Press conference to announce The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance Photo credit: Becky Schultz
"I know that we like to fight. But there are sometimes where we have to sit down and get something done...and we got something big done in the city of Chicago," Ald. Walter Burnett said as he stood in front of dozens of community activists this morning and praised Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and the work of the Chicago for All Coalition at press conference introducing The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance.
The Aragon Arms Hotel at 4917 Kenmore in Uptown. Eligible tenants must prove an $800/month minimum income. Photo credit: Becky Schultz
At the peak of urbanization in 1915, new migrants to Chicago weren't renting apartments or buying houses. Instead, many made a home in one of the city's 3,700 operating single-room and residential hotels (SROs). In the decades since the Gilded Age, the number of SROs has dwindled to 73 licensed residencies. And in the past three years, 2,200 rooms have been lost to a number of private developers buying and converting these properties into market-rate (if not high-end) apartments. Almost 600 residents were displaced without viable housing alternatives.
Last week, the a City Council approved a moratorium (47-0) backed by Mayor Emanuel and a number of aldermen to halt the redevelopment of SROs for six months or until permanent legislation on the issue passes. That leaves 6,000 remaining SRO units--and hundreds of residents--in a state of limbo.
Cook County's housing market has been making a slow comeback in recent years. Still, it's been a fairly uneven recovery. Some neighborhood housing markets have stabilized. Others, not so much.
A new report and interactive map from The Institute for Housing Studies (IHS) at DePaul University looks at current housing market trends and conditions in Chicago and suburban Cook County and shows how the region's diverse housing stock impacts housing recovery across different neighborhoods.
IHS says understanding neighborhood housing stock is critical for effective policy development.
According to the report, "In the City of Chicago and broader suburban Cook County, knowledge of a neighborhood's housing stock takes on particular significance because of the diversity of housing types found in the area and the geographic concentrations of particular types of housing in different communities."
To those who did not live in the Chicago Housing Authority's infamous high rises they were simply tall buildings you stayed away from. The crimes that occurred around the high rises were stories many Chicagoans simply read about in the newspaper or heard about on TV.
The high rise buildings of the CHA housed thousands of people from the 1950s until 2011. In High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing, edited by Audrey Petty and the latest book from Voice of Witness, allows readers to get a glimpse inside of the high rises through oral histories collected from former residents.
The historic Julia C. Lathrop Homes are listed by Preservation Chicago as one of the city's seven most endangered developments and the Chicago Housing Authority will release its final proposal soon, according to a city council staffer.
The CHA will release their final proposal and hold a meeting sometime this month, according to Paul Sajovec, chief of staff to Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward). The agency's board will meet Tuesday, April 16.
"To say there is imminent danger [of demolition] is completely accurate," said Sajovec. "Now is the time if people are concerned with what's happening there."
Located on the 400 block of W. Chicago Ave, the farm, which has been operational for about three years, provides job training, youth employment and volunteer opportunities to residents in Cabrini-Green.
In a statement sent to the congregation on Jan. 26, Calum MacLeod, executive associate pastor at the church, said that the agreement will include a two-year leaseback option at "no leasing cost" to the Fourth. This would allow Chicago Lights -- the church's charitable arm -- to continue operations at the farm during that period, "while alternate sites and opportunities are pursued for the mission outreach currently taking place there," the pastor said. The contract also includes a potential two-year extension.
MacLoed's letter marked the first time that the Fourth has identified terms or a potential buyer for the farm, even after CHA voted to buy the farm's two parcels in November.
The Fourth has stated that it intends to use the farm sale proceeds to help pay for its recently completed Gratz Center, a $42 million addition to its Gold Coast headquarters. The church had hoped to fund the projection by selling the "air rights" above the 142-year-old cathedral to a neighboring developer, but that deal fell through due to resident opposition. The church has been in talks with CHA since 2011, according to the Fourth's website.
The Chicago Lights farm, which originally opened in 2003 as a community garden, sits on a block that was once lined with public housing; today, only a stretch of rowhouses -- mostly condemned, with a few rehabbed -- remain north of the site. Work on the new Jesse White Community Center, planned for the parcel east of the farm, began last summer.
The sale will "be brought to the congregation" at the Fourth's annual meeting on Feb. 10, said MacLeod. A final vote will then by carried by the presbytery.
The Architects Newspaper recently reported on the latest controversy in the ongoing saga of the Lathrop Homes. With new designs pending, community groups and the aldermen associated with the project are in arms. They feel that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has pulled a "bait and switch" for their input in the future of Lathrop. Initially accelerated towards renovation with Lathrop's recent induction into the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, it appears that all three proposed plans don't reflect the desired number of units or a satisfactory level of historic preservation for the CHA's critics.
The CHA seems eager to move forward with one of the proposed plans, not just because the restoration has dragged on since 2001, but because it means they can move on to 21st century developments that favor mixed-income and scattered site properties, and away from the bleak memories of the old projects. To Lathrop's credit, they don't come loaded with terrible memories of other sites such as former Mayor Jane Byrne's failed stint at Cabrini-Green, the stories of police officers fearful of gang barricades in the Robert Taylor Homes, or "Girl X." In fact, in many ways the Lathrop Homes have experienced some levels of success--mainly stemming from the fact that they are surrounded by an affluent community on the North Side of Chicago, and were designed as low-rise units with lots of green space. The Architects Newspaper also points to its diverse population as one of the success factors too, as Lathrop has an even "mix of white, black, and Hispanic residents."
Lathrop's challenges in the past decade have come more from bureaucracy and funding issues than gang violence. The CHA made plans to restore the nearly 75-year-old community back in 2001, but to what degree and ultimate result have still been undetermined. Only now does it seem that action on actually doing something with the project is imminent: completing a restoration or a renovation plan that ultimately puts more residents in homes.
That's the biggest issue with Lathrop. Vacancy. For a big public housing community in Chicago, one regarded as one of the better ones, there just aren't enough people living there. Earlier this year Chicago Magazine wrote about the vacancy issues at Lathrop, where they noted that 82 percent of the units were unused. Many residents have complained that the CHA has purposefully left those units empty, as it's easier to redevelop the site if there's only a small population to displace. Though this policy may be intentional, it also reflects the catch-22 the CHA has been in since it was made clear in 2001 that a major renovation (or demolition) would be on the horizon. As a recent CHA promotional video shows, many units are unlivable. In order for the CHA to lease out these units, they need to get brought up to code. But what's the sense in spending the resources to fix up apartments that might not be around for much longer? The question is how much longer--currently the CHA has a list of residents looking for housing that well exceeds the available units. Every day a vacant unit goes unused at Lathrop that could go to a family in need.
Now, with the recent vote from the CHA board towards construction the homes may be one step closer to having a desirable occupancy.
One thing's for sure. The public housing era that erected developments of towering monolith apartment structures is over. Part of the reason for that is the success that was seen in the Lathrop Homes. Whatever plan the CHA chooses, we're going to see something different and hopefully something remarkable in the next iteration of this community. If you'd like to see for yourself, the CHA will be having open houses this week at the Lathrop Homes to solicit community ideas and feedback.
On Monday, Aug. 6, nearly 200 members and supporters of St. Sylvester Parish marched from their church at 2157 N. Humboldt Blvd. to 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón's office at 2710 N. Sawyer Ave. Holding signs and singing songs of solidarity in English and Spanish, the group picketed for nearly an hour in front of Colón's office, while the alderman held his monthly ward night for constituents.
Claiming their religious freedom had been violated, the protesters rallied over Colón's alleged refusal to help the parish find a way to remove the official Chicago Landmark status of their rectory. While the rectory was designated as a landmark as part of the Logan Square Boulevards District established in 2005, the parish said it never wanted the building in the district, can't afford to maintain it, and would rather tear it down, but can't due to the building's legal protection as a landmark. Furthermore, the parish alleged that the alderman had purposely left his house out of the district, and should use his power as alderman to help St. Sylvester do the same. Meanwhile, a dozen counter-protesters from a group called Logan Square Preservation stood in front of the alderman's office with their own signs and slogans, calling for the preservation of the St. Sylvester rectory's landmark status - and the building itself -- at all costs.
To understand what exactly took place, and why a building typically used to house clergy members even became a historic Chicago landmark, it's necessary to go all the way back to the early history of Logan Square.
At least 20% of Chicago's public housing units are empty, according to an investigation by the evergood Chicago Reporter. It's a shocking number given the lack of affordable housing in the city--but should not be surprising. Over the last two decades, public housing has been the subject of a controlled hunt, with "mixed-income" housing, often resulting in gentrification, an important agent of neoliberalization.
Nearly one in five of the CHA's 21,204 units is unoccupied, the bulk for planning purposes, and that puts the agency at odds with written federal rules, The Chicago Reporter found.
CHA officials justify keeping a majority of the units "offline" because they've fallen into disrepair and could end up in litigation if they're leased out. The officials maintain that they're eligible to continue collecting millions in operating subsidies even though the units are vacant.
But some housing advocates point out that the disrepair is the result of the CHA's own doing. "The issue is not just vacancies," said Carol Steele, a tenant leader representing residents from the North Side's Frances Cabrini Rowhouses, where the occupancy rate slid to 21 percent this year. "The issue is that the CHA is trying to get out of the public housing business."
At 7p.m. tonight, Occupy Chicago will hold its first overnight occupation on the South Side following a general assembly on property owned by New Beginnings Church. The church is hosting the event in conjunction with its own occupation of the derelict Super Motel at 6625 S. Martin Luther King Blvd, which is across the street from its main sanctuary. Its pastor, Corey B. Brooks, has been camping on the roof of the motel for a dozen days and fasting on water alone. He plans on camping on the site until the church raises $450,000 to raze the former motel and build a community center with mixed-use, mixed-income development on site.
Pastor Brooks said that he was "excited" when contacted by Occupy Chicago. "I think that anybody who -- especially when they're not from this area -- wants to come lend support, we've got to be open to that." Ultimately, the pastor hopes that he can play a role mediating between the group and Mayor Emanuel. "I want to have good relations with everybody. We are the church. We're not supposed to be at war with anybody ... We bring about peace."
On a recent sunny afternoon, "John," 25, was hanging out at the Lake Meadows shopping center at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. He is a new resident of the city's oldest black neighborhood, formed in the first quarter of the 20th century by southern migrants searching for better jobs and living conditions in the North. John is also a migrant: he moved to Bronzeville from southwestern China earlier this year. And, in doing so, he became part of the slow breakdown in the racial order of Chicago that has been taking place for the last few decades.
It is not news that this city, like most northern industrial metropolises, is an especially egregious case of American racial segregation. Separation was never explicitly enforced by law, but restrictive housing covenants, social pressure, and violence, both random and coordinated, managed to create very real boundaries outside of which few blacks dared to live. Successive waves of migrants following World War II expanded the black ghetto to encompass much of the south and west sides of the city, while the severity of segregation worsened.
But it is less often noted that since peaking around 1970, black segregation in Chicago has been on a slow, but notable, decline. Now, new data from the 2010 Census gives an in-depth portrait of a still-divided city's tentative steps away from the kind of apartheid that earned it the nickname "Beirut on the Lake" in the 1980s. In neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Woodlawn on the South Side and Garfield Park on the West Side, white, Latino and Asian Chicagoans have cracked open the door to integration. Likewise, black families have started to move into pockets of the northwest and southwest sides where African Americans often made up less than one percent of residents just ten years ago. In some of these places, African American populations have grown by factors of two, three, or even ten since 2000.
The Sun-Timesreported on Thursday that the price of apartment rents is increasing and market studies show that rents will likely rise over the next couple of years. The article also says that the demand for rental units has increased due to the economic downturn and uncertainty about the housing market. The article says that the only neighborhood where a large number of new apartments are being built is in the downtown area.
Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for Chicago's Department of Housing and Economic Development (HED), said that the department does monitor the market prices for apartments. That data is used to help determine the rental rates for the affordable housing HED helps create and maintain.
"When we establish our affordable housing guidelines we have to know what the median retail rates are," Strazzabosco said.
Rates for affordable housing is no more than 80% of the area median retail rates, although the number might be lower than 80% for some units depending on where the funding is coming from.
The City has spent about $2 billion on the creation and maintenance of affordable housing units, which includes properties that are for sale. Strazzabosco said that this year HED is aiming to spend $355 million this year on the creation and preservation of 5,600 rental units.
On any given night there's an estimated 2,000 homeless youth on Chicagoland streets, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago report in 2005. When many people think of youth, they might not consider its definition extending to age 24. But homeless youth that make up emerging adults are also vulnerable to a lack of services and the attention they need while living on the streets. While help in Chicago offers youth a variety of services including food, bedding, showers and support groups, there's not enough to accommodate the need. And many youth have a difficult time adjusting to the responsibilities of this coming of age.
If you've read Christopher Gray's great piece on aggressive home foreclosures over there in the featured column, then you've got a sense of what unscrupulous lenders were doing to grow their business.
Check out this admission from a foreclosure firm in this Tribune piece on a court's decision to halt 1,700 foreclosures because mortgage lenders' counsel were adding pages to affidavits and then re-attaching signature pages, i.e., lying about what customers had agreed to.
The admission to the court by Fisher and Shapiro does not involve rubber-stamping of documents but rather removing the signature page, altering the affidavit's content and reattaching the signature page, the court said.
The changed contents included the addition of attorneys' fees, insurance costs, preservation costs, inspection costs and taxes on the property, costs that may have been incurred before or after the servicer signed the original affidavit, [Judge] Jacobius said in his order dated March 2.
The firm's admission signals a note of caution to purchasers of distressed homes, which represent about 50 percent of local home sales, because of potential lingering legal issues if the title transfer process was faulty.
This would be shocking if it had happened in a few dozen cases, considering the immense financial and personal impact on the families involved. That it has been discovered in this many cases, in one place, is simply unconscionable and tells us something about just how easily powerful financial institutions can ladle burdens on working families dependent on them. Now check out that last sentence! Fifty percent of local home sales may be disturbed by unquieted titles. What a mess.
Zabrina Worthy frets when she talks about losing her house. She never saw how it could happen to her the way it did. Her voice cracked with tears at the first words she spoke to me, over the telephone: "I completely lost everything I had." When they boarded her house, she didn't just lose her home. Her computer, her furniture, her business — all the things she and her three children owned — were locked inside.
Zabrina stands about 5'8". She's 36, her face is round and coffee-colored, and when I visit her, she often smiles, in spite of her ordeal. She bought the two-story bungalow at 72nd and Sawyer in Chicago Lawn for just over $200,000 in 2004, and moved there with her three children after divorcing her second husband.
By 2008, she was making $4,000 a month, filling two jobs — nights as a security guard at McCormick Place and days as a school bus driver. She needed to keep both jobs till her small business transporting social service clients for the state of Illinois got off the ground. She employed her son, Bruce, and her new husband to drive two vans, chauffeuring her customers. "The transportation business could have been big. Chicago is a big place — they are overloaded getting people around," she said.
By the summer of 2008, the money from her business loan ran out, and the state had fallen three months behind in paying her. In August, her Wells Fargo home loan suddenly shot up from $1,500 to about $2,200, and she couldn't make up the difference. That fall, she put her house on the market, and she says she tried to get Wells Fargo to modify her loan. She geared herself for a move she did not want to make.
One morning in December 2008, four months later, the kids left for school, and she left to drive her school bus route. When Zabrina came home from work, her windows were boarded up, the locks on the doors were changed; she had no way to get in. "When I left, I just had my clothes on my back for work," she says. Her two younger children were left in their school uniforms. Her computers and paperwork for her business were also lost inside. "I had never been homeless in my life, but after that, I was." They never lived in the house again.
The recently released census data on the changing demographics in Chicago showed dramatic shifts in a number of neighborhoods. The Chicago News Cooperativestory last month on the changes focused on a number of striking elements, including an 11 percent loss in the city's African American population on the South and West Sides and the replacement of white ethnics by Latino immigrants in the bungalow belt.
Some of the most dramatic changes in the city, however, were seen in Logan Square on the Northwest Side. The neighborhood, long known as affordable and diverse, has become the "it" 'hood over the last few years, with swanky restaurants, chill coffee shops, and hip bars throwing open their doors faster than you can say "mustachioed fixed gear cyclist."
Sweet Home Chicago, a coalition of housing advocates, continue their push to use tax increment financing (TIF) funds to purchase and rehab foreclosed properties and provide them as affordable housing. This seems like a reasonable idea; no need to reinvent the wheel, though, I'll just go ahead and quote Progress Illinois' Micah Maidenburg who said it so well:
Foreclosures radiate outward. Lawns don't get mowed, maintenance is deferred, and empty homes with boarded-up windows are prime targets for vandalism. Property values decline -- each home within 250 feet of a foreclosure loses 1 percent of its value due to the dispossess, according to one study, and the worth of the seized home itself sinks by 27 percent. When a few foreclosures cluster on a single block, entire neighborhoods swing into reverse. Gloria Warner, a member of the community group Action Now, described at a press conference yesterday how foreclosures are socking her community in West Englewood:
On its face, the proposal would ameliorate the social repercussions of the foreclosure crisis, while also achieving to some degree "scattered site" affordable housing, which is key to breaking the pattern of ghettoizing the city by social class and race. There is some evidence that residents have more incentive to take care of and protect their residences in scattered-site programs.
One question that comes to mind: would relying on TIF money to maintain a scattered-site housing program prevent needed reforms to the TIF program?
By Katherine Tellez, Julie Sammarco and Mollie Zubek
NOTE: Children's names have been changed to protect their identities.
Kindergartner Nina Phillips uses the whiteboard to do her work. Adam Conway says HOPES tries to provide as many learning materials as they can, though says, it's not the ideal situation. Photo by Julie Sammarco
On a typical weekday, Chicagoans will pass dozens of children with their backpacks heading to school.
Stepping out of the elevator onto the 14th floor of the Richard J. Daley Center, Sheriee Woodland was greeted by a world-famous panorama of high-rise architecture.
The Chicago Temple Building, Holabird & Root's 23 story, neo-Gothic masterpiece; Kohn Pederson Fox's "Birthday Cake Building" at 311 S. Wacker; and The Legacy, Solomon Cordwell and Buenz's 72-story condominium tower of ocean-blue glass, were a few of the many well-maintained buildings that looked back through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
But Woodland was at the Daley Center because of a different high-rise. She was on her way to eviction court.
Mayor Daley announced this week that Andrew Mooney would be taking over the newly created Department of Housing and Economic Development in an interim capacity.
Mooney was appointed by former Mayor Jane Byrne (1979-83) to take over the Chicago Housing Authority shortly after the notorious Charles Swibel was ousted. Mooney was only 30 at the time. In his book Fire on the Prairie, Chicago Reader reporter Gary Rivlin wrote this about Mooney's appointment:
Worse still was the man Byrne chose to take Swibel's place, a thirty-year-old named Andrew Mooney. Swibel had hired Mooney the previous year to serve as executive director, and the same HUD report that scored Swibel criticized Mooney as ill-prepared to contend with the serious fiscal, administrative, and physical problems confronting hte CHA. Mooney had no managerial experience or any management training, and he acknowledged as much when he confessed to a HUD investigator that he had been appointed primarily because of loyalty to the mayor....The furor that followed was as intense as it was predictable. Hundreds amassed at City Hall on the day the three appointees were scheduled to appear before the City Council. Some arrived as early as 7 A.M., but few were granted a seat inside. The doors were not opened to the public until the council chambers were already packed with city employees slipped in through a side door. Byrne ducked out a back door after the vote, eluding both the public and the press. When demonstrators gathered outside Byrne's apartment, she had them arrested.
Mooney is 58 now, and in Mayor Daley's Chicago, probably significantly less concerned about people turning out to protest a Mayoral appointment to head a major City Department. It will be interesting to watch the docket of proposals coming before the Department of Housing and Economic Development as various parties anticipate the changing of the guard on the Fifth Floor. It will also be interesting to see if Mayoral hopefuls like Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico meet with Mooney in the "interim."
This article was submitted by Keeanga-Yamahatta Taylor
ON OCTOBER 14, members of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC), in an act of protest and street theater, presented Cook County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Tom Dart, with a six-foot-tall "five-day notice."
A five-day notice is a court order given to tenants that declares they have five days to pay their rent or risk being taken to eviction court. The CAEC's five-day notice gave Dart five days to "halt...the dozens of evictions processed by his office each day."
Approximately 100 evictions are carried out in Cook County each day. Moreover, there has been an almost 70 percent increase in the number of foreclosure filings in the county. Thirty percent of all foreclosures are on non-owner occupied property--meaning they are rental property. In fact, the impact of foreclosures on tenants prompted Dart to levy a moratorium on evictions for two weeks in 2008.
News stories uncovered how landlords who were in foreclosure and on the brink of losing their property neglected to tell their tenants while they were still collecting rent. Renters were coming home to find their belongings piled on the sidewalk, having no idea that their landlords had been using them like ATM machines.
Chicago consistently ranks among the most racially segregated cities in the country--which shouldn't surprise anyone who has traversed the city with their eyes open. But Chicago Breaking News is reporting a particularly bold case of alleged racial discrimination by two white homeowners in the Bridgeport neighborhood who, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed to sell a home to a black couple for $1.7 million, then inexplicably took the home off the market.
According to the complaint, Lowe [the sellers' real estate agent] said in an interview while under oath that while he was representing the Sabbias [the sellers], Daniel Sabbia told Lowe "he would prefer not to sell the home to an African-American, though he qualified the testimony, saying 'but if it was for the right price he did not care who bought the house.' "
George Willborn, a local comedian who was attempting to buy the house with his wife, summed up his feelings on the case:
"It's amazing that in 2010, in this day and age, this type of thing is still going on."
This September 22-24, architects, affordable housing activists, developers, educators and government officials will be gathering at the University of Illinois at Chicago for the Architecture for Change Summit. Aimed at addressing the affordable housing crisis, the summit will be linking together affordable housing design advocacy with the affordable housing movement.
Your background is in architecture and you teach in the architecture school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and you also have a rich background in activist architectural practice. But architects usually aren't viewed as activist. What attracted you to the idea of activist architectural practice?
Most people aren't activists, architects included.
Cabrini-Green housing project residents won't be left out on the streets just yet. The Chicago Housing Authority just announced its retraction of a 30-day eviction notice originally posted to residents of some of the last remaining Cabrini-Green buildings in May. The evictions, which were originally deemed "emergency evictions" because of the high crime rate and low residency in the building, were nullified in response to pressure from District Court Judge William Hibbler, reports True/Slant's Megan Cottrell.
The eviction would have left residents like Dirreatha Smith, a mother of four with too much income to qualify for new housing projects but too little to find an apartment in an equally good neighborhood, in housing limbo in just four days.
But the CHA's emergency eviction notices were issued in bad faith. Initially, the CHA had issued mandatory 180-day eviction notices to the residents of the building, but upon pressure from the community, it allowed for residents to move voluntarily. As a natural response to the CHA's request for voluntary relocations, the population in the building began to dwindle to, currently, only 30 families. The diminished residency in the building allowed for the CHA to issue those emergency evictions, and some believe the entire process was planned from the start.
Maggie crosses herself as we drive past St. Rita's on 63rd Street. She is taking me around the neighborhood to see the board ups.
Maggie Perales is an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). Her work for SWOP connects the divergent interests throughout the southwest side of Chicago. She has advocated for educational initiatives, immigrant rights, violence reduction and most relevant now, mortgage reform.
This is ground zero for the financial meltdown. Over the past two years, four zip codes in the southwest side have seen 6,100 foreclosures. The wreckage is everywhere. Every block seems to have a least one house boarded up by the bank; the previous owners long since gone.
Some blocks have five or more board ups. One block; the houses abandoned and cringing as the streets take over.
The Trib reported Monday that the Chicago Housing Authority is reopening the waiting list for public housing that it closed in 1999. Five thousand families are still on that list--families who make less than 80 percent of their area median income.
The article does not give any estimates on how many families will apply to the list, but if the recently reopened Section 8 waiting list is any indication, demand will far outstrip supply.
"In 2008 the CHA opened up its waiting list for Section 8 housing, which provides vouchers to help people pay for rent with federal and state money. For that waiting list, about 232,000 people applied for 40,000 slots," the article said.
"I have no doubt the waiting list will just explode," he said.
Chicago has been part of what Hunt called an "affordable housing crisis nationwide" for many years, and the city's attempts to mitigate the crisis are held up as how not to provide housing for poor residents. But with 5,000 low-income families still waiting for public housing after more than a decade and a ratio of Section 8 applicants-to-openings of nearly six to one, how are poor families in Chicago keeping a roof over their heads?
"I have no idea," said Hunt. "They're paying a lot of rent somewhere."
Carol Vialdores, the Rogers Park mother of five who was facing eviction from her subsidized apartment, has won her case and will stay in her apartment. Her trial ended after two days in court, and she was found not guilty of the four charges of lease violation brought against her by management at Northpoint, the Howard-area apartment complex where she lives.
Organizers from the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) mobilized the community in support of Vialdores and her family. Holly Krig, a volunteer organizer for the CAEC, said the victory is a huge step forward.
"It builds momentum for the larger campaign," she explained. "People can now see that they absolutely can fight back and win. There are 3,300 pending evictions in Chicago. The more we fight back, the better chance we have on winning a moratorium on all economic-related evictions."
Krig attributed the victory to Vialdores being a "fantastic organizer."
"I told [the court] the truth," Vialdores said. "They didn't have any evidence against me. I've been living there for 16 years, and all of a sudden [management is] saying this stuff about me? No way."
Northpoint management declined to comment.
Now assured she and her family won't be evicted, Carol plans to do some work on her home.
"We're gonna paint my apartment and get some new furniture," she said.
Update: The Vialdores family had their day in court--and won.
Carol Vialdores and her children have lived in Rogers Park for 16 years. Currently residing near the Chicago-Evanston border off of Howard Street, the family has never lived anywhere besides the Far North Side.
"The kids have never changed schools," she says. "It's where they've spent their whole lives."
Vialdores and three of her children. Photo by Megan Cottrell.
Vialdores, 41, and her five children, ages five to 19, live at the Northpoint Apartments. For now. The Vialdores family is facing an eviction. Northpoint management claim Vialdores violated several aspects of her lease, including threatening a manager, and are attempting to remove her and her children from their home. She and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) say her eviction is a response to her active role in organizing with a tenants union at Northpoint for better living conditions, and are mobilizing with community members and other tenants to demand the family be left in their home.
Vialdores and Northpoint began their trial this week. The verdict will determine whether or not the family will get to keep a roof over their heads.
Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series on housing by Keeanga-Yamahatta Taylor. Read part one.
In the spring of 1968, in Presentation Church on the West Side of Chicago, a Black woman named Ruth Wells became known as the "Rosa Parks of Lawndale."
In a hastily organized meeting by Jesuit seminarians, Wells stood up and told of how she and her husband were being financially crushed under the burden of trying to keep up with monthly contract payments to pay off their house.
In Chicago, as a result of racism and redlining, it was virtually impossible for African Americans to get a standard mortgage with affordable interest rates. Instead, Blacks were often forced to purchase their homes "on contract" -- the way one would buy a refrigerator or television. Unlike mortgage holders, who build equity in their homes, contract buyers were considered tenants. If they missed a payment, they could be evicted.
The growing number of mortgage foreclosures in African American communities has not only created a housing crisis among Black homeowners, but one for Black renters in properties where the owner has defaulted as well.
According to several recent news reports, the number of foreclosures on multifamily rental dwellings across the country is growing. The Washington Post noted that in Washington, D.C., some 475 foreclosure proceedings were initiated against owners of multifamily rental properties during the first three quarters of 2009, versus 458 for all of 2008.
In Los Angeles, 78 buildings with five or more units--a total of 1,344 units--were in foreclosure in the first three quarters of 2009, versus 49 buildings with 432 units in all of 2008 and 13 buildings in 2007.
In New York City, housing experts predict that between 50,000 and 100,000 units of housing are at risk because of "upside down loans"--that is, when owners owe more on their mortgages than the value of the property.
The Post also noted that across the country, between 65 and 75 percent of multifamily buildings could "face problems refinancing at their current rates," raising the specter of a wave of foreclosures directly affecting the rental market. In Chicago, the Chicago Reporter found that two of every three small apartment buildings foreclosed upon are in African American neighborhoods.
Of course, the wave of foreclosures has already had a particularly harsh impact on African American renters. Blacks, especially women, are especially vulnerable to the perils of evictions, and the foreclosure crisis has made that danger even more acute.
For example, the research of sociologist Mathew Desmond on evictions in Milwaukee has shown that while Black women make up 13 percent of the population in the city, they account for more than 40 percent of those who are evicted from rental residences. The New York Times noted similar numbers in other cities.
Many of these evictions of renters are the result of unemployment and other problems created by the recession. But the foreclosure crisis has affected renters who are able to pay their rent.
SEIU Health Care Illinois-Indiana, an SEIU "megalocal" that emerged after the fusion of Locals 4, 880, and 20, is taking to the airwaves to remind people of the costs of cutting programs like home care:
The ad's message portends just how grievous the cuts to social services will be if the public attitude towards public spending--vilified by anti-public zealots for generations--aren't improved. More than 50,000 senior citizens in Illinois are cared for by home care workers, allowing them to stay out of (expensive) retirement homes and maintain some of the dignity of living in their own home.
The Chicago Reporter's editor, Kimbriell Kelly, provided testimony to a joint state and city hearing convened by the Latino Policy Forum and Spanish Coalition for Housing yesterday detailing the Reporter's research on home foreclosure's in Chicago's neighborhoods. Kelly's testimony is a challenging reminder of the depth of the crisis and the long-term ramifications for Chicago's neighborhoods of dysfunctional financial regulations--and not just for homeowners, for renters, as well.
A small portion of her testimony follows; follow the link above, as the text provides links to sources:
Much of the foreclosure crisis that we're seeing stems from subprime lending. Back in November 2007, we broke a story that the Chicago metro area led the nation with the most high-cost loans. We analyzed millions of records from the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and found that it was the third consecutive year that the Chicago area held this distinction. Minorities carried the greater burden. Combined, African American and Latino homeowners received nearly 50 percent of all high-cost loans in 2006 compared to nearly 22 percent of prime-rate loans.
As many of you might already know, the office of Governor Quinn is accepting suggestions online about what should be included in the forthcoming budget, which Quinn is scheduled to announce on March 10.
Hannah Willage, organizer of the Speakers Bureau for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, sent out an e-mail recently to supporters asking that they write in and tell Quinn "that cuts to homelessness prevention, homeless services, child care, education, and other human services are unacceptable."
In her e-mail, Willage suggests going to this link and contributing this sample message:
"It is unacceptable to cut programs for homeless people and programs providing essential human services to people in Illinois. We need a tax increase to provide the necessary revenue to fund human services in our state."
Unfortunately, the budget forecast looks mighty grim for human rights agencies -- according to the Tribune, among Quinn's proposed $2 billion in cuts, "human services programs would take a $400 million hit and public safety would lose $69 million."
An ad hoc group of community activists and community groups have come together to ask the city to hold a public hearing on the use and disbursement of federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds:
About a year ago, the City of Chicago received $55 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization funds with the expectation of leveraging an additional $58 million in private financing. The proceeds were to be used to purchase 425 abandoned foreclosed properties for rental and for sale housing in 25 neighborhoods most heavily impacted by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. An additional 100 dilapidated properties were to be purchased for demolition with the resulting vacant lots to be land banked and sold to developers and not for profit developers to build new homes. While HUD guidelines provide that essentially all NSP funds be committed within 18 months, public records indicate that 12 properties have been acquired to date. HUD announced on January 14, 2010 that Chicago will get an additional $98 million in Recovery funding to continue the program in the upcoming year.
The group, Chicago Citizens for Neighborhood Stabilization, has penned a letter to City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate chairman Alderman Ray Suarez (31st) asking him to help initiate a public hearing on the NSP funds: