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.
I had the privilege to attend Mayor Lightfoot's Chicago Solutions Towards Ending Poverty (STEP) Summit on February 20, 2020. The Summit convened academics, researchers, artists, grassroots community activists, business leaders, and government officials to launch a year-long movement to address poverty and economic hardship affecting Chicago residents. Among the many thoughtful panel discussions, a few remarks stood out to me. Dr. Luke Shaefer, from the University of Michigan, stated, "we can also intervene to make sure people have more money so that they can pay more of their rent." LCBH couldn’t agree more!
One of the key findings our Chicago Evictions Data Portal revealed is that 82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and an additional 44% were under $2,500. LCBH's new Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program provides eligible Chicago renters with supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds—up to $5,000—for back rent and or security deposits as a means of resolving unpaid rent claims.
Our client, "Michael," worked hard throughout his career to save for retirement. He was enjoying his new home in a senior living facility and volunteering his services by working at his building's front desk.
Unfortunately, Michael began experiencing problems with a fellow tenant. Michael was eventually removed from the front desk volunteer position to reduce the potential for interaction but received a thank you letter from the building manager for his service. The tenant's complaints continued. However, after living through months of unprovoked conflict, Michael's health had begun to suffer, and he developed depression. Finally, through a lawyer, the tenant made false allegations against Michael to the senior living facility's management.
Without any meaningful investigation, Michael was served with a "notice to terminate" that offered him ten days to refute the claims made. He followed up multiple times to do so, but no one returned his phone calls. He asked his building manager, "Did you advocate for me?" The manager replied, "Michael, it doesn’t matter; no one listens to me."
Then Michael received a summons to eviction court.
He quickly turned to the internet to try to understand what was happening and how to proceed. After seeing statistics about eviction rates, Michael was petrified. When his search turned up information about the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing's services, he called immediately.
When Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing launched it’s Chicago Evictions data portal last May, a key finding was the number of Chicago tenants being evicted over relatively small amounts of money.
82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and 44% were under $2,500.
In October, LCBH expanded a successful pilot project that provides eligible Chicago renters supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds (the Funds) up to $5,000 for back rent and/or security deposits.
Prior to the pilot, renters summoned to appear in eviction court were not screened for eligibility. Jude Gonzales, Supportive Services Director, and his group of Masters of Social Work interns are leading the effort to change that through our Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.
In addition to financial assistance, the CERA team works to address underlying issues that led to the eviction filing by providing referrals to job training, financial literacy, and other beneficial programs. If needed, they can help households find replacement housing.
We are pleased to share that Carl Sessions, a recent graduate of ITT Chicago-Kent School of Law, has returned to LCBH as an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow, sponsored by the Rossotti Family Foundation.
During two student volunteer stints with LCBH, Carl saw firsthand the inequities of representations in eviction court.
A key finding from LCBH’s Chicago Evictions data portal has revealed that 79% of landlords appeared with legal counsel though only 11% of tenants were represented.
More importantly, Carl witnessed improved outcomes for tenants that LCBH was able to assist.
"The truth comes out when you have advocates with equal skills on both sides of a case," Carl shares.
Based on these observations as well as the desire to combine his legal interests with community organizing and mobilization, Carl developed a fellowship project that serves two functions:
During her TFA training, Kaitlin explored the historical causes of student achievement gaps, with access to housing as an important contributing factor. Her efforts as a LCBH law student volunteer further connected those dots.
"My understanding of student displacement and how it disrupts a child’s education solidified here at LCBH," Kaitlin shares.
With the help of our staff, she created her EJW project proposal to develop a school-based clinic that offers housing-focused legal aid with the help of pro bono volunteers.
Kaitlin hopes to reach out to schools in the Austin and South Shore neighborhoods, two areas of Chicago with high rates of eviction as well as rising housing costs, although any school with high risk of student displacement would be a potential candidate.
The City of Chicago’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate met today. The agenda included a quarterly progress report on the Department of Housing’s 5-year housing plan. Mark Swartz, LCBH’s Executive Director, provided the following statement on Chicago’s ongoing eviction problem:
Good Afternoon. My name is Mark Swartz and I am the Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
As we embark upon the new 5-year Housing Plan, I want to address the topic of eviction both as a driver of displacement of our most vulnerable citizens as well a threat to the Plan’s principals of diversity and equity between and among our communities. I also want to share with you a resource that LCBH designed to help understand Chicago’s eviction landscape.
On May 16 of this year, LCBH launched the Chicago Evictions data portal along with a series of 3 reports highlighting some of the impacts eviction has had on the City. The data show that since 2010, on average, there have been just over 23,000 evictions in Chicago each year – that’s about 1 in 25 renters and their families each year who are facing eviction.
On May 16, 2019 we held a community forum at Austin Town Hall Park to release our Chicago Evictions data portal that analyzes eviction court records filed during the calendar years of 2010-2017 with the Circuit Court of Cook County. Our guest speakers were Deborah Bennett (Polk Bros. Foundation), Taft West (Chicago Community Loan Fund), Peter Rosenblatt Ph.D (Loyola University), Diane Limas (Communities United), Frank Avellone (LCBH), and Anthony Simpkins (Chicago Dept. of Planning & Development). If you were not able to attend – or if you were there and want to revisit some of the insights and recommendations our panelists shared — you can now view the full forum on YouTube!
LCBH's new Chicago Evictions data portal, https://eviction.lcbh.org, was released Thursday, May 16, before some 200 supporters of the organization, advocates, policymakers, and others at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St. Based on Chicago residential eviction court records filed during the calendar years of 2010-2017 with the Circuit Court of Cook County, the portal’s unveiling was supported by a grant from Polk Bros. Foundation.
"Being in eviction court has consequences way beyond losing an apartment," says Mark Swartz, executive director of LCBH, the only legal aid agency in the Chicago area advocating solely for renters since 1980. "Our data highlight a series of problems we must solve if the city is to have decent, fair and affordable housing – and help point the way toward some of those solutions, as well."
One example of a consequence is that eviction filings make it difficult for tenants to find a new apartment even if the filing does not result in eviction, due to the way tenant screening services currently use eviction filing data.
The vast majority of tenants appear in eviction court without legal counsel. They often feel pressured to sign agreements, including agreed eviction orders, which offer them little benefit, and contain terminology they don't understand.These agreed orders or settlements may have far-reaching impact on tenants’ credit, ability to receive public housing assistance, or ability to rent in the future—but renters may not be aware of those potential impacts when they agree to a settlement.
LCBH has teamed up with LAF and DLA Piper to provide brief legal services through the Eviction Brief Advice Desk (EBAD) to help tenants currently facing eviction. Located at the Daley Center, the EBAD advises pro se renters on how to best advocate for themselves in court, and helps them resolve their case as successfully as possible, ideally avoiding an eviction order or getting the record sealed.
In its first year, the EBAD served 64 tenant families, providing advice, preparing pro se documents (e.g. settlement agreements, continuances, motions to vacate, appearances/jury demand); and negotiating deals with pro se landlords and opposing counsel.
Rentervention is a chatbot service that will offer support to low-income tenants in unsubsidized Chicago housing dealing with conditions issues, eviction, and security deposit disputes. Tenants will be able to access help 24/7 though either a website or by texting. When appropriate, the chatbot will refer tenants to a free lawyer providing limited scope support through Rentervention’s Virtual Clinic.
Conor Malloy joined our team in December last year as the project director of Rentervention. In this role, he develops content for pro bono attorneys, creates scripts for the chat interface, and trains pro bono attorneys. Conor is excited to lead this pilot project in utilizing technology to easily provide legal guidance to those most in need.
Rentervention will go live on May 1, and a public awareness campaign will help promote the project to renters throughout Chicago over the summer.