Preventing Homelessness Through Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA)

When Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing launched it’s Chicago Evictions data portal last May, a key finding was the number of Chicago tenants being evicted over relatively small amounts of money.

82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and 44% were under $2,500.

In October, LCBH expanded a successful pilot project that provides eligible Chicago renters supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds (the Funds) up to $5,000 for back rent and/or security deposits.

Prior to the pilot, renters summoned to appear in eviction court were not screened for eligibility. Jude Gonzales, Supportive Services Director, and his group of Masters of Social Work interns are leading the effort to change that through our Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.

In addition to financial assistance, the CERA team works to address underlying issues that led to the eviction filing by providing referrals to job training, financial literacy, and other beneficial programs. If needed, they can help households find replacement housing.

CERA grew out of an effort with All Chicago and the Continuum of Care Task Force, a consortium of agencies working to end homelessness, including shelters, rapid rehousing, and prevention programs. Working with Jude, the Supportive Services interns have helped advocate for a much-needed paradigm shift in homelessness prevention: eviction diversion programs, like CERA, are an important piece of the puzzle. The pilot project’s success resulted in LCBH becoming an All Chicago grantee, allowing us to directly award financial assistance to eligible renters.

The Supportive Services interns annually provide 3,500 hours of assistance to LCBH clients. Their responsibilities include manning phone lines, conducting intake interviews, gathering necessary documentation from tenants, communicating with LCBH staff attorneys, tenant landlords and judges, connecting tenants to other agencies and programs, and ultimately, completing the narratives required to receive the Funds.

"We’re fortunate to maintain a very good relationship with Chicago’s masters level social work programs, which means this opportunity is competitive. We enjoy having the best and the brightest MSW students to serve our clients,” shares Jude. “Because each school has a difference emphasis - policy development, clinical work, community organizing - the interns have the opportunity to learn from each other and gain an appreciation for how macro level policy can drive individual impact."

Since its October launch, CERA has provided eviction diversion funding and supportive services to 17 households, matching the number helped in the six month pilot timeframe. There are 10 additional families whose cases are in progress.

We are grateful to our current class of Supportive Services interns for their important efforts:

  • Leanne Holly, University of Chicago
  • Izabela Gluszak, University of Illinois Chicago
  • Isabella Lombardi, University of Illinois Chicago
  • Kate Pendleton, Loyola University of Chicago
  • Rebecca Sebree, Loyola University of Chicago
  • Isabella Thompson, Loyola University of Chicago

Work is also underway to secure additional funding for LCBH’s CERA program to hire a full-time coordinator and expand staff attorney time. You can support CERA by making a gift today.