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

With Help MTO Resolves another Lockout. 

Ms. Bueno is a Pilsen resident. She became unemployed because of COVID-19.  The landlord turned hostile and refused to negotiate a fair agreement, which would take into consideration her financial hardship. Instead, her landlord started harassing her. She called MTO to report the landlord shutting off her lights and gas. 

A utility shutoff is a lockout, according to the City of Chicago Municipal code, so we instructed her to follow the City of Chicago’s lockout reporting procedure. She made a complaint to 311 and called the Police.  The officers did not take the matter seriously and claimed the situation was a civil matter.  As happens all too frequently, the officers did not follow the CPD Special Order #SO4-01-03

It took a while for Ms. Bueno to get a miscellaneous police report from the police and a building code violation.  She was able to get her utilities restored though this did not last long.  


The utilities did not stay on for long.  She called MTO again about another light shutoff and this time the landlord locked the breaker room access. We partner with the Chicago Tenants Movement (CTM) in order to create a more proactive response to lockouts. CTM sent a volunteer response team that included an electrician. The team was able to enter the breaker room and restore Ms. Bueno’s lights. The Chicago Tenants Movement response team took action when CPD and DOB would not. We need to push for proactive solutions to lockouts here in the City of Chicago.

Ms. Bueno is one of many stories of lockouts occurring in Chicago. Since the Eviction Moratorium began in March 2020, MTO has received reports on 574 lockouts. In a normal year, MTO receives about 250-300 lockout reports.  The COVID-19 pandemic has only multiplied the already existing housing crisis here in Illinois. The lack of consequences from the police and building department allows bad landlords to continue the illegal lockouts as a way to dance around the Eviction Moratorium. As the housing crisis escalates, we encourage you to join us in pushing resolutions to lockouts. Contact Javier Ruiz at javierr@tenants-rights.org to become part of the solution.

Leland Building- Organizing Success

For most of us, 2020 has been a year of trials and tribulations. A seemingly never-ending barrage of new challenges has confronted us at the turn of each season. As Chicagoans continue to grapple with a deadly global pandemic, many are struggling desperately to hang on to the only thing that can keep them safe: their homes.

After moving into her two-bedroom Albany Park apartment with her teenage daughter in January, Ferrus Najemba felt safe and secure. Victor Munoz, who had lived next door with his wife and two daughters for 13 years, felt the same way. But that all had changed by May of this year, when all 20 or so tenants in the seven-unit building were told that they had to go. Just five days after purchasing the building on May 23rd, the new owner, Brian McFadden, sent 30-day notices to the tenants telling them they must leave by the end of June.

Salvadore Alvarez holds up a copy of the 30-day notice he received outside of his apartment building on September 4, 2020.

Everyone in the building had always paid rent dutifully. Many of the tenants, most of whom are immigrants with children, have lived in the building for years. Their former landlord never mentioned anything about selling the building. The tenants were surprised, confused, and angry. In hopes of delaying their ouster from the building, Ferrus and her neighbors worked with organizers from Metropolitan Tenants Organization and the Autonomous Tenants Union to form a tenants union and demand one-year leases for all current residents.

The newly formed Leland Tenants Union (named after the street where they reside) tried to meet with the owner, but he ignored them for weeks. They worked with their Alderman (Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), and held a press conference outside their building in September. “He has not called me back. Pick up the phone, Brian. Sit down with these tenants. They’re prepared to sign permanent leases. They’re prepared to pay rent. Do the right thing,” Rosa said. One by one, tenants from the building shared their stories and demanded a meeting with McFadden. “When we got the eviction notices, it was heartbreaking and scary. I was angry,” Victor Muñoz said during the press conference, his voice cracking with emotion. “I started worrying about my kids. How am I going to keep a roof over their heads during this pandemic?”.

Victor Munoz speaks during the press conference outside his apartment on September 4, 2020.

The tenants union didn’t stop making their demands, and their dedication paid off. A week after their protest, negotiations with McFadden resumed. In October, McFadden agreed to waive back rent and give all the tenants one-year leases.

Today, MTO is joining the Leland Tenants Union and the thousands of renters across Chicago calling for a Just Cause bill, which would eliminate no-cause evictions, give more time to tenants who do have to move, and put certain limits on reasons why a landlord can displace a tenant. With such a bill, tenants like Victor and Ferrus would be protected, and our communities would be that much safer.

Drexel Tenants Win Relocation

Tenants at 4625 S Drexel formed a tenants association.  The building was in horrendous condition and the owner of the building in April of last year decided to close the building and evict all the tenants.  The tenants flyered the building and met monthly.  They all called the city to report  the building’s numerous building code violations and to request an inspection.  The City inspected the building.  The City told the owner to fix the building.  Then the heat went out.  The landlord tried to use this as an excuse to evict all the tenants and issued everyone 30 day notices to vacate the building.  At court the judge ordered the owner to fix it.  Then the water went out.  The judge ordered the landlord to pay each of the 17 remaining tenants $1200 relocation assistance.  This was on top of the 3 months the tenants did not have to pay rent.  The tenants won $51,000 plus months of additional time to find a new residence.

BHF Tenants Work Together

Tenants living in buildings owned by the Better Housing Foundation continue to advocate for the City of Chicago building court system to improve their housing. One such family – the Finkle’s – reached out to Amy de la Fuente, one of MTO’s Healthy Homes organizers, about mold, mushrooms and water damage in their unit. Ms. Finkle is wheelchair bound and lives with her son. She asked her son to email photos of the unit conditions to Amy, who in turn shared the photos with the program officer from the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), a partner in a citywide effort to preserve the Better Housing Foundation’s buildings. Mrs. Finkle’s son decided to attend the next court hearing to speak about the conditions.

Young Mr. Finkle, who suffers from asthma, attended court. He met with Amy and prepared his talking points. When the judge called his building, he and several neighbors from the building stepped forward to testify. With Amy by his side, Mr. Finkle advocated in favor of safe, decent and healthy housing for himself and his mother. The judge, city attorney and program officer all listened and asked questions. Because of the tenant testimony, the judge authorized the receiver to make repairs related to water damage and to relocate tenants as necessary. As he left the courtroom, Mr. Finkle turned to Amy, shook her hand and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” It is strong tenant advocacy, like that of the Finkle family, which leads to positive outcomes for residents living in these buildings.

MTO and CIC, have worked diligently for the past nine months to help preserve affordable housing and keeps tenants stably housed in over 75 failing Better Housing Foundation buildings. The work is ongoing. For more information or to see how you can help, contact Amy at amyf@tenants-rights.org.

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.

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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.

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 Wins Settlement Over Illegal Lockout

The south side block Donna Johnson called home.
The south side block Donna Johnson called home.

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.

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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:  http://on.fb.me/Ih4I83