Chicago housing activists are fighting to halt the eviction of tenants living in a Rogers Park home who have turned the property into a community center.
The tenants of the home, located at 7245 N. Ridge Ave., had their first eviction court date Thursday morning at the Richard J. Daley Center, and about a dozen community members came out to support them.
Jorge Ortiz, an organizer with Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, lives in the home with his family, including his mother and uncle. Ortiz and his family moved into the Rogers Park home two years ago after the previous property owner, who was facing foreclosure, abandoned it. The current tenants, with the help of Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, turned the property into a "community house," which has a neighborhood garden and hosts clothing drives, movie screenings and health fairs, activists said.
The tenants and their supporters want CitiMortgage, which the organizers say currently owns the home after purchasing it at a foreclosure auction, to negotiate with them and consider donating the property or selling it at a low cost to a Chicago-based community land trust.
The non-profit Casas del Pueblo Community Land Trust, which was created by the Albany Park neighborhood group Centro Autonomo, is willing to receive the title of the home. Antonio Gutierrez, housing coordinator at Centro Autonomo, said the non-profit would turn the home into permanent affordable housing and keep it open as a neighborhood hub.
Ortiz said he and other housing organizers have been asking for an opportunity to meet with CitiMortgage officials for a negotiation session since late last year.
"They haven't given us any kind of audience or any other real options as tenants," Ortiz said. "What we're here today to do is ask the judge and the lawyers working for the bank to vacate the eviction and give us an opportunity to acquire the property."
He added that "the main objective is to get them to vacate the eviction."
Centro Autonomo works with other Chicago homeowners and tenants facing foreclosure and eviction.
"We know that when we shown up to court, and we have a community behind us, it usually makes the judge more lenient to at least say, 'Oh, you guys should negotiate or at least extend the [eviction] process longer,'" Gutierrez said.
"At the end of the day, they're tenants of this house," he said of Ortiz and his family. "They've been making repairs to it, and based on the (squatter's) rights that are here in Chicago, they have some rights to it."
The Casas del Pueblo Community Land Trust has not yet had any home donations. But the non-profit is currently in donation talks with several financial institutions.
Gutierrez said home donations to the community land trust would not only be a win for the community but also for the banks, because the foreclosure and eviction process is often costly for them. And since Casa del Pueblo is a non-profit, banks can get a tax credit in return for a home donation to the land trust, he said.
Click through to hear more from Gutierrez.
Outside of the Daley Center, Ortiz's mother Maria Dolores-Calvillo said she wants the eviction court judge "to let the banks understand the situation that many people are losing their houses, and it's a right to have a place to live."
"A community needs places where they can get information, help and activities for the family," she added. "It's what we are doing in that house."