By Harry Huggins
March 1, 2016 for Medill News Service
Rosalinda Hernandez has lived in the Logan Square area for more than 20 years. But the tide of development–and one particularly predatory developer–threatens to push her out of the community she loves.
Hernandez feels safe in Logan Square. She likes that she can come home late from one of her many part-time jobs, park her car blocks away from her house and walk safely to her front door. And, until recently, she could afford it on her sporadic income.
What’s happening to Hernandez is increasingly common in gentrifying neighborhoods. It starts when a development company buys a low-cost building. That’s what 212 Development did with Hernandez’s building in October. Soon after, they posted flyers announcing the building’s sale and subsequent rent increases.
Hernandez doesn’t speak English. She asked a neighbor to translate the notices for her. That was on a Wednesday. By Friday, someone was at her apartment demanding rent. By Saturday, she watched her neighbors move. Then a representative from 212 Development threatened to return with a sheriff to throw Hernandez and her belongings out. He promised to do that by Sunday.
Hernandez came to Noah Moskowitz through a friend at church. He volunteers with Somos Logan Square, a community organizing group that specializes in preventing evictions. Since last fall, Somos has tried to counter 212 Development’s attempts to move Hernandez out.
First, they sent volunteers to sit with her on the day 212 Development threatened to bring the sheriffs. The next day, they asked all 1,100 of their Facebook followers to call 212 Development and voice their support. Moskowitz estimates 100 people called. But in December, Hernandez fell behind on rent and got a five-day notice.
Somos helped raise the money she owed. Twenty volunteers accompanied Hernandez to the landlord’s office. 212 Development lists their office as 5 South Wabash, Suite 304. That’s downtown in the diamond district. I checked out the address and found what Moskowitz and the Somos volunteers found when they tried to force 212 Development to take Hernandez’s rent. The office is somewhere behind the façade of a small diamond importer.
Someone at the office took her payment, so for now, Hernandez is still in her apartment. 212 Development had no comment on this story.
Unlike typical eviction prevention organizations, Somos tries as much as possible to solve problems as quickly as possible outside of the courtroom. Even if the landlord is breaking the law, once you enter eviction court, whether you win or not, it all goes on your record. So when you do move out and look for your next apartment, your application will have that mark against it. Your application will most likely go straight to the bottom of the pile.
Advocates like Moskowitz have a utility belt of tools to prevent evictions, and they all stem from recognizing that all landlords are, after all, human. So Somos will launch call-ins and mob offices and start media campaigns that play to individual landlords’ sympathies and weaknesses.
It helps Moskowitz to know the different justifications these developers have for evicting residents like Hernandez. Most blame either the tenants, for not making enough money, or the market, for just being the way it is.
Moskowitz sees dire consequences to this process, including increased homelessness and the risk of freezing during winter months.
At this point, all Hernandez knows is that she has to leave her apartment. She can’t afford the higher rent. But she needs time to find a new place. After advocating from Somos, 212 Development offered Hernandez $3,000 to move in two weeks. But she hasn’t been able to find anything anywhere near the neighborhood she calls home.