BMO Harris Bank Skirts City Law, Plays Scrooge in Englewood

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–December 14, 2015.  In a blatant attempt to beat the clock on Chicago’s Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KRCO), BMO Harris Bank has caused the eviction of five families from their homes in the 7200 block of South Lowe in Englewood just as they were preparing for the Holidays. The tenants unfortunately lived in a building being foreclosed on by BMO. When the boiler in the building went out, neither the bank nor the owner would step in to get it fixed. As a direct result of that decision, the City ordered the building vacated due to “dangerous and hazardous conditions.”
Englewood has a population that is 97.5% African American, and where 49.8% of households live below the poverty level. Yet BMO’s Receiver hired a contractor from outside the neighborhood to board-up the building where the 5 families were evicted. The white contractor arrived for the job driving a truck “proudly” displaying a Confederate flag.
By not acting on the repair work, BMO’s court-appointed Receiver, Steven Spinell, caused the building to become vacant before the foreclosure process is final, thereby preventing residents from qualifying for the $10,600 in relocation assistance they would be entitled to under the KCRO – in effect, punishing the tenants for the financial woes of their landlord. The law was passed by the City Council at the height of the foreclosure crisis precisely to prevent such actions.
John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) reacted strongly to BMO’s actions saying “This is an outrage. The law needs to be tightened to prevent such travesties.” Bartlett went on to explain that “MTO has worked in no less than five similar buildings this year. In each of these buildings, there have been tenants who ended up homeless as a result.”
As the Bank’s receiver for the building, Spinell notified tenants they would have to move and that they would receive one-month’s rent as relocation assistance. The assistance however would not be paid until they vacated their homes, making it impossible to use the “relocation assistance” to assist in their relocation. On November 12, Judge Pamela Hughes Gillespie issued a formal Order to Vacate by December 4 and gave the Chicago Police Department the authority to forcibly evict residents onto the street. When the tenants asked where they should go, the Judge suggested from the bench that they try overnight homeless shelters.
Tenants contacted the Metropolitan Tenants Organization for help and gained legal representation from the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing.They went back to court on November 25 (the day before Thanksgiving) and were partially successful, winning an increase in relocation assistance to $3,000 per household.  However, when they returned to Court on November 30 seeking more time to move, the Judge declined to grant more time, or to order advance payment of the relocation assistance.
Without the advance payment of relocation assistance, renters being evicted find it nearly impossible, both financially and logistically to move by court imposed deadlines. As housing advocates point out: even $3,000 is clearly not enough money to enable low-income tenants, with little to no savings, and often with poor credit, to be able to afford moving costs and new security deposits.
MTO’s Bartlett says that renters caught up in other people’s financial problems need to be protected.  “That’s what the law is for, tenants forced out by foreclosure should get the $10,600 spelled out in the KCRO, and should receive at least half of it upfront to facilitate their relocation.”
Some residents of the building BMO is foreclosing on are Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Housing Choice Voucher holders, and as such are required to request moving papers from CHA, find adequate housing, and get their potential new home inspected by CHA before approval to move in can be granted. CHA’s lengthy approval process complicates the search for a new home, especially with the added factors of racial and economic discrimination faced by voucher holders. Last month, WBEZ radio ran a Special Report about the discrimination CHA voucher holders encounter.
MTO has been trying to help the tenants displaced by BMO Harris Bank’s action find new housing, hopefully before Christmas.