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Jul. 22 2010 — 3:09 pm | 148 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

See You On the Other Side!

It seems for the second time in a little over a year, this blog is moving again. As True/Slant becomes Forbes, I’m seeking out a Chicago-centered site to host One Story Up, one where I can be part of a community of people who are writing and talking about the city. I’m still passionate about telling the stories of public housing, urban poverty and the complexities of living here in Chicago, and I will definitely continue to bring those to you.

But where? Well, I’m not totally sure yet. I’ve got things in the works, but it’s not quite settled at this very moment. I expect to be back up and blogging at the latest by September 1st, and hopefully, much sooner. I will be back for sure. I just don’t have a specific web address for you yet.

Want to make sure you find out where I reappear? Send me an email at onestoryupblog (at) gmail (dot) com. I’ll let you know when I’m good and settled some place new.

Much thanks to Andrea, Michael, Coates and Lewis for all your support while I’ve been here and for this wonderful opportunity. I’ve truly enjoyed the site and the community here and the opportunity to grow more as a writer.

I’ll be seeing you!

Jul. 19 2010 — 1:26 pm | 298 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Thousands fear eviction from public housing in San Francisco

Photo by Xhanatos on Flickr

Read the headlines on San Francisco’s Housing Authority, and you may feel like you’ve stumbled upon a history book about Chicago’s public housing.

Gross mismanagement. Rents not collected. Multi-million dollar deficit. Poor upkeep. Serious lawsuits because of negligence. A real mess.

Now, San Francisco is looking to remedy two of those problems - the deficit and the rent collection in one fell swoop. They’ve issued thousands of eviction notices for families living there, letting them know they’ve got to pay up or get out.

The problem is, many residents can’t trust what they’re told they owe. Record keeping has been so bad that many who have paid every month have also gotten eviction notices, or people are being asked to pay much larger sums than they think they owe.

Take Anna Stephens, whose story was told in the San Francisco Chronicle. A single mom with two kids who works as an administrative assistant, she’s paid her rent on time for years. But she got a bill in the mail saying she owes the housing authority $9,750 in back rent. It’s not the first time either. A few years ago, they brought another suit against her after she complained about the security in her building, saying she owed nearly $2,000 in back rent. The suit was later dropped.

Other tenants who are facing hard times say their rent hasn’t been adjusted to their much lower income levels. Others still say paying your rent has never been a big deal in San Francisco’s public housing, so it’s going to be hard to change that idea in tenants minds.

San Francisco is struggling to improve under demands from HUD, not unlike Chicago in the mid-1990s. After years of mismanagement, huge deficits and a large stock of derelict housing, HUD took over CHA in 1996 in an effort to get it back on the right path. Soon after, the Plan for Transformation was gotten underway, knocking down most of the city’s public housing units to make way for mixed-income communities and relocating thousands of families.

In San Francisco, the Housing Authority says it’s not going to throw people out on their ear.

“We realize these are tough economic times,” said Henry Alvarez, the director of SFHA, to the Chronicle. “There is no reason to throw people out on the streets.”

But that’s a difficult message to get through when you send an eviction notice.

Jul. 16 2010 — 1:51 pm | 180 views | 2 recommendations | 2 comments

Ten Families May Be Homeless When City Vacates Building Saturday

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.

Jul. 15 2010 — 10:48 am | 36 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

An Unexpected, Unpaid Vacation

Tuesday morning, I woke up to discover that my computer had lost its mind. A blinking question mark greeted me when I tried to start it up, and when I took it in to be repaired, it was discovered that my hard drive has died. It is currently being put to rest, and in the meantime, I have no regular access to the internet. It’s driving me mad. In two to four days, I will be able to blog regularly again. My editor, Josie Raymond, described it to me as an “unexpected, unpaid vacation.” I can’t say I’m enjoying it.

I may have a post this afternoon, but it depends on the length of the line at the library. See, Fox Chicago, the library really is important.

See you soon, blogosphere.

Jul. 12 2010 — 10:29 am | 291 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

The Cure for Ailing Housing Market? Maybe It’s More Foreclosures

Foreclosure Sign, Mortgage Crisis

Image via Wikipedia

As the $8,000 home buyer tax credit dried up, so did housing sales. The number of people buying a new house dipped to the lowest levels in recorded history after tax credit ended in May, causing many people to worry that the recession will be shaped like a W – a perilous double dip.

What’s the cure for the ailing housing market? One real estate analyst says the answer is counter-intuitive: more foreclosures.

Why? Well, analyst Mark Hanson says foreclosures are what people want to buy. The new home buyers out there want (and perhaps can only afford) a good deal. But lately, pressures on banks to halt foreclosures have curbed the supply of cheap houses. Because we’re in a market where people are iffy about taking a big risk, unless the carrot is big and juicy enough, people aren’t going to bite.

Plus, Hanson says, there’s still a huge shadow market out there – homes where the mortgage isn’t in good standing, but they’re not in foreclosure yet. Hanson says we’ve got to clear through all this bad inventory – both the homes in foreclosure now and the ones yet to be – if we want the market to turn around.

The way he explains it sounds sort of like an old rusty faucet – you’ve got to let the water run orange for awhile before it starts to come out clear.

At our current pace of foreclosure, he says, it will take 101 months to clear through the system – 8 years. But if we doubled our rate of foreclosure to 180,000 a month, he says it till take 42 months, or about 3 and a half years.

Housing activists all over the nation are putting pressure on banks to slow the rate of foreclosure. It’s hard to argue with. Who wants to put more people out of their homes?

But then again, Hanson could be right. If the entire economy is spooked by low housing sales, it means less jobs being created, fewer people spending money. Many of those who are dreading a foreclosure can’t pay their mortgage because they can’t find a job or find one that will pay a decent wage.

Is it better to be without a house in the short term paired with a quicker recovery? Or if Hanson’s right, are we just dragging out the inevitable?

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

    In addition to being a journalist, I also teach dance for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't just do it for the money. I love children and love arts education. I'm also on the board of a new nonprofit dedicated to helping the underserved find jobs called Employing Hope. I write fiction, keep house, and am generally a renaissance woman.

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