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.
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.
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.
On May 17, Governor Pritzker signed Illinois' "COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act," providing robust protections for Illinois renters and homeowners. The new state law greatly expands sealing of eviction court records for cases filed before and during the coronavirus pandemic and prohibits tenant screening companies from reporting sealed eviction records.
COVID-19 and related shut-down orders have created economic instability for many renters through no fault of their own. The sealing provisions are meant to prevent eviction case filings from becoming a barrier for renters in obtaining future housing, as described in a recent Consumer Reports article. The law requires automatic sealing of eviction records between March 2020 and March 2022. Unsealing will be allowed only when a judgment is issued and a case is unrelated to nonpayment of rent.
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.
"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.
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 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.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Granted, it’s still months away. There are many sunny days left in the summer, before the crisp, fall weather arrives. Yet, as I think about the grueling work ahead for LCBH and others who advocate for renters in eviction court, I am filled with gratitude and a desire to say thank you, now, to some of the funders that make our work possible.
For many years the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois (LTF) has supported LCBH. In 2015, LTF selected LCBH to be one of several legal aid providers throughout Illinois to receive funding from the CitiBank and Bank of America mortgage foreclosure settlements. The LTF funding arrived just as a multi-year Illinois Attorney General National Mortgage Settlement grant was coming to an end. Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) helped administer the AG’s Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement Funds grant and was instrumental in ensuring that the funds did not only go to assist homeowners, but renters as well. IEJF has also been a long-time supporter of LCBH.