Chicago tenants among millions fighting substandard housing in the US

World Today

As many as 30 million Americans live in substandard homes that have serious health and safety hazards, according to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress. Residents who live in such conditions are more likely to suffer health issues.

CGTN’s Dan Williams report from Chicago.
Follow Dan Williams on Twitter @Danielclearcut

It was mid-morning in the Chicago’s south side when a tenant’s rights group paid a visit to residents at a block of apartments. The residents have a long list of concerns, chief among them no heating and running water.

Last year for one tenant named Elija, the bathroom ceiling fell in.

“When this happened, I said fix this first and then I’ll pay the rent. He said no. You’ve got to give us the 550 so we can get it started,” he explained.

It’s a similar story for Dorian, who lives across the hallway.

“The toilet does not flush. So I just keep it closed,” he told me.

Dorian said he won’t allow his children to stay with him at the apartment, preferring they stay with his grandmother instead. 

Some of these apartments here have already been abandoned. Debris lines the floor and the smell of human feces is overpowering. But for residents, they say their complaints simply go unanswered.

The scenario appears to be a common one. Chicago’s Metropolitan Tenants Organization fields close to 10,000 calls each year.

“The biggest issue that we are faced with is substandard housing,” according to executive director John Bartlett. “Forty percent of all the calls that we receive to our tenant’s rights hotline are about some sort of repair problem.”

Frank Avellone, the senior attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, wants the focus to move away from a complaints-based system that he believes can poison the tenant-landlord relationship.

“What we are proposing, is something that is called pro-active rental inspection, where the government is now obliged to pro-actively inspect rental properties,” Avellone said.

He explained that the hope is over a number of years, maybe a decade, the quality of all housing stock in Chicago would rise to an acceptable level.

But residents in this block are desperate for help now. They simply want a place that is safe and habitable; somewhere that could be called home.