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Ordinances would protect voucher holders and require bank accountability to tenants

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

As foreclosures in Chicago skyrocket, aldermen and neighborhood association leaders are working overtime to protect renters’ rights with new legislation.

“We are asking the Cook County Board to amend their housing ordinances,” said Brendan Saunders, director of advocacy and organizing at the Interfaith Housing Center.

The Cook County Human Rights Ordinance currently protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a person’s source of income. However, according to the proposed Amendment, the CCHRO specifically exempts from protection those with “Section 8” Housing Choice Vouchers, which are used to make housing more affordable. Housing providers often refuse to rent to voucher holders as a guise for other types of illegal discrimination, an issue Saunders hopes will disappear once the Ordinance is changed.

The proposed amendment explains that 40 percent of tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers are employed, while 30 percent are senior citizens or individuals living with disabilities. There is no evidence to suggest that those utilizing Choice Vouchers perpetuate crime, yet they remain the most scrutinized of housing applicants.

“Property management should understand the Ordinance and know how to work with it,” said Saunders. “Knowing how to work with tenants, understanding the rules, and being open to tenant concerns and suggestions” are key.

Another proposal for the protection of renters’ rights is the Landlord Tenant Ordinance. According to Diane Limas of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, the Ordinance was founded on the principle of putting an end to the displacement of tenants who have continually abided by their lease agreements, and the prevention of multi-unit buildings from becoming vacant, often leading to an increase in neighborhood violence and crime and an overwhelming sense of destabilization within communities.

The inspiration for the Ordinance came about when one of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council’s healthcare leaders came to work having received an eviction notice the previous day. An individual who never failed to pay his rent, he was mystified as to how this could have occurred. After some investigating, it became clear that his building was indeed in foreclosure, and current tenants were being forced to leave. Further discussion with other neighborhood associations proved that such scenarios have been occurring in large numbers throughout Chicago.

Tenants find themselves in difficult circumstances when the foreclosing lender fails to sell the building quickly. Utilities are shut off. Residents can go weeks or months without heat or water before coming face-to-face with an eviction notice. Thirteen neighborhood associations and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd ward) and Ald. Richard Mell (33rd ward) have formed a coalition in hopes that the Landlord Tenant Ordinance will change this.

If passed, the legislation will force banks and lenders to be held accountable for their actions towards tenants, and ensure quality in the care of the properties they are responsible for. With the encouragement and support of 43 aldermen, the Chicago Corporation Counsel, the Department of Housing and Economic Development, and continual dialogue with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on the subject, there is tremendous optimism that a hearing date will be set for further review.

“There are no losers with this ordinance,” said Limas. “We want families to remain in their homes so that properties are not boarded up.”

Written by Lauren Jensik, StreetWise Contributor

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