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.
At MTO’s 2007 Citywide Tenants Congress, tenants identified poor building conditions and slumlords as one of its three key issues. Tenants proposed several ways to increase landlord accountability. One way was to hit landlords where it counts in their pocket book.
The Chicago City Council at its January 2010 meeting took an important step in affirming tenants’ rights to safe and decent housing by passing the Building Code Scofflaw. Alderman Leslie Hairston introduced the ordinance, in May 2007. The bill targets landlords who have uncorrected code violations that are habitual, extensive or serious. These landlords are the worst of the worst and fit the term slumlord. This ordinance would prohibit slumlords from doing any business with the City of Chicago.
MTO tenant leaders visited and secured the support of majority of the City’s alderman. Now that the bill has passed tenants leaders are hoping to expand the bill to include bad management companies. According to MTO board member and tenant leader, Herman Bonner, “This bill has many possibilities. As a subsidized tenant I believe that the federal government should adopt a similar law. There are too many owners receiving federal money who are slumlords.”
While it is unknown how many owners this bill will impact. It does send a message to owners that if you own property and want the City’s business you will have to keep your buildings up to code.