The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) family just got a little bit bigger. We are happy to welcome Michelle Gilbert as our new Legal Director. Michelle is leading LCBH's COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project.
LCBH is grateful to have Michelle's voice and advocacy. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern, we encourage you to Share Your Story.
Why did you choose to work in housing in legal aid?
I had practiced a lot of housing law in the HIV Project of Legal Aid Chicago (then LAF). When LAF was divided into subject matter practice groups, I knew that housing was my first choice, immediately, instinctively, like how you know when you have met the person you will marry. Housing is fundamental – my chronically ill clients could not take their meds without housing. I feel like a missionary for eviction prevention – our society can’t solve homelessness until we stop making so many new people homeless. Plus, honestly, I like the practice. I like writing briefs and making arguments in court.
What does your typical day look like at LCBH?
I’ve been in this position for just over a month, but it feels like longer. I’ve hired and started training the attorneys who will work on the COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project. Even though various moratoria in place prevent evictions today, my team is increasingly concerned that landlords will start locking-out tenants illegally. Responding to these types of crises and informing community groups on how to refer clients to us when the courts reopen keeps us busy.
What program(s) do you work on or supervise at LCBH?
I am Legal Director, but right now focused on getting the COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project running.
What impact does a housing legal aid agency have on the community?
We should be keeping people housed and improving their housing conditions. Eviction is devastating – think about the planning a middle-class family undertakes in moving, scheduling it around school dates, etc. Imagine doing that with two weeks’ notice. I am not saying that landlords don’t deserve to be paid, but the societal costs of eviction and homelessness are so much greater than the cost of eviction prevention. Maybe we see that now, going through the COVID pandemic, prevention is better and more cost-effective than treatment. That is one reason I am excited to be at LCBH and working with the supportive services staff in our Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.
Why is it so important for clients to have an advocate in court?
Step one for an attorney is to begin planning how to litigate a case and simultaneously settle a case. Having an attorney isn’t just about going to trial in every case. It's about giving tenants good advice so they can achieve a fair resolution. If attorneys weren’t valuable, the landlords wouldn’t hire them.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I love football. I went to Illinois (JD ’86), and my son just graduated from Illinois (Eng. '19), so the Gilberts bleed orange and blue every Saturday in the fall, win or lose.
What has been the most important innovation you’ve witnessed in your lifetime?
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted. I also think LCBH’s Chicago Evictions data portal will develop into an excellent tool for housing policy advocacy.