Chicago’s current 311-reporting process does not work to protect renters against their slumlords. A mandatory rental housing inspection program with strong enforcement power is imperative for Chicago and the health of its communities. Below is a brief photographic summary of the conditions MTO witnesses on a regular basis.
Low-income renters experience higher rates of disease than their higher income counterparts. In my work as a healthy homes organizer, it has become strikingly clear why.
We have entered hundreds of apartments over the past few years and in them, seen deplorable housing conditions that were the direct cause of a child’s disease which brought us to that apartment in the first place. For some unconscionable reason, the landlord chose not to invest the money needed to maintain the apartments in a livable condition and the city was often unresponsive to calls for help from the parents of these sick children.
Because of decades of activism, the City of Chicago has set up a system that is helpful to parents whose children have been lead poisoned. But – children are still the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ in the vast majority of cases. There is no program in place to prevent kids from lead poisoning and in particular, the most vulnerable children suffer.
There are even fewer controls in place for other healthy homes issues such as cockroach and rodent infestations, and mold problems. As of right now, there is little help in place for renters enduring unhealthy housing and absentee landlords. These conditions can be particularly harmful to children with asthma and other respiratory ailments. In most cases, especially in today’s economy, parents do not have the option to pick up and move. Instead, they make the difficult choice of having a roof over their family’s head or watching their kids suffer from their illnesses that are exacerbated right in their own home.
There needs to be programs with strong enforcement mechanisms for these families to turn to in order to correct these grossly negligent – and sometimes criminal – building code violations. Children living in unhealthy housing will suffer the effects of environmental injustice for the rest of their lives. This fact has been repeatedly proven and documented in numerous medical and public health academic journals. A recent Shriver Center report demonstrates how socioeconomically-integrated, safe, affordable housing offers children access to good schools, stability, and the health necessary to achieve their potential.
MTO is calling on Chicagoans to support a mandatory inspection program that would identify healthy homes issues and force landlords to maintain their buildings according to the Chicago building code requirements.
On December 17th a tenant residing at 634 N. Ridgeway called the Metropolitan Tenants Organizations (MTO) hotline in regards to no heat. The tenant was referred to MTO organizers who immediately went to the building. The tenants believed that the landlord had purposely turned off the heat in response to late payments on rent. The tenant had recently lost her job and was unable to pay her rent in full.
Organizers had the tenant call 311, get the 311 reference number and write out a 24 hour Heat and Essential Service letter to the landlord. Organizers also contacted attorneys for the City of Chicago to complain about the lockout.
On the following day the tenant sent a letter to the landlord warning of the consequences of a lockout along with the 24 hour letter demanding the immediate restoration of heat and sent the certified mail. The landlord refused to restore the heat. On December 22nd building inspectors came out to the building and found it to be not compliant and in a dangerous and hazardous condition.
Still the landlord refused to restore the heat. MTO worked with the tenant and the Corporation Counsel to document that this was in fact an illegal lockout and that the gas was intentionally shutoff because he wanted the tenants out.
On December 29, the tenant with MTO organizers appeared in Housing Court in front of Judge Clay-Clark. The landlord tried to deny responsibility for the shutoff but the evidence was on the tenant’s side and the judge ruledthe landlord was non compliant with city code, was found to have been interfering with utility services, and having committed a lockout on the tenants. As a result a receiver was placed in the building to work with the tenant in restoring the heat immediately to the unit. Hopefully this will send a message to landlords that lockouts are illegal. A follow up court date was set for January 19th 2010.