The market is not working. Just ask Marcene Smith of Chicago’s south side. She will tell you the housing market is broken and is not working for her or many other Chicago renters. She lives with her son, who is paraplegic, in a three-flat. They pay $700 a month in rent. She is desperate because her son is returning from the hospital after developing a severe skin allergy from the mold in her basement. Her son will be coming home to the same environment that made him ill.
For Ms. Smith and many others like her, there are few options. Together she and her son have an income of $1,900 a month. This makes her apartment barely affordable. The apartment’s owner knows of the mold problem but, like Ms. Smith, is low-income and does not have the money to make the repairs.
The city has inspected the building and cited the owner. The basement reeks of mold which covers the floor and walls. The City’s building inspectors refused to go into the basement because of the health hazard it presented. This is a lose-lose situation for the tenant, the owner and the surrounding community. As for the future of this building, like so many others the writing is on the wall.
The city may close the building or the tenant will leave. In either case, the conditions in the building will continue to deteriorate. Eventually, the building will be torn down leaving another empty lot in area already filled with abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Ms. Smith and her son will move to an area further from the City center, further from transportation and the resources they need. The lot will be purchased by an investor who will sit on the property and wait for the “market” to improve to build anew.
For many banks, investment companies and large realtors, the housing market is working just fine. For numerous renters the private market is broken and cannot provide safe, decent and accessible housing at affordable costs. There are no easy answers for Ms. Smith and her son, or the thousands of residents who confront their own housing crisis each day.
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization believes that building a solution means starting from the basic premises that housing is a right. From this foundational value, it will be possible to build policies which will ensure that housing is decent and well maintained; that is accessible to the many differently-abled; and that it will be affordable to the rich or poor and everyone in-between.
In the meantime, if you are a landlord and can help Ms. Smith, please let us know.