Blog

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

Say hello to LCBH’s newest interns! We’re excited to welcome five interns this summer. They will assist our team with sealing eviction records, pending eviction cases, and researching COVID-19's impact on tenants. Learn more about our Fantastic Five below:

Madeline Alessio
Madeline Alessio (she/her) assists our attorneys with intake and researches evictions that raise fair housing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A rising 3L at University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, Alessio also helps seal eviction records.
 
“I was incredibly attracted to LCBH’s vision that safe, decent, and affordable housing is a basic human right. I started law school in August 2020, at a time where both the Coronavirus pandemic and housing affordability issues were at crisis-levels. This once-in-a-lifetime experience exposed me to the housing inequality that exists across the United States generally, and Chicago specifically. As I result, I was attracted to the opportunity to work for such a well-respected housing organization. I am the most excited to represent clients in court who need assistance sealing old eviction cases.”

 

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

The last two years have been difficult. Like many of you, I’ve found working remotely and being separated from my colleagues challenging. But as I sit here today, I must say that April 2022 has been one of the most momentous months in my 13-year tenure at LCBH. Several developments have lifted my spirits and they are made even sweeter arriving during Fair Housing Month.

First, Governor Pritzker is poised to sign legislation that will prohibit landlords from refusing to rent based on a tenant’s source of income. While this protection already exists for Chicago renters, this is a fundamental fair housing issue that deserves statewide enforcement. LCBH is proud to be a member of the Illinois Fair Housing Coalition that worked on the legislation. We celebrate the Chicago Fair Housing Alliance and multiple elected officials whose leadership made this victory possible.

Shiva Kooragayala

We recently sat down with Shiva Kooragayala, a volunteer from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Shiva told us how he helped LCBH clients remain housed during the pandemic. Thank you, Shiva!

How did you get involved with LCBH?

I connected to LCBH through Kaitlin Cutshaw. She knew that I have a long-standing interest in working on a variety of housing issues and particularly public and affordable housing policy. I’m trained as an Urban Planner and worked at the Urban Institute, where I researched local and national housing policy. When I got to Skadden, I knew I wanted to continue working in this space as an attorney.

Why is volunteering on matters related to housing important to you?

Housing is a platform for people to improve their lives. While at Northwestern for law school, I spent two years as a clinical advocate and worked on several eviction defense matters in tandem with Legal Aid Chicago. I typically took on cases for tenants who had vouchers or project-based assistance. It was a great experience. Housing is fundamental to everything else. If you lose your voucher, you can’t get back on the list, so you are functionally homeless. Getting access to housing, and keeping it once you have it, is so important.

Skadden attorneys have a long history of volunteering at LCBH. What are some recent examples?

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) today announced it will receive a $7.1 million three-year grant from the City of Chicago Department of Housing (DOH) to represent tenants in eviction court. LCBH, and its partners Legal Aid Chicago and CARPLS, will provide brief advice and full legal representation at no cost to eligible low-income tenants at risk of eviction in Chicago.

The grant is part of a three-year, $8 million, Right to Counsel Pilot Program (RTC). The program recognizes that one of the leading interventions to preventing evictions is providing legal assistance to at-risk tenants. When renters face the loss of their home in housing court, legal representation makes a critical difference. In eviction lawsuits nationwide, an estimated 90% of landlords have legal representation, while only 10% of tenants do. Unrepresented renters are much more likely to lose their cases, and their homes, regardless of the merits of their case.

Frank Avellone

Frank Avellone recently retired from LCBH. We sat down with Frank to learn about his time at the agency and his advice for new attorneys starting civil legal aid careers. Frank served LCBH in many capacities, including as Senior Attorney and Policy Director.

HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK AT LCBH?
LCBH is the place where I worked the longest. I started my legal career in 1981 at Toledo Legal Aid Society and I was there for three years, before I was recruited to be the clinic director at Ohio Law School. I was there for seven years, until my kids grew up and left the nest. We came to Chicago and I worked at LAF for seven years. Then, I was recruited by Mark Swartz to LCBH in 2013 and stayed until 2021.

Umair Naseer, LCBH Case Manager

We are excited to announce that Umair Naseer recently received his social work license. A former supportive services intern, Naseer began his professional career at LCBH as a Case Manager. He is committed to using his values and skills to help clients navigate housing insecurity successfully.

What influenced your decision to be a social worker?
Prior to studying sociology in undergrad, I worked as a teaching assistant. I've always wanted to work in a setting where I could help people. That helped guide my decision. I found that exploring social work provided more jobs that suited my goal. I graduated with a Masters in Social Work in May 2021 and decided that the next formal step was to obtain licensure.

How did you become affiliated with LCBH?
I interned with LCBH during my studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago. After finishing my last semester, I permanently joined the organization. I was excited to take on a full-time position as a Court-based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) Case Manager.

Anita Lewis, LCBH's New Director of Social Services

Anita Lewis has been named Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing's Director of Social Services. Lewis joins LCBH from Metropolitan Tenants Organization, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering tenants to exercise their rights to affordable and adequate housing. She has extensive experience in the field. We are happy to have Anita on board. Learn more about her story below.

What have you done prior to joining LCBH?
I have spent the last twenty plus years of my career in housing with a concentration in mental health and related instabilities. A large part of my experience has been mental health advocacy as it relates to the housing market. I previously worked at Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) as the Associate Director. I then transitioned to Envision Unlimited, where I worked in the mental health division. I am still involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as an active volunteer, and I am also associated with Horizons for Youth and other local food pantries and distribution centers.

How did you get involved with LCBH?
MTO and LCBH had a strategic partnership. We collaborated on a lot of development work. We also did intakes and directed many of our clients to LCBH so that they could take advantage of legal services, as that was something that we did not provide. We were able to connect them with LCBH through a hotline.

Did you miss LCBH’s “Bringing Justice Home” event? We showed our new video about the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO). Watch to learn how the KCRO protects tenants living in foreclosed properties. Meet tenants and advocates who explain why the KCRO is still important.

LCBH Board Member, Collette Woghiren

What can you tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in St. Andrew, Jamaica and lived in Jamaica until the age of 10 when my family moved to New Jersey. After a few years on the east coast, we transitioned to Boca Raton, Florida. I completed my undergraduate studies at Florida State University and obtained a master’s degree at Georgia State University before becoming a high school English teacher in South Florida. I moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago Law School in 2010 and fell in love with the city of Chicago.

What is your involvement outside of LCBH?
I joined Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg in 2013, after interning there during my second year of law school. I currently serve on the board for the Alumni Club of the University of Chicago, where I am the chair of the By-Laws Committee in addition to playing an active role in fundraising, service and community engagement. I also serve as a mentor to UChicago’s Black Law Student Association. I previously served as an associate board member for the Chicago Committee on Minorities for Large Law Firms.

LCBH Board Member, Paul Steadman

Where are you at in your career right now?
I’m a senior partner at DLA Piper, where I’ve been for 10 years now. I’m married with three kids and I live in the West suburbs. I’m at a point in my career where I can assist and enable others to better manage their affairs, and create a stronger community as a result.

What is your involvement outside of LCBH?
I currently serve as the Chairman of Enrollment for Trinity High School’s Board of Directors. Trinity is an all girl’s school in River Forest, IL. This is my 6th and last year serving. I also serve on the board for the Chicago Justice project, an organization that uses various methods to collect Illinois government data on the criminal justice system. I’ve been litigating for them for about six years. Additionally, I previously served for over ten years on the board for Lawyers for Creative arts, as I have a solid background in Intellectual Property law. LCBH however, is my largest time commitment.

How did you become affiliated with LCBH?
I’ve done pro bono work with the organization for about seven or so years on a number of legal projects, so I was all-in when the opportunity presented itself.