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Two weeks ago, national city-focused publication Next City ran this article on the ways in which the Just Cause for Eviction campaign and the Healthy Homes campaign are working together to make renting in Chicago better. Our campaigns are united in focus for a clear reason: if tenants don't have access to safe, healthy, and secure shelter, the rest of their lives are completely at the whims of their landlords. Central to both bills is the creation of a rental registry, which serves as a vital precondition to make both bills work well.
Another article by Roshan Abraham in Next City yesterday showed just how crucial this piece of the bill is. The article highlights the story of JoLondon Jamerson and her neighbors, who were told to send their monthly rental checks through a new system when the building was purchased. Unfortunately, it seems that the notice was a scam, placed on a flyer and pasted around the building's front entranceway to confuse residents and result in their money being stolen. That situation led Jamerson and many of her neighbors to end up in eviction court, where her landlord inflated the amount of money she was told to pay in retaliation for organizing with her neighbors against unsafe building conditions.
Unfortunately, these kinds of rental scams are all too common. Another typical scam involves foreclosed buildings that are opened up by an unscrupulous landlord, presented as legitimate shelter to unsuspecting tenants, who will then live there until the true owner or the city discovers what happens and forces them to leave. Unsurprisingly, these kinds of situations prey upon those who have already faced other forms of discrimination in the housing market, making them eager to find any shelter that might accommodate them, leading to even more harm and pain.
This model cannot stand any longer. As both Just Cause and the Healthy Homes campaigns highlight, we need to take a tenants' rights-oriented approach to housing justice, where every single renter is guaranteed certain basic conditions no matter where they might live. Otherwise, we know what will happen: landlords will cut corners, jack up rents, and otherwise act with disregard for the wellbeing of those living in their buildings. Until we take a different approach, we'll continue to see mass evictions, chronic instability, and growing homelessness, trends that are primed to get even worse with the end of the eviction moratorium. The time to change course is now, and if we don't fight to make the kinds of changes we need, those in power will never do what's right for our communities.