Throughout the years the Market has lobbied for more deregulated housing markets, and to leave any housing deficits for them to fix. Has this happened, anywhere? The simple answer is again ‘no’.
And honestly, does anyone really believe that the market is interested in providing homes to low-income households? It’s simply not their job, their task. The market does not have this social responsibility. Every time when I hear this mantra ‘we need more market solutions, or ‘let the market deal with any deficiency of housing’ – I say: “don’t believe in them”. The market alone does not deliver affordable housing for low income households. Because the concept of supply and demand simply does not work in housing, like it does for cars and dishwashers.
How then can we supply the housing market with more affordable housing? As a person with a low income cannot step right into a bank and ask for a loan…we basically talk about ‘affordable rental housing’!
We need more tenure neutral housing policies. Today, homeownership is often promoted by governments, and financially sponsored in various ways. Tax deductible interest rates on mortgages are still a possibility in many countries. Why sponsor those households which are already in a fairly good housing position? Yes, maybe during election times.
Cities, local authorities, should retain ownership of their land, and not sell it to investors. And they should also buy up land when available, like in Vienna. Local authorities can then more easily plan their communities, and do not have to sell to the highest bidder – which often makes housing expensive already from the start.
Avoid the Right-to-Buy, and privatisation of social/public housing. Why transfer common assets, tax payers’ money, to private individuals?
We need mechanisms that control rents, also in the private rental sector, as long as there is an acute shortage of homes. E.g. linked to the Consumer Price Index, or tied to inflation, or mechanisms to compare rents (Mietspiegel in Germany), and rent caps like in Berlin, and now also in Paris. Need for housing subsidies, and allowances, either object (building-) oriented, or subject oriented, to primarily tenants – public and private tenants. But also provide allowances to homeowners, to make it possible to stay in the home during a period of economic difficulties. All in all…
The state, the governments, local authorities, etc, should reclaim the initiative and undertake the task of supplying all citizens with good affordable homes. There is no way around it!
The world needs more publicly owned homes – not less!
We need more political involvement in housing – not less!
We must understand affordable rental housing as a key community infrastructure. We need more construction, administration and ownership of social/public housing by governments and local authorities, or by the non-profit sector. The private sector is of course welcome to contribute – but then always with a requirement of permanent affordability. And, rents can be totally deregulated, free and market based – when we have a balanced housing sector. When that wonderful principle of supply and demand is achieved. That will be the day!
The Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) will begin accepting pre-applications for the Ford Heights public housing wait list for (2) two, (3) three, (4) four, and (5) bedroom units at the following Family Development:
Vera L. Yates
Ford Heights, IL 60411
The Pre-Applications will be made available on February, 9th. The HACC will accept up to 100 wait list pre-applications per each bedroom size unit. Click below to view qualifications, application locations and directions on how to apply.
If you are anyone is your household is a person with a disability and requires a specific accommodation or seeks assistance with the completion of the pre-application, please contact the housing authority via the methods listed in the instructions, or call (312) 542-4786.
If you are currently experiencing issues in your apartment, click below to document and report them using
Chicago law requires landlords to pay tenants interest any time they pay any sort of deposit or prepaid rent as part of renting an apartment. Chicago law requires that the landlord pays the tenant interest. Each new year the interest rate is re-calculated as part of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) § 5-12-080 and 5-12-081. The security deposit regulations in the RLTO cover all conventional rentals in Chicago, including apartments, condos and townhouses, and single family houses – except when the property owner also occupies the same building and the building has six or fewer units.
The City of Chicago 2016 residential rental deposit interest rate is 0.010 percent using the RLTO formula. That rate equals one penny per hundred dollars of deposit held. This applies to all types of deposits collected or renewed during 2016, including pre-paid rent such as “last months rent.” The rate is the same as 2015.
Interest must be paid on deposits held more than six months, and must be paid once a year within 30 days of the anniversary of when a lease commenced or a month-to-month rental agreement started, and within 45 days of when a rental unit is vacated.
The RLTO also requires that landlords:
issue a separate receipt for each deposit.
place each deposit in a separate federally insured bank account within the State of Illinois.
provide written notice as to what bank holds the security deposit and;
promptly inform the tenant who receives the deposit when it is transferred to another bank or management company, or upon sale of the property.
Fees, such as move-in and move-out fees, are not regulated in Chicago or Illinois, however, these fees must clearly be labeled as non-refundable, and must not be so large as to be disguised deposits in an attempt to evade deposit regulations. Non-refundable fees do not generate interest, can be deposited into the landlord’s regular accounts, and are not returnable. Collecting of both fees and deposits is not prohibited.
For assistance related to security deposits, contact the Metropolitan Tenant Organization telephone support Hotline at 773-292-4988, or submit a written question here, or use the comprehensive MTO computer and smartphone app service, Squared Away Chicago.