Members of the Logan Square community had an active presence on the second floor of City Hall Wednesday, May 1 as the Committee on Housing and Real Estate passed an ordinance to help keep Chicago renters in their homes after their buildings face foreclosure.
Proponents of Keep Chicago Renting (KCR), the coalition that proposed the ordinance, donned orange shirts and held signs protesting “pointless evictions” and abandoned buildings while lead sponsor of the ordinance, Alderman Richard Mell (33rd ward), spoke to press in favor of the ordinance.
“We’re saying, let’s not create more abandoned buildings. Let’s not toss people out on the street without giving them the opportunity, and if the banks do want to toss [the tenants] out, make them pay the tenants,” said Mell to press.
Community members in attendance included three Logan Square aldermen who sit on the Committee on Housing and Real Estate (Ray Suarez, 31st ward; Scott Waguespeck, 32nd ward; and Ariel Reboyras 30th ward) and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), which is a member of KCR. Additionally, renters who have been evicted from their residences or left in buildings without running water and electricity gave their testimonies to the council and urged them to pass the ordinance.
As seen by the presence of boarded windows and overgrown lawns, Logan Square is not a stranger to the foreclosure issue, and KCR is active in helping renters whose buildings face foreclosure in the neighborhood.
“We have been able to do a lot of outreach to homeowners and renters in Logan Square,” said Daniel La Spata, co-chair on housing and land use for LSNA. “In Logan Square a majority of the buildings under foreclosure are multi-unit buildings, so we have been able to do a lot of work with those tenants.”
Current protections allow tenants 90-120 days to remain in their leases before foreclosure eviction is enforced. Many renters lack legal savvy and are played by lenders and banks who knowingly violate tenants’ rights through notices threatening board-ups and eviction. The new ordinance seeks to create a strong disincentive on eviction and explicitly inform renters of their rights as tenants. But what if the property owner or bank absolutely does not want the tenant to remain living there? In the proposed ordinance, they are required to compensate the tenants with $12,000 in relocation fees.
Broken down, the $12,000 includes upfront costs for a new apartment, funds for potential increases in rent, rental application and moving fees, cost of searching for a new apartment, and compensation for disruptions from involuntary moves.
The ordinance, while presenting the option of compensating tenants to leave their homes, has a main goal of establishing a policy solution to keep renters in their homes and avoid the creation of more vacant properties in Chicago, according to La Spata.
Benefits of this ordinance would not only provide assistance to renters being bought out by banks and other services, but also could help reduce crime in neighborhoods plagued by foreclosed buildings.
Although crime in Chicago saw an overall 27 percent decrease from 2005-2012, abandoned buildings and vacant lots have become crime incubators with a 48 percent increase in reported criminal activity in abandoned buildings and vacant lots for the same seven-year span, according to an April 2013 report from the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH).
The report also presents two heat maps that show a distinct “overlap between vacant properties and areas experiencing highest levels of crime.” Of course other components factor in, but it cannot be a ignored that neighborhoods with a vast number of vacant properties also have the highest crime levels.
From 2009-2011, eight percent of Logan Square’s 19,995 rental occupied housing units were impacted by foreclosure, according to LCBH. And our neighbor to the south, Humboldt Park, saw a whopping 20 percent of their 11,125 rental occupied housing units affected by foreclosure in the same three-year span. Sure, Humboldt Park is a different neighborhood, but they are our neighbors and their foreclosure and crime issues really hit close to home.
The ordinance will sit with the Committee on Housing and Real Estate until it is presented to the full City Council. Read the proposed ordinance and keep up to date on its progress here.