Roughly 150 homeowners, tenants, neighbors and occupiers came together for a lively town hall meeting in Chicago last night to call for a one-year moratorium on economically-motivated (i.e., profit-driven) evictions. Invited guests included Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Over 20 adults and children living in all types of housing arrangements – public and private market – shared glimpses into their daily struggles for dignity and stability in the place they call home. Each family’s commitment to keep fighting was answered by a thundering rally from attendees, chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight! ‘Cause housing is a human right!”
Homeowners told stories of banks filing fraudulent documents in court, facing economic hardships while trying to keep a roof over their children’s’ heads, and the banks’ unwillingness to work with them. “Tom Dart look at me!,” demanded one senior battling with cancer and to keep the home her family has owned for three generations, “The banks are doing things that if we did, we’d go to prison!” Sheriff Dart agreed, but claimed his hands were tied. Tenants in foreclosed buildings also reported intimidation from the banks in hopes they’d move.
Public housing residents and one senior couple experiencing homelessness (he’s a war vet), provided a grim reality-check on the City’s dismal record of protecting its residents’ right to basic, decent and affordable housing. “I can’t afford market rent,” said one senior on a fixed-income. In fact, a majority of renters in Chicago can’t afford it; 293,976 Chicagoans are at-risk of losing their housing, should their rents increase (which is likely) or should an unexpected loss of income or medical expense arise.
Other testifiers added to the bleak tale. “The shelters are overflowing.” “1 in 5 public housing units are empty!” Indeed, the City has allowed much-needed units to sit vacant, while 90,000 Chicagoans are homeless, and has continued to move forward with its “Plan for Transformation,” demolishing or privatizing all of its permanently affordable, public housing stock in the name of market fundamentalism.
It is this treatment of housing as a commodity, and not a fundamental human need and unalienable right, that organizers from the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Communities United Against Foreclosures and Evictions, and Centro Autonomo, brought to the forefront last night. All three groups work with families facing eviction and homelessness to achieve the stability at home they deserve simply by virtue of being human. They understand that housing is far too important to be the privilege of those who can afford it. Rather, it’s the foundation of family stability and community.
The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign has helped secure two month-long moratoriums in 2008 and 2010. Since, things have only gotten worse.
In addition to an across-the-board moratorium, the coalition of groups called on County officials to personally tour the hard-hit neighborhoods of the South and West sides of Chicago, where entire blocks have been left vacant with not a family left who hasn’t been evicted. They also demanded a task force be formed to develop community-based solutions.
In the end, County officials committed to nothing. In fact, County Board President Preckwinkle claimed the County has little to do with housing, making no mention of the resolution she helped pass in June, which allowed her to form an advisory committee with the goal of establishing a countywide land bank. The land bank would have the power to acquire (and clean cloudy) titles to foreclosed vacant homes and release them back into the market. Despite the central public role in the land bank strategy, the end game appears to be ensuring marketability and not meeting the growing immediate and long-term needs of residents. The initial proposal for a land bank, issued by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer’s office, states, “it is critical that property is made available to the market on terms more familiar to private developers.”
Residents and activists present at last night’s town hall vow they will keep fighting and building the movement necessary to change the way the City and County approach housing, meanwhile they will – as J.R. Fleming, Chairman of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign says it – “enforce our human right to housing.”