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Nov. 16 2009 - 10:00 am | 766 views | 1 recommendation | 23 comments

At the end of her rope: Cabrini-Green resident faces eviction tomorrow

Lenise Forrest outside her unit in the Cabrini Rowhouses

Lenise Forrest outside her unit in the Cabrini Rowhouses

Last Tuesday was frightening, but it’s this Tuesday that Lenise Forest really fears.

Last Tuesday, she says, the sheriff came to her two-bedroom apartment in Cabrini-Green, knocking on the door briefly before kicking it down. Several men came in, she says, putting guns on her and her brother and serving her with an eviction notice.

Seven days, they said, and they would be back.

So it’s tomorrow that worrying her. The day the sheriff comes back to haul her and all her things out of her apartment and onto the street.

Where will you go? I ask.

I don’t know, she says.

The trouble started two years ago. Lenise had a job working in a nursing home making $9 an hour. It wasn’t enough to make ends meet, but she did what she could to raise two boys, she says. Sometimes, she admits, she fell behind on her rent.

So when she got a new job in mid-2007 making more money, she went to the management office to try to figure out how to pay off her balance and keep paying her rent.

To help her out, she says the manager enrolled her in a program called EID – Earned Income Disallowance – that would hold Lenise’s rent steady for awhile until she was able to get on her feet.

Well, she thought the manager had enrolled her.

That same month, a tragedy happened in Cabrini-Green. A gate fell on a three-year-old boy, killing him, and the management company was fired.

Lenise assumed the EID paperwork had gone through. Until earlier this year, when she received a notice from the new management company that she owed thousands of dollars in rent.

If she didn’t pay, they told her, she was out.

She hired a lawyer, but not a very good one.  A guy her neighbor had hired to get him out of a traffic ticket. But Lenise didn’t know where else to turn. He was all she could afford.

Lenise Forrest looks through all her paperwork on the eviction

Lenise Forrest looks through all her paperwork on the eviction

Then, she was laid off from her job. Terrible timing. She had worked for the developer of Cabrini – Holsten Realty – helping old Cabrini residents get ready for their new home in the mixed-income community. But Holsten’s funding for the program went dry, she says, and they had to let Lenise go.

She couldn’t pay the lawyer to come to her court date, she says, the date she was asked to sign an order of possession – a court order saying that the Chicago Housing Authority would take back possession of her unit. It had a clause, saying that she could stop her eviction if she paid a $4,000 within 30 days.

She did, but it was 12 days late – the date of her last paycheck from Holsten. She tried to put it all towards her back rent, she says, but they wouldn’t take it.

By all accounts, Lenise has no hope. Everyone has told her that she’s out of luck. Because she signed the order of possession, there’s no reversing it now.

She emailed me last week, desperate for help. I didn’t know what I could do, I told her. She understood.

Sitting at Lenise’s kitchen table, the feeling hopelessness sank in my stomach like a stone. It’s like she knows the grim reaper is coming, but she just has to sit and wait for it to happen, desperately hoping somehow it won’t.

I walked through the winding rowhouse streets, back to my car, and thought about the how hopeless Lenise’s situation seemed. It reminded me of another story of a hopeless young woman – the story of Ruth from the Old Testament.

Ruth, a Moabite, follows her mother-in-law, Naomi back to Israel after her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law have all died – two single women who had nothing and had no hope of getting anything of their own.

Ruth and Naomi were destitute, and their only hope was for Ruth to marry. But she a foreigner, unclean and unwelcome. And yet Ruth does marry, and she actually ends up becoming the great-grandmother of King David.

Theologian Ray Bakke says the book of Ruth is an urban story. It’s a story that says that history is not just a cycle of hurt and pain. That history is moving forward, and looking forward, there’s hope. That, despite what Naomi and Ruth thought, there is hope for good things to happen even when it seems like nothing good will ever happen again.

The Cabrini Rowhouses, where Lenise lives

The Cabrini Rowhouses, where Lenise lives

And so I told Lenise I would tell her story.

Lenise has been involved in her community for years, as a volunteer and resident advocate. All her neighbors know her, she says.

When I called Alderman Walter Burnett’s office,  I spoke to the Alderman’s mother, Dorothy Burnett, who had lived next door to Lenise for years.

“I really hate that this is happening to her because she’s a beautiful person,” Burnett said. “But there’s nothing we can do.

The sheriff will come back tomorrow morning. He will knock or bust the door down and haul Lenise and her things away. She will be homeless. There’s nothing anyone can do.

Or maybe it’s not hopeless. Maybe the heartache is not inevitable. Maybe good things can happen in a time when it seems like nothing good can.

We’ll see.

(Note: I called the Chicago Housing Authority to ask about Lenise’s case. They were unable to talk with me about any individual case for privacy reasons.)


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  1. collapse expand

    What about Holsten? He has other buildings and is, in fact, pocketing a ton of TIF money to develop them.

  2. collapse expand

    Unfortunately, it is likely too late for anyone to do anything given that the 7 days are almost up. I wonder why she didn’t get in touch with the Legal Assistance Foundation or Cabrini Green Legal Aid. They provide free legal services. Or perhaps she did and they didn’t take her case?

    With regard to Laura’s comment, Holsten can’t just move her into one of his buildings. Unfortunately for Lenise, there are two things going against her there- even if they wanted to help 1) there is a complicated priority system involved and she wouldn’t be able to jump in front of those folks, 2) but more troubling for her is she wouldn’t even be eligible now that she is being evicted. An eviction from public housing means you lose your right to a public housing unit or to have a Section 8 voucher.

    • collapse expand

      She did try Cabrini Legal Aid and LAF, but neither would take her case because she signed the Order of Possession. A lawyer friend told me that it’s pretty much irreversible – short of being severely mentally handicapped or being able to prove they held a gun to your head – you can’t reverse an order of possession, even if it was signed not knowing what it really was.

      She probably should have gone to a legal aid clinic when the case started, but Lenise did what many people do – they take a recommendation from a friend, not knowing there are other resources out there. By the time she knew of other resources, it was too late.

      You’re right about Holsten not being able to move her into one of his other CHA buildings. That’s why I said non-CHA. Maybe there’s another private building he owns that he could rent her to? Of course, she doesn’t have any income right now, which makes it difficult.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I used to handle eviction cases and your lawyer friend is right. I think the hardest day I ever had as a lawyer was when a family of 7 came in after the point where we couldn’t help them (even though we would have been able to help them just days before) and I had to tell them there was nothing we could do. Ugh. So heart wrenching.

        I hope something works out for her. These situations suck especially when it sounds like she was so close to getting everything on track again.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    The Wilson Yard project is non-CHA. It didn’t qualify for CHA funding, but that’s another issue and one I tend to go on about.
    That project will reportedly be ready for occupancy in February, with no employment or income minimums. Holsten manages quite a few properties around town.

  4. collapse expand

    We are going to an eviction blockade we say and saw our money bailout the banks,general motors,homeowners we are going to bailout the bottom and sacrifice our freedom in the name of human rights. come to 933 n cambridge 8.a.m. stand up for our families and community

  5. collapse expand

    Wow, Megan. This is heart-wrenching.

    What happened with IED? Do they have no record of her paperwork? Why wasn’t her money accepted? Why can’t the alderman help her, exactly?

    So many things in Lenise’s story make me so angry. I am hoping you will have some good news for us tomorrow.

    • collapse expand

      Thanks for reading, Fruzsina.

      They found the EID paperwork in her file, but it either hadn’t been completed, or it hadn’t been noticed by the management company. Lenise was told that, most likely, she fell of the new company’s radar, and when she went into inquire about her rent, that’s when they initiated the eviction.

      As far as her money not being accepted, as far as I know, only because it was late, so it technically didn’t comply with the court order of possession. One lawyer that I talked to said these proceedings can be especially unfair because the law assumes that a poor single mother living in public housing is on the same level with the Chicago Housing Authority and a national management company. I don’t know who in this day and age can come up with $4,000 on the spot, but not many poor people can.

      I hope I will have good news tomorrow too.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    All you need to have to overcome the CHA is Lenise’s written permission.

    If the management company accepted Lenise’s EID paperwork, then they formed a contract to submit the paperwork to the proper authorities. because these damages are easily foreseeable, Lenise should have a good case to recover her losses.

    Just because the management company has binding court order, there is no requirement that they must enforce it. The landlord always has the option of, you know, being reasonable.

  7. collapse expand

    Thank you Megan I really think you told my story very well. I emailed you with hope in my heart that someone will hear me and you responded right away. I really hope that I will be able to stay in my community in which we all help build. I would like to also thank Peter & Jackie Holsten
    for helping me also I learn a lot from them and thank god for the training and education I received while working with the company. I also will like to say that its various residents in Cabrini Green fear to come forward with their story hopefully the will Thanks to you Megan and Chicago Now

  8. collapse expand

    Hello, I am very sorry to hear of Lenise’s impending eviction. I was in a similiar situation myself in 2005 but not in Cabrini. Her story shook me. I know all too well about new management taking over and not accepting money and just red tape and no one can help you. this city is not kind to the poor. When poor people make a mistake they wind up in the Daley Center. There’s no compassion. I really feel that it’s not just people who live in housing projects that are going to be the ones living in neighboring suburbs like Harvey it’s going to be all poor people. I work everyday and it seems I just keep running into the police for traffic violations. I am either trying to save my car or save my apartment. But anyway, Lenise I have been where you are and it may not seem like it will get better but it will one day. One day you will have a better place to live. In closing I want to say that I am a former resident of Cabrini Green. If you’d like you can visit my site at http://www.cabrinigreenwebs.com.

  9. collapse expand

    It is very disheartening to hear of Lenise’s plight. losing your apt or home is a brutal bloat to your peace of mind. I don’t care if you live on the Gold Coast or Cabrini. I am a former of Cabrin Green and I live on the west side now and I know of what she is going through. I experienced the same thing in 2005. My building went under new management about 3 times since I lived there. They lost paper work and started coming up with figures that I had never seen before. They told me the sheriff was coming but Somehow, I moved out and made it through. If you’d like to visit I have a web site located at http://www.cabrinigreenwebs.com.

  10. collapse expand

    Hello Megan I wanted to let you all know that I’m doing great! I moved into my new place on April 12 2010 My personal stylist work have increase and My peace of mind is renew !!Thank you for all the help and prayers !! I now live on the west side of Chicago on a block with nice people I stayed homeless from January -April. I wouldn’t say I had to stay on the streets because I have good friends who helped me all the way!! I will send you a picture of my new place soon. Life do have happy endings with prayer and determination.

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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.

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