We recently caught up with two LCBH alumni, Rachel Blake and Charles Nicholls. Rachel is Associate Director for Regional Housing Legal Services in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Her work is a mix of policy advocacy, organizational strategy and strategic planning. Charles is an attorney at Nicholls Law Offices in Chicago, IL. His firm deals with civil litigation, income, civil rights, employment and housing issues.
How did you first get involved with LCBH?
Charles: Between my first and second year of law school at Northwestern University, I interned with LCBH. I served as attorney of the day and handled a lot of eviction representation. After I graduated from law school, I returned to the organization for a year.
Rachel: I attended the University of Iowa Law School, where I focused on affordable housing and real estate. I had attended undergrad in Chicago and returned when my husband started attending Northwestern. After law school, opportunities in housing law were on my radar. I joined and helped to launch the 2010 Foreclosure Report.
What drew you to LCBH?
Charles: Before law school, I did Teach for America in New Jersey. I taught in an area plagued with housing troubles. About 40% of my students were moving regularly. That meant at least half would have moved at least once during the school year, which drastically impacted learning and attendance. That was why I was interested in housing and LCBH specifically, to try and help people to remain stably housed.
Rachel: My motivations were largely connected to my interests and focus areas. I reached out to the volunteer coordinator and she connected me with LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz. A funny memory is that he coincidentally had the same name as my former Regional Director.
How did your work inform the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO)?
Charles: LCBH took notice of tenants who were living in foreclosed apartment buildings. Often, their landlords weren't making them aware of foreclosures and were instead trying to collect rent for buildings owned by the bank. Some property managers would want money when tenants had already paid the landlord. On top of that, figuring out who actually owned the properties was a huge challenge. Banks sometimes kicked people out who were unaware of the foreclosure, without going through the legal process. Some tenants were perfectly willing and able to pay rent, but no one wanted to take on ownership so vacating properties was the main goal. I screened a lot of neighborhood organizations in an attempt to address that problem and create legislation around those issues. I also met with community leaders like aldermen and other non-profit organizations to bring about awareness. This resulted in the KCRO which gave tenants additional notice and even allowed them to stay housed.
Your work was a precursor to LCBH's data portal. What data did you collect?
Rachel: My project developed from my desire to identify buildings that had problems sooner than later. In some cases, tenants needed legal assistance with a hearing in two days. Tenants were not receiving proper notice of foreclosures. We really wanted to fill tenants in, so I proposed subscribing to companies that provided data and sharing with impacted communities. I generated and mapped enough data and translated that information into reports. We shared the numbers with neighborhoods and community partners, so that tenants could get legal assistance.
What was your biggest takeaway from working with LCBH?
Charles: While many take affordable housing for granted, at LCBH, there are people who want to do good work and provide resources to others who live in constant threat of eviction and are concerned about it.
Rachel: I have always been attracted to issues that aren’t getting attention. LCBH felt like a space to shed light on them and that was really appealing to me. There was such a volume of mortgage foreclosure at the time that needed awareness.