The question is, how do we become better allies?

Today is International Women’s Day. On this day, women all across the world receive praises that go unsaid the rest of the year. It’s also a day for women like myself to reflect on what it means to be a woman, and how to stand better in solidarity with other women. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the women that I’ve met throughout the years as a Healthy Homes Organizer and the struggles they’ve had to face. The story of Ms. May sticks out in my mind.

I first visited Ms. May this past January, to take a look at the peeling paint in her home and talk about how to prevent lead poisoning. When I arrived at the home, it immediately became clear that the situation was much worse than I had initially thought. There was ice on the staircase and a broken faucet, which had gone unchecked for nearly a week. That resulted in a giant ice rink near the house – a clear and present danger to Ms May. Inside the house, there was mold on the kitchen and bathroom walls and holes in the foundation. There were rat droppings from an infestation that had been inappropriately handled by her landlord, with serious consequences.

Last October she asked her landlord to deal with the rat problem. The landlord, instead of hiring an exterminator, had brought an unqualified person who ended up leaving a bag of rat poison pellets on top of the dining table.  Her three-year-old daughter confused the brightly colored pellets for cereal and ended up ingesting some. Fortunately, the quick actions by Ms May resulted in a full recovery for her little girl. I bring this particular story up, because my initial reaction was to judge. How could someone leave rat poison on the table? How could she not realize that a young child might be attracted to the brightly colored pellets?

It took me a few minutes before I checked myself and realized that situations like this were never that simple, and it usually was not the fault of one person. Ms May had done the best she could given her circumstances. It was her landlord who should have made the repairs, promptly and efficiently. But that did not happen. The exploitation of low-income tenants, in particular mothers and caretakers is something far too common in the housing market. Women in these situations more often than not have to take on the burden of child-rearing and making ends meet. Adding substandard housing further increases that burden, and the health consequences from inadequate housing are severe. We can’t make every home safe, but we can support the people living there.

So the question is, how do we become better allies? How do we, as fellow women, lessen the burden of so many other Chicago women like Ms May? You can begin to stand in solidarity by calling your alderman and supporting the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program that is designed to enforce building code standards and protect renters from health hazards. A move from the current building inspection system will help us prevent another story like Ms May’s and helps us in the effort to create safe housing for all. Healthy and thriving lives start at home, which is why every family should have safe, decent and accessible housing!

This story was written by Angelica Ugarte, Healthy Homes Program Organizer

IT Campaign

#FF0000 Raised $4,449 towards the $13,220 target.

MTO kicks-off IT Campaign


With a lot of help from our friends, the Metropolitan Tenants Organization today begins a targeted fundraising campaign to upgrade our computers and computer network.  The Pierce Family Foundation has kicked-off the campaign with an incredibly generous gift of $4,320 representing 33% of our total goal of $13,220 for a new server, installation & on-boarding, licensing, and the replacement of our oldest PC’s.

What do servers and pc’s have to do with our Mission? 

A lot actually!

  • MTO’s computerized Tenants Rights’ Hotline handles nearly 10,000 calls annually from Chicago renters needing answers on what the law says about issues they are having with their landlords.
  • MTO’s innovative and award-winning  Squared Away Chicago , which provides online support to renters 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week — is a web-based application.
  • MTO’s Website Homepage  is referenced by over 200,000 people annually.
  • MTO’s Healthy Homes Counselors conduct onsite inspections and use computer tablets to upload photo documentation of home-based health hazards directly to our program database.
  • And, then there are our everyday needs like bookkeeping, word-processing and email.


Help MTO today by making a targeted contribution to our Technology Project.


The Fight for Human Rights is not on Winter Vacation

image3While many of us were revving up for the holidays, other Chicago residents were standing up against violations of civil and human rights across our city. On December 21, 2016 human rights organizers held a vigil in Ravenswood in front of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s home.

Coffins, carnations, and candles symbolized the deaths of affordable housing, shelters, mental wellness clinics, health resources, school closings and the 700+ humans whose lives were ended by gun violence, including unjust fatal police shootings. Demonstrators expressed that community violence is not a stand alone issue, instead it is interconnected to the institutional violence and oppression of our city’s historically racist, classist, and patriarchal politics and policies.

In the South Loop, public funds are currently being used to construct an arena for a private institution- DePaul University’s new athletic arena. Public lands which were once public housing sites like the Ida B. Wells housing complex in Bronzeville is now home to Mariano’s, after CHA and the city broke the promise they made to taxpayers and residents to rebuild the public housing they tore down during the Plan for Transformation (deconstruction of Chicago’s housing projects).

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Housing is fundamental to the development of healthy people, healthy families, and healthy communities. Housing is a HUMAN RIGHT! We DEMAND a stop to the death of affordable housing and the violent policies sustaining race and class divides and deepening homelessness, police brutality and state sanctioned violence, community violence, inadequate education, and economic disenfranchisement. We must treat housing as a human right, not a commodity! It’s time to pass the #KeepingThePromise Ordinance and protect public housing, not destroy it! Join us in the fight.
Authored by: Aisha Truss-Miller and Angelica Ugarte

Mientras muchos de nosotros nos estamos preparando  para las festividades, muchos residentes de Chicago están alzándose en contra  de la  violación  de los derechos humanos y civiles  que se practican a lo largo y ancho de nuestra ciudad. Este 21 de diciembre del 2016, organizadores de derechos humanos, realizaron una vigilia en el barrio de Ravenswood en frente del hogar del Alcalde de la ciudad de Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel.

Ataúdes, claveles y velas fueron los símbolos para representar no solo la muerte de viviendas accesibles, sino también la muerte de las clínicas de salud mental, recursos de salud, a clausura de escuelas públicas, y las 700 vidas humanas  cuyas vidas fueron cortadas producto de la violencia con armas de fuego, incluyendo los disparos fatales  perpetrados por  la policía, que se sospecha eran injustificados. Los manifestantes  afirmaron  que la violencia en la comunidad no es un problema por si solo, sino que está vinculado con la violencia institucional y la opresión de parte de nuestra ciudad que  históricamente ha practicado políticas y legislaciones racistas, clasistas y patriarcales.

En el “South  Loop” fondos públicos están siendo  utilizados para subsidiar la construcción de un estadio nuevo para una institución privada, la Universidad de Depaul. Terrenos públicos que alguna vez  fueron  sitios utilizados para viviendas públicas como por ejemplo el Complejo Habitacional Ida B. Wells en Bronzeville ahora  está ubicado  un supermercado Mariano, debido a que CHA y la ciudad rompieron  la  promesa que  hicieran  a los contribuyentes y a los residentes a través del Plan de Transformación (la demolición de los proyectos de vivienda de Chicago ) de reconstruir cierta cantidad de viviendas públicas y  viviendas  accesibles.

El derecho a una vivienda es fundamental para el desarrollo no solo de personas saludables sino que también de hogares saludables y comunidades saludables. El derecho a una vivienda es un DERECHO HUMANO Nosotros Exigimos un cese a la muerte de viviendas accesibles y a legislaciones  violentas  que mantienen la división de raza y clase aumentando  el número de personas indigentes, la brutalidad policial, la violencia autorizada por el estado, la violencia en la comunidad, la educación deficiente y la privación a los derechos económicos

MTO Works in Woodlawn

woodlawnSheila was exhausted.  Her Woodlawn apartment was cold and unlivable — except to the rats, which constantly made their way in through holes in the kitchen walls.  In her bedroom, cold air flowed freely through gaps beneath vents and windows.  As summer turned to fall, heat ducts that were supposed to deliver warm air instead made Sheila’s bedroom feel like a refrigerator.  Sheila kept contacting her landlord, but to no avail.

Then on November 1st, Sheila discovered MTO’s Squared Away Chicago, a FREE app for Chicago renters, and began to document the problems.  She quickly learned her rights, and was eager to start exercising them.  She did just that — a step Squared Away makes easy for tenants.
To Sheila’s surprise, a contractor was out in a week, taking measurements and installing new windows. But she’d been promised fixes before, so she was skeptical, and as it turned out, for good reason.  Four days later, it was determined the incorrect window had been installed.  It was now mid-November, so Sheila went back to Squared Away and used it to “escalate” the situation with her landlord by sending a 14-day notice officially requesting the repairs be made.  If not, the notice stated, Sheila would exercise her right to withhold a portion of her monthly rent.  Just days before the 14-day deadline, work began in earnest.
On December 13th, she updated us on her situation through Squared Away.  We’re proud to report Sheila’s apartment has new pipes, air ducts and vents that keep the unit warm, new walls in her kitchen that keep the rodents out, and new windows that seal out the cold, and keep in the heat.  Sheila is one of nearly 10,000 renters throughout Chicago that MTO has helped this year.  

Please help us continue to help others in the year ahead.

Make the commitment!

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MTO works in Rogers Park

When Bryan turned on his faucet in early November, he held out his hand — and hope — that he’d finally have hot water in his apartment again.  He had always paid rent on time for his apartment in Rogers Park.  He had never caused any problems in the building, so he was frustrated when his repeated requests to the property manager yielded little success.  Multiple repair requests finally got someone to visit Bryan’s apartment and restore hot water, but it was just a temporary fix.

RPCold, frustrated, and feeling taken advantage of, Bryan started researching tenants rights in Chicago.  He found MTO’s website, where he discovered Squared Away Chicago, MTO’s FREE app for Chicago renters.  The app informs users of their rights and allows them to take action based on the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance.  As important, Squared Away creates a digital paper trail for tenants — they can access, update, and print the information and forms at any time, 24/7.  Bryan used Squared Away to document what was happening in his apartment and sent a 24-hour notice to his landlord demanding that hot water be restored to his apartment.

The landlord responded to his legal notice promptly, and within two days, hot water was flowing again in Bryan’s apartment.  Documentation is a key component to successful resolution of disputes.  Tenants like Bryan increase their chances of success when they document apartment problems, a step MTO has made much easier with Squared Away.

Bryan is one of nearly 10,000 renters throughout Chicago that MTO has helped this year.  Please help us continue to help others in the year ahead. Consider donating today or joining our next Hotline Volunteer Training on March 18th, 2017.


Tenant Power Changes Lives at Rents Rights Expo

Teresa (right) at the 2016 Rents Rights Expo

The 2016 Rents Rights Expo brings us yet another success story. Teresa came to the MTO table last year looking for help. She had multiple repair issues in her apartment and, fed up with the conditions, she wanted to move out. Her landlord refused to fix anything and told Teresa that he would not return her security deposit if she moved out. With help from MTO, she documented her issues, called 311, and wrote letters to her landlord. Finally, she took her landlord to court. 

On Saturday, Teresa stopped by our table at the Rents Rights Expo to give us an update. She won her case and got her security deposit back! She has since moved out of the apartment and found a much better home with a more responsive landlord. Teresa said she was excited to share her story with us because of how empowered her experience made her feel. She came out to the 2016 Renters’ Day of Action and plans to volunteer with MTO in the future!

Knowledge about your rights creates tenant power, and tenant power changes lives. Thank you to Teresa, and to all of our Volunteers that helped make the 2016 Rents Rights Expo such a success. Volunteers counseled tenants and helped others use our free web app, Squared Away Chicago. Squared Away helps tenants document and address issues just like Teresa’s. Next year we expect more tenants to return with success stories!

Together we can make housing a human right. To find out more about how you can get involved contact today or call 773-292-4980 ext 246.

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Metropolitan Tenants Organization Volunteers working the 2016 Rents Rights Expo.

Tenants Bill of Rights Statement by Cook County Clerk David Orr


“We cannot allow this power that tenants have to be rolled back. We can’t go back to the way it was. We can’t allow people who pay their rent every month to live in unlivable apartments or face unfair financial penalties from their landlords without having a way to fight it. The most powerful among us have the lobbyists and the political connections. The least powerful among us have the Tenants Bill of Rights. We must uphold it, and just as we had to fight to pass it, we must fight to protect it.” -David Orr

30th Anniversary of Chicago’s Landmark Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance

neighbors2It is impossible to tell the story of tenants in Chicago without telling the story of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO).

The RLTO is now 30 years old and counting: it was enacted by the Chicago City Council on September 8, 1986.  The story of the Ordinance reveals the power of community organizing and a moment in the city’s political life when the rights of tenants were championed by Mayor Harold Washington. The Ordinance became law in a city often regarded as a haven for the real estate industry.

One key element of the history behind the Ordinance is the impact of organizing in the Rogers Park community on Chicago’s north side.  In that community, with its heavy concentration of rental properties, tenant issues were prominent in the 1970s.  In 1979, they elected David Orr as Alderman of the 49th Ward. In the ensuing years, the Rogers Park Tenants Committee (and other smaller groups in Rogers Park) grew and organized on key tenant issues, including escalating rents, repairs and lead abatement.  During this period, groups in many communities around the city – some funded by local foundations – also worked on tenant issues, including Austin, Englewood, Logan Square, South Shore and Uptown.

Orr, now Cook County Clerk, recalls those days.   “The only way to defeat the clout of the Machine was building community clout,” he said.  “Community organizing was crucial in the movement to pass the Ordinance.”

While community groups targeted aldermen to support the Ordinance, they also put considerable pressure on the city’s Housing Court, an institution that was characterized by years of mismanagement.  A new organization, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, emerged to help fight the battle in Housing Court.  Meanwhile, in 1981, an activist group called the Housing Agenda addressed tenant issues through a committee.  That committee spun off and became the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) in 1985.

Early on, supporters of tenant rights also proposed a Fair Rent Commission, which would create a place to appeal unfair rent increases. While important, this issue did not gain sufficient support at the time, though it remains a concern among many activists and tenants today.

In the early 1980s – the time of “Council Wars” in Chicago’s City Hall – efforts to address tenant rights in the City Council languished.  Work continued however, an ordinance was drafted using one that had passed in Evanston as a model, activists targeted aldermen whose support could make a difference, and nonprofit developers were also using various tools, including the city’s Tax Reactivation Program, to further the cause of affordable housing.  And significantly, Harold Washington, an ally and advocate, was elected Mayor – he did not though have control of the city council.

That changed in early in 1986 when special aldermanic elections were held in accordance with a new ward map.  In those elections, Luis Gutierrez (now a U.S. Representative) was elected as an alderman, giving the mayor’s allies a council majority.  By May, Washington and his allies had control of the Council.  He identified the tenant bill of rights – which became the Ordinance – as a priority. IMG_8734

By September of 1986, it became apparent that the Ordinance was about to pass – in a big way.  It wasn’t comprehensive (the Ordinance exempted owners in owner-occupied buildings, for example) but it went much further than any measure had before.  As it become clear that there were enough votes for the Ordinance, numerous aldermen who had originally opposed the measure decided to support it.  The Ordinance passed 43 to 7.  With the Ordinance, tenants finally had legal backing to support their issues. 

In the months that followed, there were a couple of challenges to the Ordinance.  First, real estate interests tried to challenge its lawfulness in federal district court – but lost.  Later, there was another effort to turn things around in Springfield.  That failed as well.

Over the years, sustained opposition to the Ordinance has never materialized – nor has it completely gone away.  In the current council, efforts are being made in the Housing Committee to weaken the measure’s enforcement mechanism.  That Housing Committee is now headed by Alderman Joe Moore, Orr’s successor in the 49th Ward. 

Currently, the only way to effectively enforce the RLTO is to take the landlord to court. This requires an attorney. If landlords violate the law and lose in court, the landlord must pay for the renter’s attorney fees. Attorneys are willing to represent renters because they know if they win, the landlord has to pay. 

The Realtors are proposing a change to the law so that even if they lose they may not have to pay attorney fees. This will make it impossible for low and moderate income tenants to afford attorneys and will only lead to more evictions and displacement. This is just one of the many reasons tenants will take to the streets and flex their renter power on September 22nd. Monied interests should not control who has the ability to live in a safe, healthy home. Every Chicagoan deserves a roof over their head.

Support the Just Housing Amendment

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.09.04 AMOne out of every three Americans has an arrest record. Nearly 50% of children have a parent with a criminal record. Housing policies that ban people with records disproportionately affects people of color and people with disabilities.

The Just Housing Amendment will ban discrimination in real estate transactions based on one’s covered criminal history, help reduce recidivism and make Cook County a safe place, as well as protect children and families from the consequences of housing instability. People re-entering their communities with access to stable housing are seven times less likely to recividate than those facing homelessness.

Home is the cornerstone from which people build better lives for themselves and their families. People with criminal records, like everyone else, deserve a place to call home. Housing is a right!

Unincorporated Cook County Home to Many Housing Problems

triunitedWithout the protection of laws like Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, renters in unincorporated communities in suburban Cook County are often the victims of unscrupulous landlords and property managers.

In March, that fact became an urgent problem for renters in an apartment complex in Rosemont, many of them long-time residents, when they began receiving eviction notices from Tri-United, the property manager & real estate investment trust that purchased the buildings. Tri-Unity  plans to renovate the apartments, raising the one-bedroom rents from $750 to $1,300 a month.
Ownership of the buildings changed in early April, but tenants were never notified. Many residents report the wife of the former owner (Dominic Santoro) showed up demanding cash pre-payments of their May rent, which several of them paid, but which Santoro was not entitled.  When Tri-City took over on April 15, tenants were informed May rent was payable to them, and that it had no record of payments to the former owner. 

Daily Herald: Rosemont Residents Say They’re Being Forced Out


Tenants also reported that Caroline Echo, representing Tri-Unity, showed up at their door and demanded May rent payments, telling tenants if they didn’t pay she’d return with police to forcibly evict them.  Residents said Echo had with her two members of the auxiliary police unit, affiliated with the City of Rosemont. 

The “auxiliary police” operate independently of the Rosemont Police Department (RPD).  RPD has told residents that the Auxiliary Police do have a record of being at the complex.  RPD also pointed out that only the Cook County Sheriff’s Department has statutory authority on evictions, and even then they cannot be implemented without a court order.

MTO has helped residents organize a community meeting to discuss their options – which are limited in the absence of local laws addressing landlord-tenants issues; and MTO has helped residents secure an attorney who has formally demanded a meeting with the new management company to address the situation.  The deadline for a response to the letter from the attorney was Monday, June 20.

So far, Tri-City has stonewalled tenants, MTO, and the press. Updates to follow…