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.
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?”.
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.