The Power of Organizing

I went to went to Lake Vista Apartments almost three weeks ago at the beginning of September.  The building looked amazing.  Almost everything is new.  The first floor was WOW. I wished I had taken pictures of the building when we started because the change is incredible.  I would move in there, it looks so good.  Seeing the change reminds me of the power tenants have when they work together.

I first went to the building almost 13 years ago and it was a mess.  Lake Vista tenant Mr.  Green called our hotline because he wanted to start a tenants association.  Mr. Green believed in housing equity. He did not think it fair the low-income residents in his building should live in fear because of poor security.  Tenants complained of being robbed in the hallways and parking lot.  With MTO’s help, tenants formed the Lake Vista Tenants Association and elected Mr. Green as President.

His first step as president was to set up an all tenants meetings with the manager and the property owner.  At the meeting, Mr. Green laid out the tenants demand for 24-hour security.  While the owner did not agree to that, the owner did agree to install security cameras in the parking lot, laundry rooms and throughout the first floor.  Security improved.

Improved security was just the beginning for the Lake Vista Tenants Association.  The building was old and in need of maintenance.  The building had pests, mold, appliances and cabinets that were as old as many of the residents.  As President, Mr. Green made sure the tenants understood the RLTO and that they engaged with HUD, the holder of the purse strings.  Mr. Green and the other tenants testified every year at MTO’s HUD Tenants Town Hall.  The tenants association challenged the owner as well as HUD officials to take care of the problems and make the building better for the senior residents. In the end, the owner and HUD officials agreed to rehab the entire complex.

The $14 million rehab is complete. The tenants have new meeting and exercise rooms, new cabinets, remodeled kitchens, and it is all repainted.  Unfortunately, Mr. Green did not get a chance to enjoy the new construction of the building as he is with his Lord but I am proud to say he played a huge role in it. Organizing works.  By David Wilson, Community Organizer

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

“How-To” Guide – Dealing with Extreme Cold

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

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

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

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

Call 3-1-1 to:

    • Request a well-being check for someone suffering due to extreme weather
    • Report inadequate heat in a residential building (inspections can take up to 3 days!)

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

The Chicago Park District has designated 62 Field houses as warming centers for the remainder of the Winter. Click here for locations.

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


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

Chicago, IL 60612

Englewood Center
1140 W. 79th Street

Chicago, IL 60620

King Center
4314 S. Cottage Grove
Chicago, IL 60653

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

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

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

Tenant Takes Action After Being Locked Out By Her Landlord

doorRight now, someone in Chicago is being locked out of their apartment by their landlord. These illegal evictions turn tenants’ lives upside down. Families are uprooted from their homes, affecting their jobs, schools and their support networks. The majority of lockout victims are women. Most end up moving, too afraid to face their bully landlord.

Towanda Talley was not going to let her landlord intimidate her. Last week she came home from work and was shocked to find that the door to her Englewood apartment had been completely removed. Just days before, Towanda called the MTO Tenants Rights Hotline because the apartment she shared with her son had a mice infestation and there mold was growing in the bathroom.

Towanda and her son are model tenants; she has always paid the rent on time. So when she sent a letter requesting that her landlord make the repairs, she expected them to be addressed in a reasonable fashion. What happened next was anything but reasonable.

Towanda came home Friday evening to find her apartment completely accessible from the outside, the front door missing, hinges and all. Shocked, she spoke with a neighbor who told her that one of the landlord’s employees had showed up, tools in hand, and completely removed the door to Towanda’s apartment. He disappeared up the street, taking the door with him.

Towanda turned to MTO once again, ready to take action. As advised, she headed straight to the District Police Station to file a report. Officers initially told her, incorrectly, that the issue was “a civil matter”. Undeterred, she requested to speak with a Supervisor, who ultimately assisted her in filing the report.

IMG_6519The landlord was nowhere to be found. So she called her son and hours later, he was there finishing installing a new door. Towanda will deduct the cost of the door off of her rent. The Supervisor issued a “Miscellaneous X” card and told her to call back immediately if the landlord or her employee return to the property. If they did, the Supervisor told her, they would be arrested.

This blatant act of retaliation is a clear violation of the law, and a cruel, inhumane way to treat any member of the community. Thankfully, Towanda’s landlord hasn’t been back.  

We must work to end this practice, because housing is a human right.

Friendly Reminder: Heat requirements start Sept 15; end June 1

We would like to remind everyone that starting September 15th the heat should be turned ON.  Heat minimum requirements are from September 15 – June 1.  The minimum heat requirement for residential units is: 68 degrees between 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Chicago tenants have a right to heat.
Chicago tenants have a right to heat.

Chicago Building Code Chapter 13-196-410 states that:  Every family unit or rooming unit to which heat is furnished from a heating plant used in common for the purpose of heating the various rooms of the dwelling shall be supplied with heat from September 15th of each year to June 1st of the succeeding year so that the occupants of a family unit or rooming unit may secure, without such undue restriction of ventilation as to interfere with proper sanitary conditions, a minimum temperature of 68 degrees at 8:30 a.m. and thereafter until 10:30 p.m. and 66 degrees at 10:30 p.m. and thereafter until 8:30 a.m. averaged throughout the family unit or rooming unit.

If you have no heat:

  • Call 311 and ask for a building inspectionor make an online request here.  Write down the Service request number for your records.
  • Notify your landlord using Squared Away Chicago. If your landlord does not respond, click “Escalate” and send 24-hour notice.
  • After sending notice, print it & send by certified mail, keeping a copy for yourself.
  • Visit our Heat & Essential Services FAQ page for more information.
  • Call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline – 773-292-4988 – to speak to a counselor for help.

Stay warm, Chicago.  Exercise your rights – housing is a human right!


Mount Prospect Family Files Hate Crime Lawsuit Against Neighbor


The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a hate crime lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of  Iris Howe and her family against their neighbor, Terry Calliari.

Iris Howe, who is African-American, alleges that Calliari, who is white, has perpetrated a continuing pattern of racially motivated intimidation and harassment against the Howe family for the more than four years that both parties have lived on the 800 block of West Partridge Lane in northwest suburban Mount Prospect.

According to the lawsuit, Calliari has harassed Howe, her daughter, Sidney Powell, and son, Samuel Mobley, since the day the Howe family moved into their home in April 2009.  Specifically, the suit alleges that Calliari has repeatedly  referred to Howe family members using the the N-word and other racial slurs; followed the Howe children around the neighborhood in her car, often coming within inches of them; attempted to instigate physical altercations with the Howe children; and on at least one occasion told the family to leave the neighborhood.

The suit further alleges that Calliari’s malicious actions have caused the Howe family emotional distress, pain, and suffering and seeks a permanent injunction barring Calliari from contact with the family as well as punitive and compensatory damages for emotional distress and loss of civil rights.

“Our goal is to secure compensation for the denial of the Howe family’s rights and for the extreme emotional distress they have been forced to endure,” said Baum, Director of Pro Bono Services at Katten. “We hope that by bringing this suit, justice will be served, and others will be deterred from engaging in this type of racist and abusive conduct.”

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore stated, “We are pleased to continue our partnership with Katten in the very important work of fighting hate crimes and housing discrimination.”

Click here to read the full press release.


We have 1 question for you

renters-tax-creditWhat is the most important issue facing renters today?

Rents too high?
Poor building/living conditions?
Building Foreclosures & Conversions?
Landlords/Tenants don’t know the law?
Something else?

To reply, simply CLICK HERE and submit your answer using Survey Monkey! We truly value your time and feedback.

 As a renter in Chicago, your needs drive our organization and determine what path we take. Please forward this survey to your friends and neighbors so we can get their input too. Thanks for helping MTO stay focused on what matters to YOU!

Congratulations to Parkway Gardens!

downloadTenants and organizers have worked long and hard to secure this rehab, and the results are phenomenal! Related Companies was recently honored with the Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award for Parkway Gardens. At the urging of the Parkway Gardens Tenant Association with support from MTO, Related Companies has successfully taken on one of Chicago’s largest, oldest and most troubled housing developments and restored it as an asset to the Woodlawn community.

Once home to Michelle Obama, Parkway Gardens was built as a 13-acre co-op in the 1950’s. With 35 buildings and over 700 units, this complex is a cornerstone of the community and we are thrilled to see it restored to its former glory. We are so proud of the tenants of Parkway Gardens!

Watch more about the Parkway Gardens award….

MTO Fights Mass Evictions in Logan Square

Mass evictions and drastic rent increases have long been a staple tool of unscrupulous real estate developers. Now, tenants in 2536 N. Sawyer, a 50-unit apartment complex in Logan Square purchased by M. Fishman & Co., are fighting back. Tired of “pay up or get out” tactics, tenants and community members held a picket and march outside of the Fishman offices Thursday night. The crowd, full of children, families and local residents, received honks of support as they chanted “Fishman Equals Mass Eviction!” After attempting to deliver rent checks, and getting denied by Fishman staff, tenants shared testimonies about their experiences with Fishman. Afterward, the crowd marched to Fishman-owned Logan Theater (M. Fishman bought and rehabbed the Logan Theater with $1,000,000 in TIF money) to distribute leaflets and speak with patrons. Tenants are outraged that a developer who used money from the community is now displacing it.

In December, M. Fishman gave many rent-paying tenants 30-day eviction notices or a 250 dollar rent increase. Tenants include veterans, seniors, and young mothers. Many of the children in the building have attended local public schools for years. Ined Rosario says “We deserve respect and the right to be heard. We won’t be pushed from neighborhood to neighborhood because we can’t afford it. We’re people and our lives are worth more than money.”

Mark Fishman, President of the company and resident of Deerfield, IL, started an organization called I am Logan Square to “support the arts and cultural development”. Yet tenant Paul Donnely says, “through these evictions, Mark Fishman shows that the working families who already are Logan Square aren’t even considered in his development plan.” 

Tenants have requested to meet with M. Fishman & Co. Initially, M. Fishman employees agreed to meet with 2-3 representatives. However, after tenants asked that they meet with everyone affected, that offer was verbally retracted, and written communication to the tenants from Fishman and Co. has completely ceased. Tenants and organizers say Thursday’s action is just the beginning. 

 Want to read more about yesterday’s action? Try these: DNAInfo Chicago and ProgressIL

Has your home been tested for Radon?

January is National Radon Action Month.  Everyone is encouraged to test their home for harmful levels of radon.  Radon is a natural colorless, odorless radioactive gas and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.  The EPA estimates that radon causes more than 20,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils.  It comes into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation.  All homes with or without basements should be tested for radon.  You can’t see, smell or taste radon.  It could be present at dangerous levels in the home without knowing.  The best time to test homes is during the winter month when windows are shut and elevated levels of radon are more likely to be detected.

The Chicago Department of Public Health recommends taking action to fix radon levels at or above 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).  Addressing high radon levels sometimes costs the the same as other minor home repairs.  In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon.  For info on how to test, find a qualified radon professional or obtain a test kit at or call the Cook County Radon Hot Line at 708-865-6177.  Also check out the EPA’s Radon Guide for Tenants.  Property owners are responsible for making repairs when radon is found in the home.  If you have further questions you may contact MTO’s Healthy Homes Program at 773-292-4980 ext 231.