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

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.

Shondra’s Story is an all too familiar tale for renters

Signs outside the rally Shondra passed in Pilsen

Just recently, Shondra was walking from work when she passed a rally a couple blocks from her home in Pilsen. She stopped and listened to a neighbor tell how his landlord had just given everyone in the building an eviction notice. Shondra ran home to retrieve a notice she received from her landlord just two days earlier stating that she and her neighbors had 30 days to move out. She returned to the rally with the notice and spoke with MTO Organizer Miguel Jimenez, asking if there was anything she and her neighbors could do. Shondra and other renters in her building quickly worked together to form a tenants association. With the help of MTO and its allies, the tenants association was able to secure time and money to move. Although they had to move out, none of the tenants in Shondra’s building became homeless. Instead, they now have the time and resources to find stable housing in the neighborhood they’ve called home for so long.

Join the MTO Sustainers Giving Program

Please support MTO and help stop Chicago from being reshaped into a city of haves and have nots. We need your financial support to continue our efforts of stabilizing renters access to housing. Too many families are being displaced from their homes and pushed out of the city entirely. Making sure tenants have stable housing and power in the decisions affecting their homes is key to our campaign for Housing Justice. Chicagoans are constantly battling the forces of gentrification and dislocation. Safe, decent, and affordable housing is not a privilege – it is a HUMAN right. Join us and pledge to sustain and expand housing justice in Chicago with a monthly, quarterly, or annual contribution. No investment is too small.


Contributors who make a recurring pledge by June 30th will be honored as 

Sustainers Giving Program Co-Founders!

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!

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BMO Harris Bank and Millennium Properties Still Stalling on Englewood Apartment Building

IMG_3008BMO 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

Tweet to @BMOHarrisBank and @MPIrealestate

Post to the BMO Harris Bank and Millennium Properties Facebook page


The market will not solve the housing shortage

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 11.13.54 AMThere 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. 

Magnus Hammar, Secretary General IUT
Magnus Hammar, Secretary General IUT

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! 

This article was originally published in Global Tenant: International Union of Tenants’ Quarterly Magazine.

(Un)Fair Market Housing In Chicago: What’s A Mother To Do?

SonThe market is not working. Just ask Marcene Smith of Chicago’s south side. She will tell you the housing market is broken and is not working for her or many other Chicago renters. She lives with her son, who is paraplegic, in a three-flat. They pay $700 a month in rent. She is desperate because her son is returning from the hospital after developing a severe skin allergy from the mold in her basement. Her son will be coming home to the same environment that made him ill.

For Ms. Smith and many others like her, there are few options. Together she and her son have an income of $1,900 a month. This makes her apartment barely affordable. The apartment’s owner knows of the mold problem but, like Ms. Smith, is low-income and does not have the money to make the repairs.

The city has inspected the building and cited the owner. The basement reeks of mold which covers the floor and walls. The City’s building inspectors refused to go into the basement because of the health hazard it presented. This is a lose-lose situation for the tenant, the owner and the surrounding community. As for the future of this building, like so many others the writing is on the wall.

Ms. Smith’s basement, where City Building Inspectors refused to enter due to hazardous health conditions.

The city may close the building or the tenant will leave. In either case, the conditions in the building will continue to deteriorate. Eventually, the building will be torn down leaving another empty lot in area already filled with abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Ms. Smith and her son will move to an area further from the City center, further from transportation and the resources they need. The lot will be purchased by an investor who will sit on the property and wait for the “market” to improve to build anew.

For many banks, investment companies and large realtors, the housing market is working just fine. For numerous renters the private market is broken and cannot provide safe, decent and accessible housing at affordable costs. There are no easy answers for Ms. Smith and her son, or the thousands of residents who confront their own housing crisis each day.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization believes that building a solution means starting from the basic premises that housing is a right. From this foundational value, it will be possible to build policies which will ensure that housing is decent and well maintained; that is accessible to the many differently-abled; and that it will be affordable to the rich or poor and everyone in-between.

In the meantime, if you are a landlord and can help Ms. Smith, please let us know.

Meet the Millers: despite battling homelessness, they still found a way to be together.

Debra and Jimi Miller are tenant leaders with MTO. The Millers have been active at MTO over the past year and got involved when they received a housing choice voucher. Prior to receiving the voucher, the Millers had been homeless. Both were able to obtain shelter in transitional programs; however they were staying across the City from one another. Chicago boasts many shelters and transitional programs; but the majority of these programs serve either men or women – not families and not couples. The Miller’s struggled to be together during this period. Due to Debra’s health problems, the responsibility fell to Jimi to commute north everyday for visits. And in the evening, they would watch television programs together over the phone. Needless to say, the arrival of housing choice voucher was celebrated as the first step toward living together again.

That excitement was quickly diminished when the couple realized that their long fight to be reunited had just begun. Despite the fact that it is against the law in Chicago for landlords to refuse to rent to someone based upon their source of income, this practice still takes place. Jimi and Debra had three months to find a place to live before they lost their voucher. Two months into their search, they finally found a place. The discrimination and desperation of their search left them with a desire to work for change.

Debra had been an activist protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. According to Jimi, a veteran, “She’s the resident militant.” When Debra found that she and Jimi were facing homelessness, she was again thrust into activism through 100K. The 100K program was an effort undertaken in cities across the country to get an accurate count of homeless families and individuals living on the streets. Here she met Leah Levinger and got involved with the Chicago Housing Initiative. When she and Jimi received their voucher and were no longer facing homelessness, she began looking for a new social justice focus to lend her support. Levinger pointed her toward the Source of Income Campaign at MTO. MTO was part of a coalition working to get the same type of protections for renters in suburban Cook County which exists in the City of Chicago for voucher holders. Having experienced some of this discrimination first hand, the Millers were eager to get on board. When asked about their motivation to become involved in the Source of Income Campaign, Debra states, “We had to be a part of it!” At the same time Jimi says, “We had to do it.” “It was still personal to us,” explained Debra. They hit the ground running by participating in a rally and demonstration in Oak Park targeting a landlord who advertised “No 8s,” meaning he would not rent to any Section 8 voucher holders.

MTO intentionally incorporates tenant leaders in planning and strategizing campaigns. The Millers enjoyed the experience of being at the table and helping to make decisions around how the work would move forward. After the successful passage of the Source of Income Ordinance in suburban Cook County, they continue to participate with MTO as active tenant leaders. Currently they serve on MTO’s Tenant Congress HUD Subcommittee. The Miller’s reside in Rogers Park and are happy to finally be able to come home… together.

View the original post by Chicago Equal Voice here:

Nonprofit Challenges New Ordinance Excluding Voucher Holders From Protection Against Discrimination

The following open letter to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle was submitted by Open Communities, regarding Glenview’s recent landlord ordinance allowing landlords to deny rent to Section 8 applicants.

Dear President Preckwinkle,

On behalf of Open Communities and eleven other fair housing advocacy agencies throughout Cook County, I attach a formal letter to the County alerting you to a recent action taken by the Village of Glenview that directly contradicts the County’s strong commitment to affirmatively furthering fair housing.  We are requesting prompt and firm reaction from the County.

Glenview amended its Municipal Code to exclude Housing Choice Voucher holders from protection against discrimination based on their source of income to pay their rent.  Glenview took this action to prevent the implementation of the County’s new and praiseworthy addition of voucher status as a protected class under the County’s human rights ordinance.  Given that voucher holder discrimination is often used as a cover for discrimination against race (primarily Black), disability, and familial status, and Glenview is only one percent Black, Glenview’s new ordinance is a barrier to open, integrated housing in the Village.  The details of Glenview’s actions are attached in our letter as well as their own ordinance and accompanying statements to the press.

We are asking the County, as a recipient of HUD funding that must hold its jurisdictions accountable for affirmatively furthering fair housing, to inform the Village of Glenview and the Northwest Housing Partnership of its intention to withhold federal housing and community development funds unless Glenview amends its ordinance to end discrimination against persons utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers or rescinds it altogether.  The County’s actions will send a strong message to other local Home Rule subrecipient governments within Cook County intent on following Glenview’s actions.

Please feel free to contact us, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, or the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law for more information.  We look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you in advance for your serious attention.

Gail Schechter

Executive Director
Open Communities


Study Finds No Relationship Between Housing Choice Vouchers and Increased Crime Rates

A recent study, conducted by Professor Michael C. Lens at UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning and published in Urban Studies, finds that there is no correlation between the number of voucher holders residing in an area and the crime rate in that area.

To test the frequently used argument against voucher holders that their influx into a community is sure to increase levels of criminal activity, Lens analyzed HUD public housing data, U.S. Census socioeconomic data, and FBI crime data from 215 U.S. cities between the years of 1997 and 2008 to determine whether vouchers and crime are indeed linked. He controlled for a wide array of variables, from national and local trends in criminal activity to demographic differences to variances in employment rates. Because about half of voucher holders currently reside in the suburbs and the strongest opposition to vouchers has been concentrated in these communities, Lens specifically focuses on suburban areas.

Lens found “virtually no relationship” between the pervasiveness of voucher-holders and crime rates in his analysis of both cities and suburban areas when controls are added. His statistical analysis seeks not only to determine relationships between his variables but also to determine cause and effect. For example, though a higher prevalence of vouchers may appear to correlate with more incidences of criminal activity in an area, vouchers do not necessarily cause crime but rather are more common in areas where crime rates are rising because rents in those areas are more likely to be low.

Though it is unlikely to put an end to the divisive debate surrounding subsidized housing, Lens’ research provides promising statistical evidence for advocates supporting more vouchers and additional low income housing in general.

Access “The Impact of Housing Vouchers on Crime in US Cities and Suburbs” study at:

Access an article from The Atlantic, titled “Moving Poor People into a Neighborhood Doesn’t Cause Crime,” which discusses the study’s results at:

Source: The National Low Income Housing Coalition | | 727 15th Street NW, 6th Floor Washington, DC 20005