Key bloc of state legislators back win-win solution on Chicago transfer tax proposal to reduce city’s deficit and homelessness epidemic

33 Democrats call on Mayor Lightfoot to work with advocates on compromise bill 

SPRINGFIELD — Representing a significant voting bloc, 33 Democratic state lawmakers – 20 in the Illinois House of Representatives and 13 in the State Senate – introduced a bill today in a renewed effort to strike a compromise with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and advocates working to address the budget deficit while also creating major dedicated funding to address homelessness in Chicago.

The legislation (Senate Bill 3243 and House Bill 4826) preserves all of the money that Lightfoot is seeking to trim the city’s budget deficit while generating a projected $79 million to curb homelessness, which now afflicts more than 86,000 Chicagoans. The legislation would modify Lightfoot’s quest to increase the Chicago’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), adjusting proposed rates assessed on the properties sold for more than $3 million, while extending a tax cut to 96% of average annual property sales in the city.  

The bill largely parallels a concept championed by a group of Illinois senators during last fall’s veto session, when Lightfoot’s bid for General Assembly approval of the tax increase faltered due, in part, to the qualms of legislators who want the measure to fund affordable and supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness in concert with reducing the budget gap. 

Lightfoot, herself, embraced a proposed RETT increase to unleash new funding to combat homelessness while campaigning for mayor.  This is one reason state legislators believe a compromise could be possible with her administration.

“We can’t emphasize enough that this legislation will produce a win-win outcome that would significantly reduce homelessness in our city and help address the city’s budget deficit,” said State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8th). “Along with several of my colleagues and the Bring Chicago Home coalition, I look forward to collaborating with both the mayor and the governor to get this done.”

The legislation is estimated to yield $88 million that would be pledged to deficit reduction and $79 million dedicated to shrinking homelessness. To amass those revenues, the bill would honor the core integrity of Lightfoot’s proposal to charge a transfer tax on a graduated scale, adjusting the rates applying to only two tiers of high-end property sales.

For sales over $3 million, the bill would increase the rate from 2% to 2.8%, applying only to the portion of the transaction between $3 million and $10 million. For sales over $10 million, it would increase the rate from 2.55% to 4%, applying only to the portion of the transaction exceeding $10 million. 

For all other sales tiers, the rates would remain identical to Lightfoot’s proposal, ensuring a tax cut for properties purchased for less than $1 million – equivalent to 96% of the city’s average annual real estate transactions.

Conversations between legislators, advocates, and the mayor’s office are ongoing, but no agreement has been reached.  State legislators hope the introduction of the bill will be an impetus to bring the two sides closer together.  

“If passed, this bill will create resources for affordable housing that will help shrink the shortage of 120,000 affordable units in the city of Chicago and have a significant impact on reducing homelessness,” said State Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-4th), the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. “At the same time it will give a tax cut to 96% of property transactions in the city and preserve the mayor’s progressive tax structure. Now is the time to come together to get this done.”  

While aid to the homeless has increased marginally during the Lightfoot administration, it still ranks near the bottom among the 10 U.S. cities with the largest homeless populations, accounting for only .08% percent of what New York City allocates to the problem and 6% percent of what Los Angeles spends.  

 Meanwhile, homelessness in Chicago continues unchecked, affecting nearly 14,000 people who are currently working, more than 18,000 who have some college education, and more than 20,000 children, many of them struggling to stay in school, according to a 2019 analysis compiled by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

FOR A COMPLETE  LIST OF ALL 33 LAWMAKERS SPONSORING THE LEGISLATION, CLICK HERE

 

 

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to mark 40 years of advocacy at May 1 celebration

Knowing we stand stronger together, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless will mark 40 years of organizing and advocating at an evening celebration on Friday, May 1.

“No Place Like Home: Celebrating 40 Years of Advocacy” will be hosted at Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St., in Chicago.

Early Bird tickets are $125 until April 1. They can be purchased through this link.

CCH is proud of the roster of sponsors lined up in support of our work. Many thanks to lead sponsor Baker McKenzie, and to our Associate-level sponsors – Fifth Third Bank, actor John Cusack and the JPC Foundation, attorney Marta Delgado and Sam Nandi, Muriel Quinn and Robert Pasin, and Revolution Brewing.

Sponsorship opportunities continue, with information available from Michael Nameche.

On May 1 we will celebrate what’s been accomplished by CCH since 1980, such as proposing and securing yearly funding for homeless prevention grants. Those grants that have helped almost 120,000 Illinois households over 20 years.

“We’re also excited about the work underway,” said Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg. “Be it our advocacy in the city and state, our legal assistance to people throughout the Chicago region, or our community organizing and leadership development with our amazing grassroots leaders and service provider partners.”

CCH chose a Wizard of Oz theme for its May 1 event, being held from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

“The traditional gift for a 40th anniversary is rubies – think of the ruby red slippers,” explained Director of Development Michael Nameche. “The yellow brick road symbolizes our grassroots leaders and staff marching into action in CCH’s signature bright yellow shirts. Plus, we have the courage, the heart, and the brains necessary to deliver permanent solutions to homelessness.”

And just like Dorothy, we know CCH wouldn’t have made a successful journey without help!

Thanks also to CCH’s other sponsors:

  • Advocate Sponsors – Archer Daniels Midland, Dexter Magnetic Technologies, and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP
  • Stakeholder Sponsors – Blistex, Inc., CIBC Bank, and Tom and Anne Lysaught
  • Supporter Sponsors – AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Flexera, Dem Hopkins, Domu, and Susan Lloyd

 

Formerly homeless tenant sues, class action challenges collection of unlawful attorney’s fees

Complaint contends property managers and debt collectors unlawfully seek attorney’s fees when evicting tenants, in violation of Chicago’s landlord-tenant ordinance.

Chicago – A formerly homeless tenant filed a federal class action lawsuit Friday against Draper & Kramer, Inc., a property management company, and IQ Data, Inc., a debt collector.

Plaintiff Yasmine Lamar is represented by attorneys from the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and the National Consumer Law Center. They argue on behalf of a class that Draper & Kramer sought unlawful attorney’s fees in connection with her eviction and that IQ Data sought to collect those fees in violation of state and federal consumer protection laws.

Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance prohibits landlords from charging attorney’s fees in connection with an eviction, yet Ms. Lamar alleges she was charged nearly $500 in fees. Ms. Lamar also alleges that the unlawful debt was reported to credit bureaus, damaging her credit.

The lawsuit alleges that this practice is widespread and could impact hundreds of tenants.

“Unlawful fees, like the ones charged by the defendants, make it that much harder for Chicago tenants to access and maintain stable housing,” said Mary Frances Charlton, a CCH attorney representing Ms. Lamar.

“Some former tenants may have paid attorney fees they don’t owe as a result of this unlawful practice,” said Charles Delbaum, a senior staff attorney also representing Ms. Lamar for the National Consumer Law Center.

Ms. Lamar described how the alleged collection practices impacted her life, saying that debt collectors “have called me from numerous numbers after being blocked, telling me that I always have excuses for not paying my debt, even though I don’t owe them attorney’s fees. This has made a very stressful time in my life much worse.”

Ms. Lamar and the class are seeking actual and punitive damages for what is alleged to be widespread violations of consumer protection laws.

 

State, DuPage County will not enforce panhandling law as lawsuit moves forward

Illinois State Police and the DuPage County States Attorney’s Office have agreed to stop enforcing a state law prohibiting roadside panhandling in Illinois while a lawsuit challenging the law moves forward.

Clients Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons filed the lawsuit in August 2019, represented by the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), ACLU of Illinois, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin.

State police and the DuPage states attorney’s office agreed to a preliminary injunction, filed Jan. 14 by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman in Chicago. Under the injunction, the agencies may not enforce a section of a state statute that bars asking for money from people in vehicles during the duration of the litigation.

“For now, our clients and many others will be able to exercise their First Amendment right to ask for help without interference from the state police,” said Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU, one of the lawyers in the case. “In the long term, we hope that the court agrees with us that this statute is unconstitutional and may not be enforced at all.”

Mr. Duimiak and Mr. Simmons sued after they were punished for asking for help when they panhandled in suburban Downers Grove. The men stood on a raised median strip seeking donations from people in vehicles stopped at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads.

Both men were charged under an Illinois statute that makes it a misdemeanor to stand on a median to solicit contributions, employment, business, or rides from passing vehicles. The statute does not prohibit other interactions with drivers and passengers, such as gathering petition signatures or distributing leaflets. It allows municipalities to exempt certain charities from the law, even as local police enforce it against individuals who ask for money for their own use.

A similar Downers Grove ordinance was rescinded shortly after the two men named the village in their lawsuit.

“Our clients were ticketed for panhandling when it was cold outside and they needed money to seek shelter,” said CCH Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell. “They were charged fines they couldn’t be expected to pay and one had to spend a night in jail because of a ticket. We hope this will prevent others from being prosecuted for asking for help.”

Staff Attorney Arturo Hernandez co-counsels the case for CCH.

For more information, contact:

CCH Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell

diane@chicagohomeless.org

 

ACLU of Illinois

Edwin Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy

eyohnka@aclu-il.org

 

Introducing Special Projects Organizer Claudia Cabrera

This month Claudia Cabrera was named Special Projects Organizer, managing the work of our Speakers Bureau and a creative writing outreach program, Horizons. We asked Claudia to introduce herself.

My passion for social justice comes from my lived experience as a Latinx immigrant female and the struggles I have witnessed through my community experience.

Claudia Cabrera
Portrait by Claire Sloss

At a young age I witnessed my parents risk their lives in hopes of a better future for their children. Chasing the American dream, they left behind everything they owned and everyone they loved in Mexico.

I don’t recall a time that my parents did not work multiple jobs. They still found themselves struggling to make ends meet.

We experienced homelessness many times, doubling up with relatives in order to live adequately. My parents lived in fear of being deported, so they avoided reaching out for help or resources. Education was extremely important to my family, but higher education was never talked about because it seemed financially out of reach.

In 2012, after a close family member passed away from an aggressive case of cancer, it made me re-evaluate my life path. I decided to pursue my education. I enrolled in college classes at St. Augustine while attending GED night classes. In 2018, graduating as valedictorian, I completed my bachelor’s degree in social work. I decided to continue my educational journey.

After a challenging but fulfilling year, I finished my master’s in social work (MSW), graduating with highest honors from Dominican University. Pursuing higher education completely altered my frame of mind and highlighted the importance of advocacy.

It was during my education that I learned about community organizing through an internship with the CCH Reentry Project. I worked hands-on with people and was able to see the development of grassroots leaders, from beginning to end.

I also learned that grassroots leaders are already equipped with the tools to make a change. My role as an organizer is to provide guidance and support. I’m excited to continue this journey as I coordinate the Speakers Bureau and Horizons. Together with our leaders, we will raise awareness about homelessness in different communities.

CCH champions a complete census count

With the 2020 Census almost here, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is helping ensure that homeless children, youth, and adults across Illinois are counted. This includes offering new CCH outreach materials aimed at informing those experiencing homelessness.

As one of 42 partner organizations with Forefront’s IL Count Me In 2020 program, CCH is providing outreach and education to support a fair and accurate count among hard-to-count communities.

Our message? People experiencing homelessness count, too!

As part of this initiative, CCH organizers and attorneys are providing census education at shelters, schools, drop-in centers, and events across Chicago in the months leading up to Census Day on April 1, 2020. This includes targeted outreach to homeless families, students, unaccompanied youth, and single adults; promoting the census to shelter providers; and distributing outreach materials. Between now and March 2020, we anticipate educating about 750 homeless people and 850 service providers as well as distributing more than 7,000 census-related handouts.

Our focus? To emphasize why a complete count is critical and inform people how to participate if they’re homeless.

“I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that our people step up and our counted,” said Gloria Davis, CCH’s Census 2020 project manager. “Past undercounting of people who are homeless is one of the reasons we have such a shortage of services for our community. We are hoping to change that.”

The U.S. Census Bureau invites most households to respond through the mail, but the process looks different for those without a permanent roof over their heads. To make sure this hard-to-count group isn’t overlooked, CCH staff designed census outreach materials tailored specifically for people experiencing homelessness.

A fact sheet covers all the basics — what the census is, when it’s happening, and why it matters. It also outlines the steps a homeless person can take to make sure they’re counted, whether they are living in a shelter, on the street, or doubled-up with a friend or relative.

Two other new pieces of outreach material — a poster as well as a palm card — provide a similar census overview for people experiencing homelessness.

Help us make sure all Illinoisans are counted in the 2020 Census, no matter their housing status:

Questions about the census? Contact Gloria Davis, Census 2020 Project Manager, at gloria@chicagohomeless.org or (312) 641-4140.

– Erin Sindewald, Development Manager

April and her family have hope and a new home

Five years ago, April Harris and her family had to flee their hometown, Pittsburgh.

April’s family was targeted after she asked the housing authority to put a stop to early-morning drug dealing by her home. The family moved to a new neighborhood, doubling-up with friends, but when the threats continued, they were advised to move out of state.

April’s family landed in Chicago.

“We went to the nearest police station. They took us to 10 South Kedzie,” said April, describing how her family was quickly placed in Chicago’s emergency shelter system.

That led to on-and-off stints in shelters over the next four years.

April and her husband, Greg, have chronic health issues, including Greg’s multiple sclerosis. They rely on Social Security disability income to support themselves and their two children. The family’s first six months in the Salvation Army’s Booth Lodge family shelter was followed by two years struggling to pay rent for unsubsidized apartments.

The family moved from their first apartment because Greg, who needs a walker, had difficulty using stairs. They became homeless again in fall 2017, after their basement-level apartment was deemed unsafe by a city inspector.

“We were placed at You Can Make It, a shelter on the South Side. That’s where we met Keith,” said April, referring to Keith Freeman, senior community organizer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). “We got involved right away with Keith, going to actions, working on the Fight for $15.”

The family moved after four months to another shelter in the Austin neighborhood. April grew more active with CCH while searching online for housing. She felt some pressure, knowing frequent moves impacted her husband’s health and upset the children.

April’s daughter had tested into a magnet school, so she stayed in the same school. But the moves forced her son to transfer schools repeatedly in his early elementary years.

“He didn’t understand why we kept having to move. He was like, ‘Mom, I just want to be able to stay at the same school,’” she recalled.

After 11 months in shelters, the family secured a one-year placement in a subsidized apartment. The Harris family was grateful to be housed, but they still faced instability when the temporary placement ended.

“It’s kind of scary, because that year goes by fast, and you think, ‘How can we afford this when the subsidy is up?’”

April would track prospects for subsidized, accessible housing, signing waitlists and calling to check for openings. Those efforts helped her secure a long-term subsidized apartment last May, in a new Humboldt Park six-flat managed by LUCHA.

With her family’s home secured, April blossomed as a community leader with CCH. She joined its Speakers Bureau, works part-time in the CCH office, and serves as a grassroots leader on its city housing campaign, Bring Chicago Home. April says she found her passion.

“I’ve done phone-banking. I went to Springfield. I talked to my alderman and my state representative and they’re both on board for Bring Chicago Home.

“It’s a lot of volunteering, but it’s worth it. I feel like I’m giving back and I’m taking some of my power back. It makes me stronger. It makes me feel like I made it.”

Derrick is on track with a new job – and soon, a home

Derrick Lyons is grateful for a life and career that are on track after years of being homeless.

He credits rediscovering his faith and his voice, including his volunteer work as a community leader with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Derrick Lyons at The Hatchery Chicago

“I thought it was the end of the road,” Derrick says of life two years ago. “I was so depressed… I took a big look at myself and thought you know what, something has to change.

“I started going to church, and then I joined CCH, where there are people fighting to end homelessness. That kind of encouraged me, until I started working again.”

In April, Derrick landed a position as kitchen facilitator at The Hatchery, a new food and beverage business incubator on Chicago’s West Side. He applied after asking for a referral from the men’s shelter where he lived, Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

With an associate degree from Malcolm X College and certificates in culinary and kitchen sanitation, Derrick finally landed the full-time job opportunity he’d trained for. Now living with a cousin, helping to care for her ailing mother, Derrick hopes to overcome community reentry barriers to secure an apartment of his own.

Derrick first experienced homelessness after his family lost their home to foreclosure over a decade ago. Unable to secure full-time work, he could not afford housing.

“I was going to interviews with a big old suitcase. I would make an excuse, saying I had been on a trip, but it was all my clothes,” he recalls.

Derrick last became homeless after fire destroyed his sister’s house five years ago. Over the years he has lived in parks, under a bridge, in abandoned buildings, rode the El overnight, and stayed in nightly shelters. He sometimes doubled-up with friends or relatives, offering to cook and clean in exchange for a place to sleep.

“People will let you stay with them maybe three months, then they ask you to leave,” he says.

Last year, Derrick was encouraged by another Breakthrough resident to meet CCH Senior Organizer Keith Freeman. Through shelter outreach, Keith offers information to people experiencing homelessness, organizing those who are interested to work with him on the Bring Chicago Home housing campaign.

“We were talking about housing and I heard about how Chicago Coalition for the Homeless marched in the Fight for $15. I went to the first meeting and I was like, ‘You got me.’ I didn’t look back,” says Derrick, now a member of the campaign’s Grassroots Leadership Committee.

Helped by service programs that assist adults facing reentry issues, Derrick recently secured court expungement for an old record. He also earned a scholarship to Chicago State University. Working for a degree in health information administration, Derrick commutes two hours each way to attend classes two nights a week. And at his West Side church, Derrick is excited to have been chosen for a solo in the fall choir concert.

“I feel great about myself now,” he says, smiling.

“At 57, I feel that it’s been a long time coming. I finally landed a break. Life is finally changing.”

– Anne Bowhay, Media

– Photos by Allison Williams Photography

 

Homeless Memorial, Dec. 17: Remember their names – gathering to remember homeless Chicagoans who died in 2019

WHAT

For the tenth year in a row, a coalition of Chicago-based homeless service providers and advocacy agencies will hold an interfaith candlelight vigil and memorial service in the sanctuary of Old St. Patrick’s Church to remember Chicagoans who died without a home.

The 750-seat church fills for this hour-long service, held to remember by name the 66 homeless people who died this past year in Chicago. The service includes a performance by the Harmony, Hope & Healing choir.  Families, youth, and adults experiencing homelessness will be hosted at a dinner prior to the event.

WHEN

Tuesday, December 17, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

WHERE

Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams Street, Chicago

WHY

Based on most recent census data, 86,324 Chicagoans experienced homelessness in 2017, per an analysis by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Eighty-one percent lived doubled-up in the homes of others, often in overcrowded conditions. Our city’s homeless community included 34,870 children and adults living in families. Each year, an estimated 2.5 million to 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

WHO

This service is affiliated with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, one of more than 150 events across the U.S. organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Chicago’s service is supported by:

  • Ignatian Spirituality Project works to end homelessness by providing Ignatian retreats to men and women who are homeless and in recovery.
  • Chicago Coalition for the Homeless organizes and advocates to prevent and end homelessness, based on the belief that housing is a human right in a just society.
  • Harmony, Hope & Healing offers creative, therapeutic and educational music programs, providing emotional and spiritual support to homeless and underserved women, men and children in the Chicago area.
  • Old St. Patrick’s Church extends hospitality to all that find the church on their path, and to serve the life and work of the laity in the world.
  • Franciscan Outreach serves more than 7,600 men and women who are experiencing homelessness each year, by providing healthy meals, safe shelter, and comprehensive services.

Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago homeless memorial to honor pair who became volunteer leaders

Three women with disabilities sue supportive housing program for discontinuing rent payments

Facing imminent homelessness, three women with disabilities sued a supportive housing program for formerly homeless people after the program stopped paying their rent.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid Chicago allege a failure to provide due process and reasonable accommodations of their disabilities in a case that was filed November 27 in state court.

Kenora Roberts, Carissa Marshall, and Janice Johnson all have disabilities and are low-income, making it impossible for them to secure housing on their own in the private housing market. For example, Ms. Marshall, who lives with her two minor children, suffers from a traumatic brain injury and is permanently disabled as a result.

The women’s rent was subsidized by defendant Human Resource Development Institute (HRDI). Through no fault of Ms. Roberts, Ms. Marshall and Ms. Johnson, HRDI stopped making rental assistance payments in August 2019. HRDI’s failure to pay rent put the women at risk of eviction and facing homelessness yet again.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Roberts landlords have both filed eviction actions against them. Ms. Johnson’s eviction case is set for trial on December 9.

Ms. Roberts told the Chicago Tribune that the prospect of being homeless again “feels even lower than what it was (before), because… you did everything that you were supposed to do.”

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 4: Formerly homeless people file lawsuit against Chicago agency after it suddenly stopped helping them

HRDI failed to provide sufficient notice and review before stopping the rental assistance payments, failed to transition the women to other supportive housing programs and failed to make reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. In a previous interview with the Tribune, HRDI blamed a loss of HUD funding.

“This is a systemic failure and all relevant agencies should work together to take responsibility and prevent our clients from becoming homeless again,” said Legal Aid Chicago Supervisory Attorney Michelle Gilbert.

“At this time of year, with cold weather approaching, we hope this case will prevent vulnerable people with disabilities who previously experienced homelessness from losing their housing yet again,” said Law Project Associate Director Beth Malik.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and for preliminary injunction Wednesday and will be in court on December 12.

– Patricia Nix-Hodes, Director, The Law Project

CBS Chicago, Sept. 23: Chicago housing assistance program loses federal funding, puts people’s housing situations in jeopardy