City offers free legal representation to low-income Chicago tenants facing eviction

Nationwide, 90% of landlords involved in eviction lawsuits are represented by an attorney. On the tenant side, it’s 10%. No wonder owners have a higher chance of winning.

Now that the eviction moratoriums have expired, City Hall is taking steps to level the playing field.

The Chicago Department of Housing on Monday chose two nonprofit organizations to provide free legal aid to low-income tenants “at risk of or facing eviction or lockout” in Chicago.

The Lawyers Committee for Better Housing will work alongside its partner agencies, Legal Aid Chicago and the Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services. The second group will be led by Beyond Legal Aid.

Both groups will operate under one-year contracts renewable for two additional years, depending on performance. The three-year pilot program will be funded by $8 million in Emergency Rent Assistance Program 2 funds earmarked for “housing stabilization.”

“This project will allow us and our partners to expand our free legal and support services that help stabilize income-constrained tenants who may otherwise become homeless,” said Mark Swartz, executive director of the Lawyers Committee. for Better Housing, quoted in a press. Release.

“Through this investment, Chicago is moving closer to New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and other major cities and states that have enacted a right to counsel in eviction court.”

To qualify for legal assistance, Chicagoans must:

• Being the tenant of a property intended for residential use.

• Have an income equal to or less than 80% of the median income of the region. depending on household size.

• Being part of a household in which someone has “experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship during or as a direct or indirect result” of the coronavirus pandemic.

• Being part of a household in which someone “may demonstrate risk of homelessness or housing instability”.

None of these criteria will be difficult to meet, at least in Chicago neighborhoods dominated by renters, including essential workers hit hard by the pandemic. They were protected by eviction moratoriums that have been extended several times but have now expired.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara called the program a natural extension of her department’s efforts to “expand housing access and choice for all residents, regardless of income or zip code.”

“We are working to ensure that people vulnerable to eviction have the legal representation they need to help them stay in their homes,” Novara said.

Throughout the pandemic, the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing and Beyond Legal Aid has been helping Chicago tenants “stay safely housed,” the commissioner said.

“I am thrilled that we can continue this invaluable partnership to protect Chicago tenants from unnecessary evictions,” Novara said.

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