Eviction Notice

By Darryl Holliday

Silvia Baca couldn’t have known what to expect when she emigrated here from Mexico 10 years ago, but she sounds certain of what she’ll do next. Baca, her husband and their three daughters moved to Chicago in 2001 and were able to buy a home in the city’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood in 2005. The eviction notice came five years later, when they were ordered to vacate the home by Dec. 4 of last year.

Baca, her husband and their three daughters moved to Chicago in 2001 and were able to buy a home in the city’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood in 2005. The eviction notice came five years later, when they were ordered to vacate the home by Dec. 4 of last year.

Though Baca’s oldest daughter now lives in Mexico, the younger two, ages 17 and 13, attend school close to home. Her 17-year-old daughter attends Foreman High School and wants to join the army when she graduates. According to Baca, she currently gets good grades, though when the family has moved in the past her grades have suffered. Baca fears this could happen again if the family is forced to uproot to a new neighborhood.

A year ago, the family was forced to move into the basement of their two-story brick home to help pay the mortgage. Tenants now rent the three upper-floor rooms of their home.

“I want to do something—anything—to keep my house,” said Baca, who is trying to amass the correct amount of money that she owes on the home.

A similar story, with varying outcomes, can apply to thousands of Chicago residents who have been left on the brink of losing

their homes.

As many residents were displaced during the peak of the recession, attention to the issues faced by evicted residents grew.

Many anti-eviction groups now fear that new foreclosure data suggests that a rise in evictions looms.

Foreclosures have continued to rise since 2007, a period in which the Cook County Circuit Court recorded a 70 percent surge in filings. Though a plateau in foreclosures was expected during the end of 2010 because of a self-imposed moratorium by U.S. banks, 2011 may see its expected continuance.

“This is a situation that is getting worse,” said Keeanga Taylor, organizer for the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. “[Evictions] combined with the assault on public housing leaves the real palpable question: Where are poor people and working people supposed to live?”

According to Taylor, the grassroots organization aims to create awareness of individual’s rights in the face of eviction and alleviate the social isolation that can come with ejection from one’s home. They intend to build a citywide movement to stop evictions.

According to RealtyTrac Inc., the largest online marketplace for foreclosure properties in the U.S., 49,723 Illinois homes were repossessed by banks in 2010. The majority of these proceedings (27,522) were filed in Cook County following the initial foreclosure notice. More than 1.05 million homes were repossessed nationwide during that

same period.

The flow of properties going into bank repossession increased substantially from 2005 to 2007, according to a 2008 report from the Woodstock Institute. In that period, the percentage of homes moving from the auction phase of foreclosure into bank repossession grew from 64 percent to nearly 96 percent.

A 2010 report from the Woodstock Institute states that thousands of vacant foreclosures threaten to destabilize Chicago’s neighborhoods and may cost the city as much as $36 million. Because of a lack of oversight of vacant properties following foreclosure, abandoned homes can lower property values, attract crime and cause blight, posing substantial risk to surrounding communities, according to the report.

Baca has seen some of this firsthand. When she and her husband, a Chicago plumber, first moved into their neighborhood, they estimated no more than two of the homes were empty. She now estimates 20 to 25 of the homes have been vacated for various reasons, including foreclosure.

Though a foreclosure does not necessarily result in the eviction of a resident, a rise of foreclosures in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and a 20 percent jump in Chicago-area foreclosures last year could signal the beginning of a resurgence in home loss for many families.

According to Douglas Pensack, associate director of the Illinois Tenant Union, a change in the composition of evictions has followed Chicago’s relatively high unemployment rate and poor economy.

“The racial composition is changing … five years ago I’d say 98 percent of all [eviction court] defendants were black—very few Hispanics and very few whites—now you see a smattering of both in addition to black[s],” Pensack said.

Though Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart imposed a moratorium on certain city evictions in October 2010, it ended a month later. Prior to that, some of the country’s largest banks, including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Ally Financial admitted to “robo-signing” thousands of foreclosure applications without having the proper information to do so.

The scandal called attention to a process that many anti-eviction organizations and anti-eviction lawyers said is decidedly in favor of property owners at the expense of

renters and homeowners.

Baca met with Dart in December of last year but remains steeped in court dates and lawyer fees.

Evictions court is, by law, an expedited process. There are five full-time eviction judges at the Daley Plaza Civic Center, 118 N. Clark St., who hear eviction cases five days a week. This roughly equals 50 court calls a week, which can see approximately 20 to 40 cases at each call—the average eviction case lasting under three minutes.

“The judges themselves see their role as evicting tenants,” Pensack said. “And they do a pretty good job of it—they move people through pretty quick. It’s more like an administrative proceeding than a court proceeding—like parking tickets, only we’re not talking about parking tickets, we’re talking about people’s homes.”

Chris Wren, a West Side warehouse worker also facing potential eviction, agrees.

Wren told his landlord he didn’t want to go to court but ended up there on Feb. 1. He was forced to take time off of work because of illness at the end of last year, winding up one month late on his rental payment.

According to Wren, papers notifying him of his eviction were not served and he wasn’t notified until it was almost too late.

“It’s like a big business,” he said, before approaching Cook County Circuit Court Judge Linzey D. Jones for his hearing. “They don’t have mercy on you.”

Wren’s Near West Side neighborhood is largely comprised of subsidized housing, and like Baca’s, it has seen an undue amount of residents forced to move for a variety of reasons.

“You’ve gotta eat,” Wren said, summarizing the cycle of expenses that can lead to the loss of one’s home or apartment. “This job market is not what it should be and everyone needs a decent place to live.”

While having a devastating effect on families, the consequences of foreclosure on Chicago’s communities may be nearly as destructive.

The far-reaching effect of foreclosure further heightens a need to keep people in their homes, according to Rebecca McDannald, volunteer supervisor at the Metropolitan Tenants Organization in Chicago.

“Obviously there’s the problem of people losing their housing, but in addition there are several things that compound to make things worse,” she said. “One of those things is that homeless shelters fill up—they aren’t always available year-round—another is there’s no way of expunging an eviction off of your record.”

While many housing analysts predict the housing crisis will peak this year, many anti-eviction groups are strengthening their guard. According to RealtyTrac Inc., 9,134 default notices were issued in Illinois in December of last year—more than any other month in 2010.

Facing potential evictions, many residents are refusing to relocate from their homes.

“We have options,” Baca said. “We’re planning to hold a rally on Feb. 28 to let these banks know we’re still here and we’re not going to move. We will fight for our house and we’re going to win.”

With the support of organizations, such as the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, residents in the city are becoming more aware of their housing rights. According to Taylor, an anti-eviction campaign can make it increasingly difficult for property owners to evict residents by prolonging the eviction process and strengthening the voice of individuals.

Citing predatory lending and other fraudulent activity on the part of banks, the campaign seeks to support residents who have been victimized by such practices.

A broader concern regarding the city’s underserved population remains, despite the success and increase in quality of life that comes when families are held together in their homes.

As more and more low-income, largely minority residents are forced to leave the city because of high unemployment, foreclosures and a lack of funding for subsidized housing, among others, evictions tie into a larger housing issue.

“We feel this is a fundamental social right—a fundamental human right—that can unite people across living conditions, so that, collectively, we can fight for a whole new understanding of what housing should be in the city,” Taylor said.

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