Renters Still Facing Foreclosure Evictions; Help Arrives, But Is It Enough?

Last week, I wrote about Cook County (Chicago) sheriff Tom Dart angrily suspending evictions of renters from foreclosed buildings; since many of these renters were dutifully paying their rent and may have had no idea and no warning that the building was in foreclosure.

Now, Dart’s department has resumed evictions, but with increased safeguards making sure renters have 120 days notice to find a new apartment. Before banks had to give renters at least 90 days notice, but this often didn’t happen. Now they are required to prove they have made contact with tenants.

Meanwhile grassroots housing groups in Chicago and other major cities continue to struggle to show the impact of the foreclosure crisis on low income renters. It was actually a scrappy neighborhood group which brought the issue to Dart’s attention — the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization also convened a Congress of Tenants in September and has been working to keep the issue in the public eye and make sure renters know their rights.

There are three major ways foreclosures impact renters:

  1. First, when tenants are actually evicted from a foreclosed building. But evictions only happen when the building is considered saleable by the bank.
  1. Second, if the bank doesn’t see selling the building as worth its while, it may just sit in limbo as it is in foreclosure, with the owner abandoning it and tenants left still able to live there but without basic maintenance and often with utilities turned off for non-payment.
  1. Finally, once a building is foreclosed and its tenants evicted, it is taken out of the pool of available rental housing for a significant amount of time, increasing the affordable housing crunch in cities like Chicago.

The Woodstock Institute in May published a comprehensive study on the impact of foreclosures in Chicago, showing a full 35 percent of foreclosures are two to six unit, largely rental buildings, and these foreclosures are concentrated in low-income largely African American neighborhoods on the south and west side of the city.

Meanwhile, this week the MacArthur Foundation announced its ongoing $68 million initiative to help ease the pain of foreclosures, including grants to the Lawyers Committee for Public Housing to help people prevent and deal with foreclosure; and counseling services for people facing foreclosure.

The foreclosure crisis isn’t going away any time soon, and efforts by a variety of actors — public officials like Dart, foundations like MacArthur, analysts like the Woodstock Institute, and perhaps most importantly grassroots groups like the Albany Park Neighborhood Council — will be continue to be crucial even as the issue drops lower on the media radar screen but the ripple effects on communities and families expand.

Kari Lydersen
Kari Lydersen is a staff writer out of The Washington Post midwest bureau and also freelances for publications including The Chicago Reporter and The Progressive. She is the author of three books, including “Revolt on Goose Island” (Melville House Press) released in June 2009. She also teaches Community News at Columbia College and teaches youth journalism in a non-profit program. www.karilydersen.com.

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