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 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.
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.
Imagine you’re sprawled out on your couch after getting home from work, taking a moment to unwind from the day, thinking about what you might make for dinner. In the midst of your thoughts, you hear a knock at the front door, so you roll off the couch and answer it. The next thing you know, you’re standing on the street as you watch the sheriff lock you out of your house, with no warning, no explanation.
For thousands of families across Chicago, what happened to Ms. Thomas—unjust eviction from her home—is more than a simple hypothetical; it’s a frightening reality. Standing on the street with her son and two grandchildren, Ms. Thomas watched as she was suddenly barred access from the house she’d rented for years. And then she heard the word that she should’ve heard months ago: foreclosure. Knowing that she needed legal assistance, Ms. Thomas called Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH).
Amanda and George Fullerton have lived in Chicago all their lives. They had recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment, which costs $850 a month, on the Southside of the city with their adult daughter. George Fullerton makes a modest living as a truck driver and is the sole breadwinner for his family (his wife and daughter are not employed). The family lived peacefully in their home and paid their rent on time. This spring Mrs. Fullerton came to LCBH with a pending eviction case. She was confused, because she had recently paid rent and was unsure of why this case was being filed.
Apparently, George and Amanda had seen someone new around the property that had informed them that there was a “new owner” and that the previous owner had gone into foreclosure. The “new owner” assured the Fullertons that he would still be renting to them. That was the first and last time they ever heard from the new owner. An attorney at LCBH was able to access the case and explained to Mrs. Fullerton that she had not properly received the compliant and court summons. LCBH informed her that the case had been filed against unknown occupants by the purchaser at the foreclosure sale.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton had been known. They had signed a lease that was still valid until the end of October with the former landlord, their name was on the mailbox, and Mr. Fullerton had recently spoken to the new owner in March.
Edna is a funny, vibrant single mother of three small children. For five years she provided a wonderful home for her family in a building where she a great relationship with her landlord and property manager. Having a stable, decent and affordable place to call home gave her a lot of comfort and gave her the ability to focus on her job and her kids. She was looking forward to many more years in a neighborhood she loved and in a school that was great for her kids. That is until one day, it all changed – her landlord lost the building, including her home, to foreclosure.
Thanks to the hard work of many Chicago advocates, including LCBH, Chicago now has an ordinance that helps to protect renters who are scooped up in the foreclosure process through no fault of their own. When a landlord loses an apartment building to foreclosure, the new owner must either offer to renew (or extend) the existing tenants’ lease or offer to give them relocation assistance. Edna was relieved that the new owner of her building was going to work with her to keep her in her home rather than evict her.
The foreclosure crisis, affecting more than 70,000 Chicago rental properties since 2008, the CHA “Plan for Transformation,” and other forces have accelerated the pace of neighborhood change and concern about gentrification. To be clear, the concern is not about repairing dilapidated properties; everyone wants that. Rather, the concern is about the physical displacement of poor and working class families. This concern frequently includes not only economic displacement, but cultural dislocation as well. For a graphic sense of neighborhood change in Chicago 1970-2010, see the UIC Voorhees Center’s Gentrification Index at http://www.voorheescenter.com/#!gentrification-index/ccmx.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helps preserve the vitality and affordability of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The attorneys and staff at LCBH work with community partners to ensure those affected by unfair evictions, deplorable living conditions or foreclosure have viable and affordable housing options currently and in the future. The LCBH Supportive Services team is available for the most vulnerable LCBH clients and their families to avoid homelessness and achieve stable housing. This includes assessment of needs, assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing links to essential services. The multi-disciplinary and holistic approach that LCBH provides has proven an effective way to assist clients moving towards a goal of attaining more stable housing beyond the immediate crisis of eviction.
Following is a recent letter from a client describing her experiences living in a recently foreclosed apartment building and dealing with the new bank owners. Her words resonate in a way that ours cannot. We wanted to share her letter with you, as your support is what makes our interventions in these situations possible. Thank you!
I, and most of the tenants in my bank-owned building, would have given up our rights out of frustration and fear if it were not for the services of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
We had known for some time that our building was in the process of foreclosure. But we were not worried because we knew the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) required the bank to either renew our leases or pay a $10,600 relocation fee. However, our collective peace of mind began to crumble as we came to understand that the bank was neither equipped nor inclined to perform the basic duties of a landlord. Soon after, our anxiety rose even further, as the bank engaged in scare-tactics designed to persuade us to move out on our own accord (therefore circumventing the requirements of the KCRO).
Thus far, the bank has used two tactics. The first is a passive approach: they benignly neglect the responsibilities of building management. The second is more aggressive, entailing periodic eviction threats. The only reason these tactics are not working is because we are represented by Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.