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.
It is a beautiful fall day. My kids have returned to school and the tree leaves in my neighborhood will soon turn from green to bright, vibrant colors. This process of change and renewal is a fitting description for LCBH’s work this year.
For the past nine months, we’ve adapted to working during the pandemic and responded to frequent changes to the Illinois eviction moratorium. This month’s "LCBH Scoop" includes an update on what will happen the Illinois eviction moratorium ends. It's also an invitation to join us November 18th at Revolution Brewing for our annual fall benefit, "Bringing Justice Home."
I am sad to report that the Illinois eviction moratorium is expiring, so this will be my last update on it. While the Governor's eviction moratorium order was already partially lifted to allow for new eviction filings starting August 1st, the moratorium continues to protect renters by prohibiting the sheriff from actually evicting renters, but these protections will end on October 3rd.
Caitlin Ewing is a former LCBH staff member and Young Professional Board (YPB) Chair. While at LCBH, she served as the pro bono coordinator during the height of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We recently had time to chat with Caitlin and she shared some of her experiences.
How did you first get involved with LCBH?
Full credit goes to Claire Battle. We were Craigslist roommates during law school and she was involved with LCBH during her undergraduate career. By her invitation, I attended the Hearts for Housing event in 2007. This led me to connect with a lot of people affiliated with LCBH. Upon graduation, I was looking to find opportunities to get my feet wet as an attorney. I started volunteering with LCBH in late 2008. I started volunteering as a staff attorney and the opportunity presented itself to apply for a pro bono coordinator position, which I started in 2009. I stayed for about a year and loved it. I got to work with Mark Swartz, LCBH's Executive Director, when he was relatively new to the agency and I learned a great deal from him. At the time, I was heavily involved in eviction court; it gave me a new perspective and a much more tangible respect for the people that we serve.
While much of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s (LCBH) recent work has focused on preventing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, reminders of a previous housing crisis that placed tenants in peril came roaring back this spring. In late April, an adverse court decision struck down the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO). Thanks to the collective action of LCBH, Communities United (CU), and First Ward Alderman Daniel LaSpata, the City Council passed a revised and improved KCRO on July 21st. This urgent response rested on the likelihood that large numbers of tenants may once again face eviction due to building owners being unable to pay their mortgage.
The KCRO was originally passed in 2013 after years of advocacy by LCBH and community partners responding to the housing crisis that began in the late 2000s. For several years following the housing crash, tenants living in foreclosed buildings were left in legal limbo, often unable to pay rent to the original owner while knowing next to nothing about the fate of the building and any potential new owners. In those circumstances, many renters were evicted from their homes or were not extended new leases by new ownership, leading many to heightened housing instability thereafter.
What was happening that led you to need LCBH's services?
We were renting an apartment and started to notice that people were coming to see the building pretty frequently. My sisters took notice of these strangers and eventually asked them why they were routinely stopping by. To our surprise, they said the building was in foreclosure. Meanwhile, we were still paying rent. I called the landlord and he said that he was behind in some of his payments, but it was nothing to worry about. Some months down the road, we finally learned that he no longer owned the building and he wasn’t paying the mortgage. One of my landlord's siblings lived upstairs so we thought we were fine. We weren’t. The landlord took a bank offer and we were almost immediately served with eviction papers. I reached out to Legal Aid Chicago and they connected me with LCBH.
Combining its policy advocacy, direct service, and community engagement expertise, LCBH is taking the next step in implementing this spring’s historic eviction record sealing legislation. LCBH has created a chatbot document assembly tool in Rentervention and is organizing training for community organizations on the negative impact of eviction records and the mechanics of filing a motion to seal. Staff have designed training sessions to explain incomplete or unclear court records and equip community members with information on how to use LCBH’s chatbot, Renny, to file a motion to seal a previous eviction. The presentation will cover best practices on the sealing process and provide step-by-step instructions to create and file a motion to seal. People who attend the sessions will leave with a better understanding of the eviction sealing process.
Here are some questions that a training can help tenants and community-based organizations answer:
Farihah Syed joined LCBH in July 2021 as our new Rentervention Staff Attorney. We are so excited to welcome her to the team. We recently sat down with Farihah to talk about her background in the legal field.
What have you done prior to joining LCBH?
I graduated from Chicago-Kent in May of 2019. I specialized in criminal prosecution in and out of law school. Following graduation, I served as a law clerk at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office Juvenile Delinquency, Child Protection, and Felony Trial divisions. I also was a City prosecutor law clerk at the City of Chicago Department of Law.
How did you become affiliated with LCBH?
I saw a great opportunity as LCBH’s Rentervention Staff Attorney and was interested in seeing what it was about. I reached out and LCBH showed interest in having me on the team.
How do you feel connected to the mission?
I feel like I'm genuinely helping people who are dealing with difficult circumstances and providing them with some semblance of justice. It’s a very fulfilling role. I like that I'm helping people navigate difficult times in their lives. This is most important for me.
Leela joined LCBH in 2020 as the Development and Grants VISTA. Leela has since served a full year and been admitted to The Juilliard School for a Masters in Fine Arts in acting. Though not a member of the permanent staff, Leela has been instrumental in developing a very solid support structure for the Development team. We send her warm wishes for a wonderful transition. We are grateful to Leela for her important contributions to the LCBH staff.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I love to rock climb. I’ve been rock climbing since junior high. I recently started doing it again after getting vaccinated and I am happy to be back at the wall.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for many Chicago renters, where widespread employment cutbacks and shelter-in-place mandates have made paying rent burdensome and nearly out of the question. Like many tenants, emergency rental assistance came as a relief to Kimberly A. As the sole provider for herself and her daughter, Kimberly was forced to take leave from her job to care for her daughter due to school closings. Her savings dried up and she was left with only a small portion of her earnings. When she no longer had enough to cover her rent, she turned to LCBH, where she received help applying for emergency rental assistance. The funds not only helped Kimberly to get back on track but she was even able to get ahead in her financial obligations.
Today, Kimberly is a licensed realtor. She credits an early round of emergency rental assistance for allowing her to prioritize rental payments while staying focused on her professional goals. "You just don't know what a difference those funds made in me and my daughter's life; it put me ahead of the game and things are looking up," said Kimberly.
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.
Summer's finally here and it feels like things are slowly starting to get back to normal again. I was elated to go to the Justice Entrepreneurial Project's graduation - my first in-person work event since the pandemic. Congrats to the JEP grads.
As things continue to normalize, I hope that the eviction court will evolve into a place where resources are adequately distributed before a rush to evict. With the judicious use of emergency rental assistance coupled with legal assistance in court, nonpayment cases don’t need to end in eviction. And once we return to normal, we still must contend with the ongoing housing crisis: there is not enough affordable housing and too many tenants are severely rent-burdened, with more and more of their income going to just covering rent.