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.
While many assume evictions are not an issue for Chicagoans right now due federal and state evictions moratoria, the reality is quite different. Last December, Legal Director Michelle Gilbert interviewed LCBH client Graciela Wade, who generously shared her experience of eviction during the pandemic.
Miss Wade, a 65-year-old Chicagoan, previously lived on a fixed income with her granddaughter and her girlfriend. When her granddaughter and her girlfriend both lost their jobs this past July, it became very difficult for Miss Wade to keep up with monthly rental payments. Due to Miss Wade’s severe health issues, finding another accessible apartment that meets her needs is a difficult task. Despite this knowledge about her tenant, Miss Wade’s landlord declined her proposal to continue to try to pay as much of the rent as she could each month to stay in the apartment. In addition, the landlord refused to make any repairs needed in the apartment. Shortly after, Miss Wade was presented with an official eviction notice. She appeared in court over Zoom for the first time in November 2020, and the case was ultimately extended into February. In the meantime, Miss Wade was referred to LCBH, where volunteer attorneys from the COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) worked on her case. This past week, Legal Director Michelle Gilbert was able to dismiss Miss Wade’s case and seal her file. Today, Miss Wade is stably housed.
In December, LCBH partnered with the Chicago Housing Justice League (CHJL) to submit a grant through the Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund (the Fund), a commitment from thirteen foundations to raise and move $3M to Chicago organizations building and sustaining movements for justice that center Black lives and address anti-Blackness. In January, LCBH and CHJL were notified that the application had been awarded. In 2021, LCBH will serve as the fiscal sponsor and the CHJL will be awarded $40,000 to continue their work of bringing multiple organizing and advocacy groups together to fight for real changes for housing and racial justice and support the adoption and implementation of people-first policies and programs that improve and stabilize majority Black or Latinx neighborhoods so families can thrive.
Since its inception, the League has been supported through in-kind contributions of time, meeting space, supplies and resources from its member organizations, with LCBH providing considerable voluntary contributions to its development and maintenance. The CHJL has been able to accomplish many things using this model, but the League and its members will benefit greatly from a dedicated Program Coordinator. This new funding will be put towards hiring a staffer to oversee the administrative and programmatic activities of CHJL, which will build the League’s capacity, create a sound leadership structure, and sustain its programmatic work.
"The landlord cut off my lights and heat and forced me to move," says Auburn Gresham resident Tamy, "It was the day after my birthday." Tamy, a client of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), is one of many renters who despite Governor JB Pritzker’s eviction moratorium have experienced an illegal lockout or unlawful eviction.
At a virtual town hall forum on Thursday, December 17, LCBH announced a new report, "Eviction Filings, Unemployment, and the Impact of COVID 19," in partnership with Loyola University Chicago's Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL). The report uses statistical modeling of the historical relationship between unemployment and eviction filings to address concerns about a possible wave of eviction filings due to COVID-19. Chicago may see as many as 21,000 formal evictions in the first month after the moratorium is lifted, according to the model. For comparison, prior to the health crisis, the average number of eviction filings the first two months of 2020 was 1,567. The forum also discussed informal evictions and the much larger number of renters at-risk of displacement due to COVID-19.
Giving Tuesday was launched in 2012 as a simple idea: to create a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past eight years, this idea has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.
Throughout December, we will introduce you to multiple stakeholders at LCBH. To start, we want to introduce you to one of LCBH’s Board Members, Mae Whiteside. We’re thankful for Mae's support and her drive to give back to the community. Her story highlights why it’s crucial to create a stable environment for families and the amazing things they can achieve when they are not worried about eviction. Please take a moment to hear Mae's story.
For low-income families, the threat of homelessness due to the pandemic is very real. While state and federal laws prevent evictions today, those restrictions will end soon, placing thousands of renters who have experienced a COVID-19 related income loss at great peril.
Thank you for attending our Annual Fall Benefit - Bringing Justice Home! It truly was an amazing time where we laughed, cheered, and virtually chatted with the LCBH community!
This year we celebrated Lynette Barnes as the recipient of the Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate Award, Sharlyn Grace as the recipient of the Sharon L. King Distinguished Alumni Award, and Peter Rosenblatt on behalf of Loyola University Chicago's CURL (Center for Urban Research and Learning) as the recipient of the Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award!
In case you missed the event, don't fret. We have saved the video on LCBH's YouTube page and you can go watch it now.
After LCBH closed its doors in March, we pivoted our services to a digital and virtual world where we continue to provide the same level of services and advocacy for Chicago tenants. Through "Renny" and Rentervention, LCBH provides legal information available to Chicago tenants 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, in some cases, connects tenants with LCBH attorneys through Rentervention's Virtual Legal Clinic. In May, LCBH launched "Tenant Thursdays," a Facebook Live series that hosts segments on essential topics for Chicago tenants. Tenant Thursdays allow viewers to directly ask their question's to our subject matter experts on the live stream.
We are living in uncertain times. Eviction court is no exception. While the governor continues to extend the statewide moratorium on eviction filings in 30-day increments (the longest timeframe allowed by law) there is no certainty that these extensions will continue to be granted. The latest extension is set to expire on November 14th. LCBH is advocating for further extensions at least until all of the state’s emergency rental funds have been disbursed.
How has LCBH responded in the face of the uncertainty surrounding eviction court? We doubled our staff size. Last month, LCBH hired 19 people for the Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) to respond to the avalanche of eviction filings we expect to see once court reopens. This Project is funded through the Chicago Department of Housing using funds appropriated by the CARES Act and these funds need to be spent down by December 31, 2020. I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hire all the staff attorneys we would require in such a short window of time. I needn’t have worried. With the bar exams delayed until this month, there was an enormous amount of pent up energy and talent that wanted to join the cause. We currently have nine, mostly new, housing attorneys raring to go.
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.
The Sharon L. King Alumni Award recognizes outstanding professional achievement among Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) former legal fellows and interns. Sharon joined LCBH as a volunteer in the Attorney of the Day Program in 1997 and then became a member of the Board of Directors, serving two terms as President.
LCBH is grateful for Sharon's long service and the contributions she has made to sustain the future of LCBH. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern, we encourage you to Share Your Story.
Tell us about your legal career. Where did you work, and what type of law did you practice?
My legal career began when I graduated from college and became fully aware of women's lack of workplace opportunities. Mount Holyoke College, a women's college in Massachusetts, had affirmed my understanding from childhood that women could and should make their opportunities, so I enrolled in law school even though the legal profession was not particularly welcoming to women at that time.
The COVID-19 health crisis has further amplified the need for emergency rental assistance as a means of helping tenants pay back rent to landlords and remain stably housed.
A new program administered by The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IDHA) called Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) was created to help tenants that have not been able to pay rent due to COVID-19. ERA can provide up to $5,000 to assist tenants in paying their rent. The money will be sent directly to landlords and can be used to cover the rent due between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
To be eligible, tenants must have a written lease, loss of income due to COVID-19, unpaid rent, and have below-average income. Applications will be online through the ERA Portal and will be open from August 10, 2020, through August 21, 2020, the portal may close earlier due to high demand, so we recommend tenants apply as soon as possible. Many organizations, including LCBH, have partnered with IHDA to help people apply. Call LCBH at (312) 347-7600 for more information and to get assistance determining if you are eligible. You can find more information about this fund on the Illinois Legal Aid Online website here.