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.
For this month’s Alumni Spotlight, we sat down for a conversation with Patricia Bronte, a former LCBH Board Member, Legal Director, and Acting Executive Director.
As part of LCBH’s 40th anniversary, we’re reaching out to our alumni, those individuals who have supported LCBH’s growth by serving as an intern, board member, or employee. Patricia Bronte is a special person who has worn all three hats in service to LCBH!
Patricia joined LCBH as an intern after her first year at Northwestern’s School of Law in 1985. Patricia said, "LCBH’s mission resonated with me and has remained in my heart ever since."
After her graduation from Northwestern, Patricia remained actively involved with LCBH. She served as a member of the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1999 and occupied the role of Board President from 1995 to 1998. In 1996, she was heavily involved with the editing of Time to Move, LCBH’s first significant report on Chicago’s eviction court.
In 2000, Patricia transitioned to the role of Legal Director and acting Executive Director, where she expanded the Attorney of the Day program, which provided legal representation for tenants with limited resources and advocated for systemic reforms. This expansion included paralegal volunteers, which increased the number of cases accepted.
I'm excited to share some of the "new year" resolutions we've set here at LCBH.
Plan ahead. Housing justice in Chicago is ever-evolving and we want to ensure LCBH is both nimble and effective for our clients and community. This week, we begin the process of creating a new three-year strategic plan for the organization. Email me if you have thoughts or suggestions for us to consider.
Build on 2019 Accomplishments. It was a big year for LCBH! Among many accomplishments, I want to highlight three of our most notable:
Last summer, Mae Whiteside did something that’s highly unusual in the world of non-profits.
"I picked up the phone and called to see if Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing had any openings for board members" she shares. "I needed to get back involved in this fight, because being homeless shaped me into who I am today."
Whiteside's childhood homes included tiny kitchenette studios, rooms with no heat, acquaintances' couches, and even homeless shelters. Her family's journey through homelessness began in 1985 when Mae's older sister turned 18 and financial support for her ended. Mae's mother tried but couldn't get their household income adjusted with the Chicago Housing Authority.
"She met with many pro bono and legal service providers – they couldn’t help, didn’t care," Mae says.
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!
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 have started assessing this year's progress and thinking about what's ahead in 2020, our 40th anniversary as an organization. There's much of which to be proud and yet, new goals in housing justice will require considerable strategy, collaboration and coordination.
Celebrating accomplishments began on Monday, November 4 at our 39th Annual Bringing Justice Home event. At a gathering of LCBH’s staff, alumni, volunteers and friends, we recognized Emily Coffey, a former LCBH Loyola Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Intern and then Fellow, now at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, with the inaugural Sharon L. King Distinguished Alumni Award, as well as our friends at DLA Piper LLP, who were selected for the Pro Bono Service Award. It was a terrific night, hosted by our friends at Kirkland & Ellis.
Did you know that Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing was founded in 1980 by a group of attorneys in the Rogers Park neighborhood to combat deteriorating conditions in multi-family buildings?
As LCBH approaches our 40th anniversary as an organization, we are gathering stories from former and current staff, legal volunteers, and organizational friends.
How have the avenues of pursuing safe, affordable housing for Chicagoans evolved while you’ve been part of LCBH? What were the roadblocks you encountered and key victories achieved? Who was involved in shaping housing justice efforts with you?
After a somewhat lengthy process, our newest staff attorney Sally Robinson was recently sworn in to practice here in Illinois.
Sally joined LCBH in May after moving to Chicago from New York City, where she held staff attorney and supervisory positions as a tenant-side housing advocate. Most recently, she was a managing attorney in housing at Legal Services of New York City, an organization that saw unprecedented growth in the wake of the New York passage of right to counsel for housing cases.
That experience is proving extremely beneficial. While waiting out the admittance process, in addition to her supervised assistance in eviction defense cases, Sally has been involved in LCBH’s advocacy work around Right to Counsel and Just Cause.