Blog: Pro Bono

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.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

The last two years have been difficult. Like many of you, I’ve found working remotely and being separated from my colleagues challenging. But as I sit here today, I must say that April 2022 has been one of the most momentous months in my 13-year tenure at LCBH. Several developments have lifted my spirits and they are made even sweeter arriving during Fair Housing Month.

First, Governor Pritzker is poised to sign legislation that will prohibit landlords from refusing to rent based on a tenant’s source of income. While this protection already exists for Chicago renters, this is a fundamental fair housing issue that deserves statewide enforcement. LCBH is proud to be a member of the Illinois Fair Housing Coalition that worked on the legislation. We celebrate the Chicago Fair Housing Alliance and multiple elected officials whose leadership made this victory possible.

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?

Celebrating Housing Justice!

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.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is finally here and we’re grateful to have a supportive community of volunteers, staff, and clients to help us reach our goals. Our partnership with Forefront for the #ILGive campaign has already produced results with our total for today surpassing $5,000, but we want to go even further. Chicago renters facing unfair eviction orders, poor housing conditions, and skyrocketing rents need our help and there’s no better way to do this than donating or volunteering here!

Melissa Picciola comes to LCBH with eight years of legal experience. She started her career at a large law firm and most recently has been with Equip for Equality. She also has experience providing legal trainings in a wide variety of settings including national, state and local conferences and meetings.

Melissa Picciola earned both her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Finance and her J.D. from the University of Illinois. After law school, she worked as an associate at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Beginning in 2009, she worked as a staff attorney in the Public Policy and Abuse Investigation Unit at Equip for Equality. During her time at Equip for Equality, Melissa worked with a variety of issues affecting individuals with disabilities including access to community-based services such as employment; Medicaid payment structures and access to benefits; and increasing voter participation among individuals with disabilities.

Pro Bono Impact

Chris Tompkins and Jeremy Dunnaback, Jenner & Block

At LCBH, pro bono is an integral part of our work. Our volunteers and interns give us the manpower and resources we need to do our work more effectively and to reach out to as many renters as possible.

Neighborhood

This summer, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) teamed up with the John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program and Heartland Alliance to help a family in crisis get a fresh start. The Ali family had recently fled Syria during the civil war and escaped to the US where they hoped to establish a new life. They moved into an apartment building that had a bedbug infestation, and soon their small children suffered from bed bug bites that required ongoing medical attention. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to treat the infestation and had threatened the family suggesting he could interfere with their application for asylum.

The family did not speak much English and they were at a loss about how to best to protect themselves. Without steady income and paying for mounting extermination and medical cost, soon the Ali family found themselves in eviction court. For any family, facing a legal system can be very intimidating and foreign, even to those who have lived their entire lives here in America.

Eviction Defense Training

LCBH is hosting an Eviction Defense Training for interested volunteers on Wednesday,July 22 at 12:00 PM. The training will be held at the LCBH office located at 33 N LaSalle Street, Suite 900. Attendees will also receive 1.0 MCLE credit hour. Please feel free to bring your lunch.

This hour-long training will cover the basics of landlord-tenant law and eviction practice in Illinois. Attendees will learn about the various state and local laws governing landlord-tenant relationships and the ins and outs of the eviction courtroom. We will also discuss different ways to get involved and support LCBH’s mission through pro bono work.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) believes that every individual and family is entitled to decent housing as a basic need and human right. For over thirty years, LCBH has defended the rights of tenants to have safe, accessible, and affordable housing on a non-discriminatory basis through education, outreach, supportive services, advocacy, and legal representation impacting over 7000 Chicago area renters each year. LCBH provides free legal assistance to low and moderate-income renters facing eviction and other serious housing issues. With the help of our volunteers, LCBH represents over 400 individuals and families in court each year, many times providing the last defense against homelessness.

Please contact [email protected] with questions or to RSVP for the training.

Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award

Claire Battle, ArcelorMittal USA
LCBH Executive Director Cheryl Lawrence (left) with Board Member Claire Battle

The Chicago Bar Foundation presented LCBH board member, Claire Battle, with the Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award at their 17th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon July 14, 2015.

While a busy and successful in-house attorney at ArcelorMittal USA, spouse and parent, Claire Battle continues to make pro bono a priority in her career. Her commitment to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) dates back to her undergraduate years at Northwestern University volunteering as an intern in the late 1990s. After law school, Claire was a volunteer attorney and has been an LCBH board member for 14 years. Lending a variety of talents, Claire has been involved with various LCBH committees and made contributions in whatever capacity she is needed. Her lasting contributions include co-founding and LCBH’s Hearts for Housing fundraiser, which has grown from an informal gathering to a flagship event attended by hundreds of attorneys and sponsored by the city’s biggest firms as well as co-founding LCBH’s Young Professionals Board. In addition to all of her contributions to LCBH her work proliferates as she encourages and helps her fellow in-house counsel find meaningful pro bono work in her position as Co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Young Professionals Board Spotlight

Q & A with Jessica Panza
Young Professionals Board President, Jessica Panza

LCBH’s Young Professionals Board (YPB) began in 2010. The YPB has played a very important role in Hearts for Housing – acquiring raffle prizes, selling raffle and event tickets, and volunteering during this popular LCBH annual event. On the heels of celebrating the tenth annual Hearts for Housing, we thought we would introduce you to YPB President, Jessica Panza. Thank you, Jessica, for all that you do for LCBH. Your enthusiasm is infectious!

How did you first get involved with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing?
Claire Battle, LCBH Board Secretary, introduced me to LCBH several years ago, when we were both starting our careers as attorneys. She had been involved for quite some time and her enthusiasm for the organization spurred my involvement. As I learned about LCBH's mission, the real need for LCHB's services in our community, and lack of other similar resources, I better understood Claire's passion for LCBH and jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the formation of the Young Professional's Board.