Blog: Eviction

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.

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.

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.

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.

Eviction Records Training

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:

Mark Swartz, LCBH Executive Director

I can't believe a year has zipped past since LCBH's office closed to the public. The expression that parents often share, "the days are long, but the years fly by," acutely resonates with me as I try to work remotely and struggle to get much of anything done. I know I speak for many here at LCBH about how hard the year has been, especially for parents with small children. I keep reminding myself of how lucky we are at LCBH to be able to do our work remotely. Still, I am relieved that as legal aid providers, we qualify as Phase 1C Essential Workers and can now get in line to be vaccinated, a critical step to returning to the physical office.

April is Fair Housing month. While fair housing often conjures thoughts of eliminating discrimination in the context of purchasing a home— as well it should, given Chicago's history of redlining and deed restrictions— I am mindful of the racial disparities we see in eviction court daily, and how this also raises fair housing alarms. I often come back to this Matthew Desmond quote from his 2013 article, Evicting Children: "Policymakers interested in identifying and sanctioning discrimination … should focus not only on the front end of the housing process—the freedom to obtain housing anywhere—but also on the back end: the freedom to maintain housing anywhere."

Miss Wade, Eviction During the Pandemic

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.

Over 20,000 Chicago evictions predicted once Governor’s moratorium is lifted

Research shows ongoing racial disparities in eviction filings, need for emergency rental assistance

"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.

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.