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MLK Protest

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and reflect on the sacrifice and progress for Black people and their allies.

In the world of housing, we've seen some changes since the 1960s when a group of North Shore mothers began calling for an end to discriminatory housing practices. Their work brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Wilmette and gave birth to the organization that would become Open Communities.

In 2020, we honor their efforts and promise to continue the fight for just housing.


Despite some progress in fair housing, black women are still more likely to face eviction in Illinois than anyone else, and Open Communities General Counsel Sheryl Ring says the Eviction Act in Illinois is mostly to blame.

“The law is racist. It’s barely changed since it was enacted in the 1870s, when it was created to remove blacks from white-owned land after the Civil War. It is still working as it was designed,” she said, explaining that one in four black women will face eviction in her lifetime.

The problem, Ring says, is that it unfairly targets renters, who in many cases are single black mothers.


· Eviction Records: Once an individual faces eviction, it stays on their record forever. It can ruin their credit score and make it virtually impossible to find a place to live. Many times, people with multiple evictions are forced to rent from predatory landlords because no one else will accept them. This puts people in a cycle of unstable housing which can disrupt their ability to work. Their finances suffer making it difficult to afford housing, and the entire cycle begins again. Illinois could remedy this situation simply by sealing eviction records.

· Counterclaims: Currently, an individual facing eviction is not allowed to file a counterclaim to defend themselves. Essentially, once an eviction case is filed against you, there’s nothing you can do.

· Right to Counsel: Chicago does not provide the right to counsel in eviction cases, so 90% of tenants go to court without a lawyer. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 99% of these cases end in favor of the landlord. What makes it worse is that renters have just a week to respond to an eviction. “The idea that we put someone’s home on the line and expect them to navigate the legal system on their own in seven days is appalling,” Ring said.

The Eviction Act has undergone some minor improvements in recent years. Amendments state an individual cannot be evicted based on their immigrations status or if they are serving in the military.

Most states have re-drafted their eviction laws, so why is Illinois still operating under such an old statute? Eviction is big business. In the Chicago area alone, there are 30,000 evictions every year. And who pays in these cases? The people who can least afford it. Once an individual is evicted, in Illinois, they are stuck with attorney fees and typically see their wages garnished to cover the debt.

“Eviction is a civil rights issue. It’s the reason that Chicago is the most segregated city in America,” said Ring, adding. “As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important that we look at the laws that are unfairly targeting our friends and neighbors and make a change.”


Click here to read what a Northwestern grad told the Chicago Tribune about discrimination against black home buyers, the book she wrote about it, and her ideas to fix the system.



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