Welcome to Chicago, Here Are Your Bed Bugs.

IMAG1401Tricia Jones recently relocated to the bed bug capital of the United States – Chicago, IL.  In her very first Chicago apartment, she was welcomed by a full blown infestation.  She didn’t know what to do so, as many of us would, she hit the internet and found MTO.  A call to the tenants rights hotline developed into a relationship lasting months which would yield – not only improved living conditions – but a stronger and more cooperative relationship with her landlord

How did she get from point A (a horrible bed bug problem and no relationship with landlord) to point B (a great living situation and great relationship with landlord)?

First, Tricia connected with a hotline volunteer who informed her of her rights under the Bed Bug Ordinance.  (This is always a good first move!)  She was told that it was important to establish a pattern of communication with her landlord.  She had the right, indeed the obligation, to inform her landlord of the bed bug problem in writing.  If the problem was not addressed within 10 days, she had the right to withhold a portion of her rent – she was advised to hold onto the money so that when issues were addressed she would have the rent she owed to pay.  She was also advised to send the letter certified mail to create a paper trail.  The 10 days came and went – no action was taken and Tricia started withholding a portion of her rent. (Things are looking bleak for Tricia, but read on…)

In the meantime, another issue surfaced and Tricia again contacted MTO.  The hotline counselor again advised her that she needed to inform her landlord of the problem in writing (certified mail) and give him 14 days to address the issue. Again, Tricia followed this advice. This time her landlord did respond: with an eviction notice. Tricia called MTO. We referred her to the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, but fortunately, Tricia ran into the owner of the building on the street.  The owner was the father of her landlord – and Tricia told him her story.  He called his son for a meeting and the son denied ever hearing from Tricia!  Fortunately, Tricia could produce certificates of having notified him on numerous occasions. (Remember that great advice the hotline counselor gave her?)  She also was able to pay all of the back rent she withheld (because she held onto it) when the owner agreed to immediately address her concerns.  Eviction charges were dropped and Tricia’s apartment was painted and repaired. 

The next time Tricia called MTO it was to thank the hotline counselor who walked her through these first difficult days in her apartment.  (That was Sara.  Sara is really great.)  She hopes to train to become a hotline counselor in the future so that she can provide this kind of support to other renters in need. 

There are few things more disturbing than moving to a new place and having your sanctuary – your new home – be a source of immediate chaos.  Tricia did everything right in this situation.  She documented all communication to her landlord, and she held onto the rent she withheld.  Most importantly – she called MTO.  We’re here to help!

July is membership month at Metropolitan Tenants Organization and we hope each and every one of you will join the movement for housing justice! There are many ways to get involved as members. Every bit of support means a better life for more Chicagoans.

 Volunteer your time, make a donation, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

“Squared Away Chicago” Renters App Now on-line!

CHICAGO — A first-in-the-nation web-based app to facilitate communications and improve relations between tenants and landlords, “Squared Away Chicago”, was launched today by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) at a reception for housing and technology leaders hosted by The Chicago Community Trust.

Click HERE to use our web app now!   

Squared Away Chicago is a free web-based app that any landlord or tenant can access through a URL link,  squaredawaychicago.com. It is designed to be used on any mobile phone browser and to take advantage of a mobile phone’s tools and convenience.

“Every day, tenants turn to MTO for support in resolving their housing problems and the Squared Away Chicago app not only will increase our capacity to serve, but by applying modern communication tools it promises to revolutionize the way landlords and tenants do business,” said John Bartlett, executive director, Metropolitan Tenants Organization. “Whether you are a student renting for the first time or life-long renter, the app will provide tools tenants and landlords need to succeed and avoid common pitfalls which lead to dissatisfaction and possible evictions.”

The app provides access – at the touch of a finger – to resources, knowledge about rights and the ability to document and share issues between tenants and landlords in real-time, leading to faster issue resolution, increased accountability and fewer misunderstandings.

“Giving renters a way to take pictures and send and store communications gives us a leg up in documenting and resolving issues before they turn into bigger problems,” said Ashley Dearborn, a local Chicago tenant. “The app also helps renters like me understand the laws that our landlords must follow so we can know what our rights are.”

Likewise, landlords have their own set of challenges in providing information and updates to tenants and maintaining constructive communications. “The Squared Away Chicago app is a great tool for tenants, owners and management companies and hopefully it can help to improve the communication between all the parties,” saidEiran Feldman, principal with First InSite Realty, an owner and management company in Chicago. The goal of the app is to promote  good rental practices that lead to more stable tenancies and reduce turnover.

APP FEATURES FACILITATE COMMUNICATION & BUILD RELATIONS

The Squared Away Chicago app is designed to support both tenants and landlords by enabling them to improve the landlord-tenant relationship through increased communication and accountability. The creation of the app was supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationThe Chicago Community Trust, and theMarguerite Casey Foundation. 

“The Squared Away Chicago app has the potential for nationwide adoption, serving as a significant resource to build a community of informed and engaged tenants and landlords,” said Julia M. Stasch, Vice President of U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation. “The best practices and documentation capacity of the Squared Away app are universal features that can serve as a platform to help build a more efficient and better functioning rental housing market for all households.”

With the Squared Away Chicago mobile app, tenants and landlords will have these four features at their fingertips:

  • Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO): Accessing the law provides users with knowledge about the rights of tenants and landlords.
  • Photo Sharing: Tenants can take/upload photos of issues, creating a visual record that is instantly accessible to the landlord.
  • Letter Templates: Specific details of housing-related issues can be inserted in template documents and then accurately and quickly shared with landlords.
  • Report a Problem: Provides the ability to track communications about issues and organize and save the string of communications for reference and documentation.

“As a resource for members of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s family-led Equal Voice Campaign, the Squared Away app will serve to strengthen the voice of low-income families, supporting informed and engaged tenants and landlords that will ultimately serve to build awareness of renters’ housing rights and options,” said Edgar Villanueva, program officer, Marguerite Casey Foundation.

APP DESIGN ADDRESSES NEEDS OF TENANTS & LANDLORDS

Through MTO’s 28 years of experience serving renters in Chicago, the organization has found that poor communication and a lack of awareness of rental laws often leads to unresolved housing issues, dissatisfaction, unnecessary evictions and/or loss of rental income, as well as costs associated with turnover and a devaluing of property.

When Greater Good Studio, a Chicago-based firm using design methods to solve social problems, was enlisted to identify a set of app features that would best support tenants and landlords through the rental life cycle, they looked at what makes a successful tenancy. Their review found that a successful tenant-landlord relationship occurred when there was a communicative relationship, problems and issues were resolved, and the tenant and landlord maintained long-term mindsets.

To promote successful tenancies, Greater Good Studio identified that the app needed to address the following issues:

  • Assist tenants in following best practices and acting according to their rights.
  • Encourage both parties to keep a lasting, shared record of housing-related issues.
  • Support landlords and tenants in building relationships and maintaining clear, responsive communication.
  • Identify opportunities for working together across the rental journey, from move-in to repairs to seasonal issues to deposit return.

“Our human-centered design research informed the development of the most critical features, a process for registering issues and a shared timeline for both parties to view progress toward issue resolution. These features solve the often emotional process of tenant-landlord communications, while being delivered through a simple, intuitive user interface,” said Sara Cantor Aye, founder, Greater Good Studio.

The development of the app was completed by Chicago firms Philamonjaro Studios and DevMynd, taking into account the need for a user-friendly design and functionality that was both easy and quick to navigate and facilitated communications about housing-related issues.

“The Squared Away app uses responsive Web design which means there is no downloading or updating required, making it easy for tenants and landlords to access and start the process in the moment of need,” said Dan O’Neil, executive director, Smart Chicago Collaborative. “This user-friendly app is focused on issue resolution and asks for the minimum amount of information necessary to kick off communications, offering a great resource for people to get squared with their abode in Chicago.”

APP OFFERS BROADER ACCESS TO RESOURCES FOR TENANTS & LANDLORDS

According to a May 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, cell phone and wireless laptop internet use have each grown more prevalent, with six in ten American adults going online wirelessly using either a mobile phone or a laptop with a wireless internet connection. Further, 40% of adults use the internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone.

“Internet and social media usage has grown exponentially as mobile devices have become more accessible. The Squared Away Chicago app is a cutting-edge example of capitalizing on this channel to build a more effective relationship between landlords and low-income tenants through the virtual world,” said Juanita Irizarry, senior program officer, Human Services & Community Development, The Chicago Community Trust.

While thousands of renters currently use MTO’s website, proving the need for web-based rental housing information, the Pew study demonstrates the additional need for an app or internet access compatible with mobile devices.

“The Squared Away Chicagoapp is a true innovation and national example that will benefit renters and landlords throughout the region and improve the quality and livability of housing in the Chicago area,” said Lawrence Grisham, managing deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Click HERE to watch a video about Squared Away Chicago and make sure to visit www.squaredawaychicago.com!

 

 

County Votes to End Discrimination

On May 8, 2013 the Cook County Board of Commissioners, in a landmark vote to end discriminatory housing practices throughout Suburban Cook County, voted to pass the Source of Income Amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance.  The amendment passed with 9 votes in favor and 6 against.

Housing Choice Voucher holders and advocates across suburban Cook County are celebrating this great victory.  “This historic vote by the Cook County Board of Commissioners brings us one step closer to the America we all want.  An America that is inclusive, where real opportunity is given to everyone, including the right to live

wherever they choose to live.” said John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.  Brendan Saunders Director of Advocacy and Community Organizing at Open Communities said: “This victory puts the choice back in Housing Choice Vouchers.”

This amendment, introduced by Commissioner Jesus Garcia, and cosponsored by Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Commissioner Robert Steele, effectively prohibits landlords in suburban Cook County from discriminating against renters with Housing Choice Vouchers by refusing to consider them as tenants.  Renters seeking to live in suburban Cook County have been struggling for the passage of this type of protection for years, which renters in the Chicago area already enjoy through the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.

Ms. Rose Green awarded Ralph Scott Award for Tenant Leadership

It is most fitting that the 2nd Annual Ralph Scott Award for Tenant Leadership will go to Rose Green, president of Rogers Park-based New Directions for Change, an organization which works on issues of low-income tenants, many of whom are voucher holders.

Ralph dedicated his life to working with and empowering low-income renters to assert their right to decent, safe and affordable housing.  For many of his years in Chicago, Ralph was a key force in the Rogers Park Tenants Committee which later became the Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).  Ms. Green epitomizes the work of Ralph.  Like Ralph Scott, Ms. Green as a Section 8 voucher holder became active with RPCAN in the late 1990s.

What drew Rose to RPCAN and organizing was her personal experience of having to face down discrimination on her own.  When Rose first received her voucher she was excited that it would help her with her housing costs.  As she searched for an apartment, she just could not find one.  There were plenty out there but the landlords would always say they didn’t have one as soon as they learned she had a voucher.  Then according to Rose, “I went to a meeting at RPCAN and found out I was being discriminated against and I’ve been involved ever since.”   Rose organized the Rogers Park Section 8 Tenants Council.

Despite health concerns, Rose has worked tirelessly for low-income tenants in general and subsidized tenants in particular.  She developed effective working relationships with the Chicago Housing Authority which helped her advocate for both individual voucher holders and issues affecting voucher holders as a whole.  For over six years, Rose has also been an ardent advocate for protecting suburban Cook County voucher holders from discrimination based on source-of-income.

Currently, she continues this work with New Directions for Change which has picked up the work where the Section 8 Tenants Council left off.  For several years now, New Directions has partnered with MTO in presenting tenant meetings and workshops in the Rogers Park neighborhood, for which Rose and her organization have also provided logistical support.  Rose is committed to ending discrimination.  She said, “I don’t think it is right (discrimination).  I won’t give up.  I don’t want other people to go through what I went through.”

To purchase tickets or to sponsor a housing choice voucher holder’s attendance, please click here.

Report challenges tie between housing vouchers, crime: Chicago Tribune

 

Renters’ use of housing choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, long has worried communities that the arrival of voucher-holding tenants in a neighborhood will lead to crime and, eventually, lower property values.

That’s not true, says a new policy brief by researchers who studied crime patterns and voucher use in Chicago and nine other large cities over a number of years.

Read more here.

Chicago Tribune – March 29, 2013

Clergy Support Source of Income Campaign

MTO, Access Living and Progress Center Illinois held a Prayer Breakfast regarding the Source of Income amendment on January 15,  2013 at Pearl’s Place in Chicago.  Over forty pastors and community leaders from across the city and suburbs were in attendance to hear from Housing Choice Voucher holders about experiences with discrimination based on their income.

Currently, the City of Chicago already prohibits landlords from discriminating against voucher holders.  In the suburbs of Cook County, landlords can and do deny people housing solely because they have a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher.  The Source of Income amendment is a protection that would require landlords to consider renting to Housing Choice Voucher holders.  It would not force a landlord to participate in the program if the tenant does not meet typical requirements (i.e. poor credit rating, bad landlord reference).  The amendment would give people with vouchers the equal opportunity to housing.

On Thursday January 24, 2013 from 2-4 pm at Progress Center Blue Island, MTO, Access Living and Progress Center IL invite you to attend a Town Hall meeting discussing housing discrimination.  Come out and share your experiences with us, and help end housing discrimination and segregation.  If you believe in equal opportunity, join us and show your support.  For more information/transportation call us at 773-292-4980 ext. 224.

 

Renters Protest Oak Park’s Largest Landlord

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, more than 40 tenants and advocates from across Cook County picketed Oak Park Apartments’ headquarters on Chicago Avenue to protest the company’s refusal to accept Housing Choice Vouchers.  While it may be legal in Cook County suburbs to refuse to rent to Housing Choice Voucher holders, it is not morally right.

According to one Housing Choice Voucher holder that lives in Oak Park, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, “I have been denied occupancy in countless properties including Oak Park Apartments, just because I have a voucher.  This is just not fair.  I pay my rent yet I cannot live in certain buildings!”

Adam Ballard of Access Living and a voucher holder stated, “Many people with disabilities rely on vouchers for their housing.  We want Oak Park Apartments and Cook County to end this legalized discrimination.   All we are asking is to be treated like anyone else.”

Currently, the City of Chicago forbids landlords to discriminate against voucher holders.  There is no such prohibition in Cook County suburbs.  Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, is trying to change that and has introduced legislation that would amend the County’s Human Rights Ordinance to make it illegal to discriminate against Housing Choice Voucher holders.

After the picket, tenants went to Cook County Commissioner Earlene Collins’ office.  The group wanted to know why Commissioner Collins had not signed on as a supporter of the amendment.  While the Commissioner was away at the time, the group was promised a meeting with the Commissioner.

According to Shirley Johnson, Organizing Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, “Section 8, Housing Choice Voucher Holders are stereotyped and therefore often forced to live in high crime, low opportunity communities.  The recent presidential election proved that it is a “new America” where diversity rules. A rental policy that refuses to rent to voucher holders is blatant discrimination and should be outlawed, especially in today’s modern society.”

Oak Park Apartments claims to offer “the largest selection of well-maintained apartments perfect for those who want to experience Oak Park’s architectural character, its excellent school system and vibrant and diverse village feel.”  However, they intentionally exclude Housing Choice Voucher holders from these opportunities.

Access Living, Progress Center and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization organized the protest.  The groups promised to return.  According to Adam Ballard of Access Living, “The fight for our rights has just begun.”

Tenants Organize to Force Owner to Negotiate

Single Room Occupancy hotels provide some of the poorest people in our communities with housing.  While this is hardly housing of choice, many residents of Chicago are very grateful the option exists.  At least this is the case with residents of the New Jackson Hotel, a downtown SRO that houses mostly low-income seniors and people with disabilities.  Recently, one of its residents contacted the MTO Hotline. He reported mice, mold, holes in walls and ceilings, and only sporadic access to heat.  Chief among his concerns was the fact that the owner has stopped accepting rent, which signaled to him that the building was about to be shut down.

MTO sent an organizer out to help the tenants form a tenants association.  MTO’s support empowered them to work together to take steps to save their housing.  First, they persuaded the owner to begin receiving rent again, which gave them some security around keeping a roof over their heads.  Hoping to build on that success, they sought to negotiate with him for better living conditions.  At first the landlord refused to negotiate.  Tenants contacted their Alderman and enlisted the support of Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit developer of affordable housing.  Working with MTO, the Alderman’s office and Interfaith, the tenants succeeded in bringing their landlord to the table to negotiate around building repairs.

The tenants’ demands are simple: A clear plan for the future of the building, repair of all conditions issues or appropriate reduction of rent, and the cessation of illegal evictions and lockouts.

After several months of contacting 311, working with lawyers, and focusing on the Alderman, the owner was forced to negotiate. He was stopped lockouts and evictions, and offered all tenants a relocation deal equal to 2,000 per tenant.

 

Rally at City Hall Against Proposed Demolition of 1,800 CHA Units

On Friday, October 12th, Chicagoans gathered at City Hall to protest the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) proposed demolition of 1800 public housing units. Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s tenant leaders in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) led the charge against the proposed cuts.

“We need these units leased up not knocked down,” said Executive Director of People for Community Recovery and Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) member, Cheryl Johnson. Ms. Johnson who is a resident of Altgeld Gardens, expressed concern about the more than 600 units slated for demolition at Altgeld Gardens. “This is about our future and ability to stay in our community,” said Johnson. “If they knock these units down, what’s to stop CHA from knocking the rest of our community down.”

After hearing from the hundreds of tenants outside the Mayor’s office on the 5th floor, staff for Mayor Emanuel’s office agreed to meet with coalition representatives to discuss the proposals for demolition. Organizers are hopeful the Mayor will intervene to stop the demolitions.

“The CHA exists for only one reason and that is to provide affordable housing to low-income residents,” said Leah Levinger, coordinator of the Chicago Housing Initiative. “The CHI coalition will continue to raise public awareness around the issue of leasing these units out,” said Levinger. “We are asking that Mayor Emanuel intervene to set the CHA back on track.”

According to the CHI, over 60,000 people are on CHA’s waiting list. This, in a time when Chicagoan’s incomes are down as much as 10%, and local rental rates have – over the past few years – increased by 14%. MTO supports CHI’s efforts to push CHA to lease out more public housing units and opposes the proposed demolition.

For more information or to get involved in this campaign contact MTO community organizer Noah Moscowitz at 773.292.4980 ext 236 or at noah@tenants-rights.org.

Tenants Lead the Fight Against Discrimination

Low-income tenants throughout the city are fighting to end discrimination against voucher holders in suburban Cook County.  One tenant leader, Mr. Green wages an inspiring daily campaign from his wheelchair.  Mr. Green has lived at 1440 S. Indiana for about three years.  Residents of the building turn to Mr. Green to act as a liaison between them and the management.  His commitment to improving the quality of life for the tenants of his building led him to become a member of MTO.  Mr. Green not only works in his building, but also is a regular attendee of the monthly meetings of the Tenants Congress.  This group is leading the Source of Income campaign.

In Chicago, it is against the law to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders.  However, in the suburbs, no such law applies.  The Source of Income Campaign is fighting to pass a law that will also make it illegal to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders in suburban Cook County.  Although Mr. Green has no plans of moving out of Chicago any time soon, he has made this campaign his fight.  His advocacy for this campaign stems from his belief that people shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate regardless of your age, gender, abilities or race, or simply because you use a voucher.  His commitment to this campaign has moved him to spend several hours a week by the train station speaking to fellow Chicagoans about this issue and asking them support their suburban neighbors by signing the petition and calling the Cook County Commissioners to support the ordinance.

If you get off at the red line Roosevelt stop, Mr. Green may ask you to sign the petition to stop the discrimination in the suburbs.  Make sure to sign it, and ask Mr. Green how you can become more involved.