Mark’s Musings – August 2020 Edition

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Granted, it’s still months away. There are many sunny days left in the summer, before the crisp, fall weather arrives. Yet, as I think about the grueling work ahead for LCBH and others who advocate for renters in eviction court, I am filled with gratitude and a desire to say thank you, now, to some of the funders that make our work possible.

For many years the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois (LTF) has supported LCBH. In 2015, LTF selected LCBH to be one of several legal aid providers throughout Illinois to receive funding from the CitiBank and Bank of America mortgage foreclosure settlements. The LTF funding arrived just as a multi-year Illinois Attorney General National Mortgage Settlement grant was coming to an end. Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) helped administer the AG’s Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement Funds grant and was instrumental in ensuring that the funds did not only go to assist homeowners, but renters as well. IEJF has also been a long-time supporter of LCBH.

What very few people, outside of these foundations and other housing advocates, realized was that every year during the mortgage foreclosure crisis, thousands more multi‐family building units in Chicago were impacted by foreclosure than single‐family homes. During the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath, LCBH assisted renters living in foreclosed buildings, who through no fault of their own, were facing eviction. These mortgage foreclosure settlement funds allowed LCBH to continue to serve these renters and to partner with community-based organizations to write, pass, and ultimately enforce the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO). While these grants are coming to an end, their impact on LCBH is ever lasting.

Why is this important now? As in 2008 when the housing bubble devastated the nation’s economy, COVID-19 is placing renters in jeopardy of losing their housing. LTF’s and IEJF’s support helped maintain LCBH’s capacity to respond to the urgent needs of lower-income renters during a crisis. Today, our attorneys are subject matter experts in all areas of eviction-related law. They quickly and efficiently help clients to remain stably housed, now and in the future.

While the current governor’s executive order prevents eviction filings today, LCBH has been steadfastly preparing for the moratorium to be lifted, likely after August 22nd. When we closed our offices in March, we began using to handle client intake and began connecting renters to pro bono attorneys through Rentervention’s virtual clinic. We also started hosting weekly "Tenant Thursdays" webinars addressing questions about renters’ rights during the pandemic.

I’m pleased to share that LCBH was selected by the Chicago Department of Housing to provide no-cost legal representation in eviction court through December 2020. LCBH’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Program will serve Chicago renters who earn 60% of the AMI and below. To support this work, LCBH is hiring a dozen attorneys short-term to provide legal services, as well as several case managers to screen renters for eligibility to receive emergency rental assistance through the State of Illinois and LCBH’s Court-based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program. You can learn more about these temporary positions and apply here.

While it’s too early to guess the number of evictions that may be filed after Illinois' moratorium expires, early predictions are staggering. One of our partners on the city’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Program, Stout, a global advisory firm, developed a new eviction estimation tool with input from the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC). The Stout tool estimates that in the next four months there could be 135,000 evictions filed against Illinois renter households earning $25,000 or less. For its part, LCBH is working with Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) on a local report projecting Chicago’s eviction filing rates to be released at the beginning of September.

LCBH is eager to work with our partners in the legal aid community to respond to this looming crisis. We’re also thankful for funders like IEJF, LTF, Polk Bros, and Wells Fargo Foundation, who have invested in LCBH’s COVID-19 response work. Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize the linkage between health and housing. We must work together to keep Chicago’s families and communities safe.