Eviction Prevention Program keeps Chicago senior housed

Out of Chicago’s 77 community areas, Auburn Gresham (highlighted in the map above) sees the 4th highest rate of evictions. (source: eviction.lcbh.org)

Ms. Daniels had lived in a modest Auburn Gresham apartment building for over two years. And things had been going relatively smoothly for the retired senior. That all changed one day when Ms. Daniels came home from the Doctor’s office to find frost on the inside of her windows. Her heat was not working. She talked to her neighbors, who reported they too had no heat. She called her landlord, who never even showed up. Ms. Daniels didn’t want to cause problems, but she really needed her heat turned on. She is diabetic and was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, so the lack of heat was complicating her health. 

Ms. Daniels called 311 to report her lack of heat, among other problems, like a leaking roof and holes in the exterior walls. Instead of sending someone to fix the problems, her landlord showed up and told her and her neighbors that they had to pay more rent or leave. They asked why, and the landlord told them if they want repairs they would have to pay up. This type of retaliation is harmful and immoral, but all too common for tenants who call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline. And that’s just what Ms. Daniels did when her landlord started refusing to accept her rent checks.

After calling and speaking with a Hotline Counselor, Ms. Daniels was connected with MTO’s Eviction Prevention Specialist (EPS). Because Ms. Daniels’ landlord had already filed an eviction against her, the EPS knew time was of the essence, and knew that while Ms. Davis had a “good case”, it could be very difficult for her to win it on her own. She would need an attorney. With this in mind, the EPS fast-tracked Ms. Daniels case to the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing (LCBH). MTO and LCBH have formed a partnership to combat the eviction crisis, deploying a new joint intake form and streamlining the referral process. LCBH swiftly accepted Ms. Daniels case, and represented Ms. Davis in court, not only winning the case, but also sealing the public record. 

Today, Ms. Daniels is safe and recovering in a warm apartment – without the stain of eviction on her record – thanks to fast action and an Eviction Prevention partnership that works to address evictions proactively at their earliest point. Evictions are a scourge to our communities, deepening poverty and segregation, and must be addressed head on if we want to bring justice to Chicago’s working class communities and begin to solve the housing crisis that affects so many of Chicago’s families. 

If you or anyone you know is facing the threat of eviction, please call MTO at 773-292-4988.

After Protest, Housing Commissioner Commits New Task Force to work with ‘Our Home, Chicago’ legislation

Demonstrators outside of “Eight Eleven Uptown” on Thursday afternoon.

MTO and its allies in the Our Homes Chicago coalition, protested Thursday outside of 811 W Montrose, the site of a luxury development in Uptown that received $16 million in public TIF money despite opting out of the city’s affordable housing requirements. According to the Coalition, Alderman Cappleman received $36,000 in campaign donations from the developer, JDL, in exchange for arranging the TIF handout. It’s this pay-to-play culture of corruption that is driving the housing crisis in Chicago, causing massive increases in rent and property taxes, gentrification, and displacement. The Our Homes Chicago ordinances are a package of transformative affordable housing laws that would create inclusive, equitable development and the integration of affordable housing into all 50 wards.

City Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara committed Thursday that the City’s new Task Force to reform the Affordable Requirements Ordinance will consider the CHI Coalition’s Our Homes, Chicago Legislation.  25 Aldermen have urged the Mayor’s Task Force to take the Development for All Ordinance as the Task Force’s official starting point for reforming the ARO. We look forward to participating.

LISTEN TO WBEZ COVERAGE:  

Tenants March on HUD HQ, Win Meeting with Top HUD Official

May 10th 2019

Mrs Johnson, a resident at
Barbara Jean Wright Courts, speaks about the living conditions at the complex.

Chicago, IL. – Twenty-five tenants and their supporters picketed outside the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices at 77 W Jackson in downtown Chicago today.  The tenants were sick and tired of inaction on the part of their landlords and the lack of oversight by HUD. One tenant asked, “How can I celebrate Mother’s Day in my home when my kitchen cabinets are falling apart?”  

It was almost a year ago today that HUD representatives met with tenants at a Town Hall meeting of subsidized renters organized by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO).  At the Town Hall, HUD representatives promised action. They assured tenants they would come out to the buildings and hold the landlords accountable to very basic housing standards.  

For the tenants living in Barbara Jean Wright Courts, Germano Millgate and Indian Trails Apartments, HUD has not made good on its promise.  Tenants are living with rats, bed bugs, holes in the walls, elevators that don’t work, plumbing problems and more. One parent, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, is worried that DCFS is going to take her children away because the conditions are so bad.

Tenants were preparing to deliver a letter to HUD officials demanding a meeting. As the tenants chanted, “HUD don’t delay, Repairs in time for Mother’s Day!” outside of HUD’s downtown office, Joseph Galvan, HUD’s Regional Administrator for Region V, came out to talk.  Jesse Johnson of Barbara Jean Wright Court asked Mr. Galvan to meet with the tenants and to inspect the complexes.  Mr. Galvan agreed to inspect the above three apartment complexes and to meet with the tenants in his office on May 31st.  The tenants left feeling fired up and ready to keep the pressure on HUD and their landlords to provide decent and safe housing.

Joseph Galvin (left), HUD Regional Adminstrator, talks with HUD tenants outside his office on May 10, 2019.

Another Eviction Prevented

Lead poisoning has been in the headlines ever since the Flint water crisis brought national attention to the problem. Chicago is grappling with its own lead poisoning crisis, which is hitting our youngest residents the hardest. Imagine if you found out your child had lead poisoning. No parent wants to receive that type of news. Now imagine that your two youngest children – twins – have elevated lead blood levels.

A deteriorating window frame with chipping and peeling paint with a distinct alligator pattern (which usually indicates the presence of lead based paint) inside Ms. W’s apartment.

This is how we first met Ms. “W”. After a local health clinic discovered her children’s elevated lead blood levels, Ms W contacted MTO, and a Healthy Homes organizer conducted a visual inspection at her home. The deteriorating plaster walls had started to disintegrate. Half of the window frames had chipped, peeled, and cracked paint. A subsequent inspection by the Chicago Department of Public Health confirmed the assessment – there were high levels of lead in the entire unit

Over the course of the next few weeks, MTO’s Healthy Homes Organizer provided a letter of support, collected visual documentation of the unit conditions, and shared resources for emergency housing assistance. While Ms. W. explored her options she received more devastating news, her three other children – all under the age of six – had also been poisoned. Now, her landlord was trying to evict Ms W and her family. When an unlicensed worker attempted to remediate the lead without proper safety protocols in place, MTO was able to get a city inspector to stop the illegal abatement, which was further harming her children. Ms W was partnered with a pro-bono lawyer to fight the eviction. While Ms. W. awaits to hear about a new apartment to move to she has expressed immense gratefulness for MTO’s assistance in her advocacy for safe and healthy housing.

But Ms. W wouldn’t have to experience any of this if Chicago had a proactive rental inspection program. The Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP) is a campaign lead by MTO to create just that. Hazards like lead, mold, pest infestations, and other asthma triggers can and should be caught before they become a crisis. The current building inspection system is a complaint-based service provided by city inspectors. This means that tenants hold the burden of requesting proper maintenance, property owners can neglect buildings without regular code enforcement, and families are forced to relocate or live with egregious conditions affecting their health. In today’s economy, moving is not always a viable option. We believe that the City should initiate a proactive inspection program that could identify home-based health hazards before they poison our children.

Lead Hazard sticker that was placed on door after formal lead inspection by the city of Chicago’s Department of Public Health.

Chicago’s lead poisoning crisis is silently harming our youngest and most vulnerable residents. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says, “no levels of lead is safe for anyone”. The CDC wants to eliminate lead poisoning in children by the year 2020. If Chicago wants to get serious about achieving this goal, we need to address the substandard housing that exists in our city and make lead prevention and remediation a priority. Our children’s lives are at stake.

MTO is excited to announce our continued partnership with the Chicago Community Trust through a 2nd year of being awarded CCT’s Housing + Health grant. Because of our supporters we are able to assist more Chicago renters and children with housing-health issues and organize for equitable solutions and policies that promote safe, healthy, and decent affordable housing for all. After all HOUSING is a HUMAN RIGHT! 

If you or someone you know is in need of information about their rights as a renter or in need of assistance from our Healthy Homes Team contact MTO’s Tenants’ Rights Hotline, M-F; 1pm-5pm at 773-292-4988 or visit our offices M-Th 1pm-4:30pm.

MTO receives 2017 HMRPG Social Justice Award

Like healthcare, housing is a human right”, said John Bartlett, MTO’s Executive Director, Friday night while receiving the 2017 Health and Medicine Policy Research Group Award at the #hmprggala. The Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (Health & Medicine) held the Awards Gala to honor the accomplishments of activists and professionals making important strides towards health equity and social justice. MTO was recognized for its work protecting tenants health and promoting social justice in housing.  

“Like Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, MTO believes that it is essential to work at the intersection of different social needs”, said John Bartlett, MTO’s Executive Director. It is when we work at these intersections that we begin to understand the barriers to health and well-being. For instance, if a family does not have a decent, stable home, children will not do as well in school. And without a good education, it is harder to get a good job. And without a job it is next to impossible to obtain a stable decent home, and on and on. It is for this reason that we maintain that ike healthcare, housing is a human right”.

To see a list of this years Award Winners, click here

 

 

Pilsen Tenants Fight Back Against Mass Eviction

Signs outside 1722 W 21st.

When the tenants at 1722 W 21st Street got 30-day notices saying they must move out of their apartments, they were outraged. Monroe management had recently evicted their neighbors too. The building next door was gutted and rehabbed, with new rents costing $1,500 a month. The tenants at 1722 W. 21st were facing an all too common problem – mass eviction and displacement – an epidemic in Pilsen. Eight families were being asked to leave their homes to make way for someone who could pay more. Eight families facing homelessness so that their landlord can make an extra buck.

To make matters worse, Monroe Management, the tenants said, was intimidating them by threatening to shut off their water and gas. Feeling ignored, tenants decided they would stick together and seek resources to fight back. They engaged community organizers, learned their tenant rights, and immediately wrote a 14-day letter asking for much-needed building repairs (the previous owner had neglected the building). They also sought legal assistance from the Lawyer Committee for Better Housing (who has since accepted their case). Monroe has responded by making repairs in the building, but they still want the tenants out.

On Wednesday, tenants held a press-conference to decry Monroe’s actions and call for an end to the mass gentrification of Pilsen. Shelonda Montgomery (see video below) spoke about how common it has become for big management companies to “buy up” the community, rehab apartments and price out long-term community residents.

Tenants also spoke about the need for rent control and a proactive inspection system in Chicago. One tenant spoke of the need to be engaged in the struggle – together – to fight against housing discrimination. The tenants at 1722 W 21st Street will soon have their day in court, together, thanks to the community members and allies that continue to support our work.

Check out the Twitter story below!

Tenant Power Changes Lives at Rents Rights Expo

theresa
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 philip@tenants-rights.org today or call 773-292-4980 ext 246.

rent right
Metropolitan Tenants Organization Volunteers working the 2016 Rents Rights Expo.

Retaliation by landlords is illegal. Know your rights, stay the course, and win

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.  

Attorney Joan Fenstermaker
Attorney Joan Fenstermaker

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.

 

BMO Harris Bank Scamming Englewood Again?

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.34.53 PMWhen 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.

IMG_3008How will the latest saga with BMO Harris Bank end? Will the bank do the right thing?

Please call BMO Harris and demand that they:

  • Follow the law
  • Pay the tenants relocation assistance, and
  • Respect the human rights of Englewood tenants!

Call and email BMO Harris rep Mike Koontz

262-827-6577 | michael.koontz@bmoharris.com

 Tweet to @BMOHarrisBank and @MPIrealestate

(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.

BASEMENT
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.