What does the reliance on eviction say about our society? Every day we hear stories from the tenant’s perspective of a housing market gone horribly wrong. The result is trauma and harm to thousands of Chicago’s working families. The stories are not black and white. They are about life, good and bad habits, eccentricities, prejudice, and privilege. The following articles are the real life stories of Chicago tenants. We invite you to read, think about and debate why there are some 25,000 evictions are filed annually in Chicago. Is there another way?
Chapter 1 – “Ms. Cat”
MTO first heard from the senior who hotline staff affectionately refer to as “Ms. Cat” in 2018. Ms. Cat had just received a 10-day notice for violating the lease provisions around pets. She had two cats of her own, and often fed the numerous alley cats outside her apartment. Ms. Cat can be a bit cantankerous at times. She loves her cats, they’re her family. She was so concerned about the alley cats well-being that one day she left a trail of cat food from the alley to her apartment.
However, others in the apartment considered the cats – and her actions – a nuisance. The cat food was attracting rats. Yet, Ms. Cat either would not or could not (as she put it) abandon her cats. They were her life. Unfortunately, her landlord didn’t attempt to talk to her about a solution, and instead moved to evict her. With her home and housing subsidy in jeopardy, Ms. Cat was able to secure an attorney. For several months the landlord, Ms. Cat and her attorney negotiated. In the end, our senior who is living on SSI had to leave her subsidized unit as a part of deal to avoid eviction.
Ms. Cat’s story does not end here. Ms. Cat’s next destination was a homeless shelter that did not allow pets. Every night Ms. Cat would try to sneak the cats into the shelter. Management found out and then the notices came. Management served her with an eviction notice. In one conversation with Ms. Cat, she said, “I would rather be homeless than to give up my cats.” With that in mind, Ms. Cat decided to leave the shelter and move to an SRO (Single Room Occupancy Hotel).
She then moved into an SRO, which is often a last resort for many of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents. Within a couple of months of moving, Ms. Cat was again running into problems with the owner and her neighbors. Her lease allowed two cats, but she was still trying to sneak more into her unit. Neighbors complained of an odor. Ms. Cat said, “it’s not the cats, it’s me. I can not help that I am incontinent. It’s a condition I can’t control. It’s like cancer. You wouldn’t evict someone for having cancer.” The owner served Ms. Cat with a 30-day notice to vacate. Rather than fight the eviction notice , Ms. Cat decided to move in with friend. The expectation was that this would be for a short time. She was desperately looking for housing she could afford.
With an eviction filing on her record and limited income, her housing choices were extremely restricted. Several months have passed since Ms. Cat last called. We reached out to her, but her cell phone has been cutoff. We also await her next call. We hope that Ms. Cat has found stable housing and is getting the help that she needs.
But her situation begs an important question: why is eviction always the first resort?