Crystal Richards stands with two of her children in front of the Chase Tower in downtown Chicago. Her entire family may be homeless after she is forced to vacate her South Shore apartment Saturday.
Crystal Richards takes care of her six children – 14, 9, 6, 5, 2 and 2 months – and a sick mother. And as of Saturday, she has no home.
Richards is stuck in a dead zone, where clearly someone is at fault, but there’s no one willing to take the blame. Her building, 7263 S. Coles, is quite literally falling apart. Bricks are falling off the front of the South Shore apartment building, not to mention the ceilings are falling in and the electricity is about to cause on fire any minute, she says. The bathtubs won’t drain, so they sit, daily, full of grey water, while families try to wash themselves in the kitchen sink. Mold, insects, pests – you name a problem, they got it.
It’s so bad that the city has deemed it uninhabitable, and Saturday, they will come out to vacate 10 families from the premises. Richards and her neighbors gathered downtown yesterday afternoon, asking for relocation assistance from the party they say is responsible for the building’s profound neglect – Chase Bank.
7263 S. Coles was put into foreclosure in 2008 by Washington Mutual Bank. Soon after, Chase took over Washington Mutual, and thus took on the building as well. They asked the court to appoint a receiver – a company to look after the building, says Arturo Del Angel, community organizer for Metropolitan Tenants Organization.
The receiver, he says, submitted one report to Chase in 2009, saying the building was fine. Finally, in May of this year, the foreclosure was completed. Days after, the order to vacate the building came, and quickly, the building was sold to a company called Oceania LLC.
“The city has said its so unsafe that the tenants can’t stay there,” says Del Angel. “We’re just asking that Chase help tenants find another, safer place to live.”
But Chase says it’s not the responsible party. Tom Kelly, spokesperson for Chase Bank in Chicago, says the bank only owned the building for one month and the receiver was responsible for the building, not them. I tried to contact Millennium Management, the court appointed receiver. They have no website, and the phone number listed for them is a fax line.
Many of the tenants have no place to go and will end up homeless, says Sean Brown, a building resident.
Sean Brown speaks at Thursday's rally.
“We shouldn’t be forced out of our homes because of their negligence,” says Brown. “I’ve been making phone calls for repairs for two years. Nothing was ever done.”
Kelly came out into the street to talk to the protesters, but the conversation sounded like a schoolyard quarrell. “The receiver works for the bank,” said MTO director John Bartlett. “No, they work for the judge,” said Kelly. “Chase is responsible to the tenants who are being put out,” said Bartlett. “Chase is no longer the owner of the building,” said Kelly. Back and forth, they argued.
No one wants the tenants to stay in the building – it’s simply too unsafe. But what the tenants and MTO want is relocation assistance – money given to the tenants to help them find a new home on such short notice.
For Richards, relocation assistance would help her family find a decent place to live. She had just paid her rent when she found out about the order to vacate the building, so there wasn’t any extra money left for a new place, plus security deposit. She says she doesn’t know what she’ll do come Saturday.
“I don’t know where me and my kids are going to get to,” she said. “[The relocation assistance] would help us find a place to live.”
Foreclosures are a problem to building and home owners, ruining their credit and leaving them with nothing. They’re a problem for banks who are dealing with thousands of unpaid loans. They’re a problem for neighborhoods who bear the brunt of the blight and problems they attract. And at 7263 S. Coles, it’s become a huge problem for these tenants, many of whom may become homeless because no one will take responsibility for what’s happened to their building.
The buck has been passed at 7263 S. Coles. Passed on and on and on, until finally, it’s arrived on the doorstep of 10 families. Ten families who paid their rent, and in return, expected a decent place to live.
The city, big banks and corporations are all involved in this mess, and yet, the most vulnerable party – low-income families on Chicago’s South Side – will bear the brunt of what’s happened. It’s they who will have to try to scrape together a security deposit and rent for a new place, find a place for their belongings in the meantime, look for new schools and child care providers for their kids. Ten defenseless families on the margins of society are the ones who carry the burden of the mess we’ve all made.
Meanwhile, yesterday, JPMorgan Chase boasted $4.8 billion in profits, up 76 percent from this time last year.
Walking in the hot sun, protesters shouted, “We bailed you out. You bailed on us.”
It’s not so hard to see their point.