Legal Aid Prevents Bad Things From Happening to Good People
Rainy days caused anxiety for George Vaughn because each time it rained there was a chance George might have problems breathing for the next few weeks, maybe even the next few months. George lived in a basement apartment that flooded almost every time there was heavy rain. With the flooding and dampness came the mold. It crept into kitchen cabinets, grew on the living room walls, and spread across baseboards. George tried to scrub it away with soap and bleach but the mold always returned with the rain.
Mold can cause upper respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing in otherwise healthy people, but for a young man with disabilities like George, who had suffered from asthma his entire life, the presence of mold endangered his health and increased his risk asthma attacks.
George tried to rectify the problem with his landlord but his efforts never seemed to get him anywhere. George tried to enlist the help of the City of Chicago’s Department of Buildings, but even after the city’s building inspector cited the landlord for the apartment’s poor conditions, George’s landlord failed to remediate the problems. Instead he simply covered the mold with a fresh coat of paint.
George wanted to move but would have to break his lease to do so. George rented his apartment through the housing choice voucher program- a federal program providing rental assistance to low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly renting in the private market. In order to move, George needed the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) legal permission to break his lease, something the CHA rarely gave. If he moved without it, George jeopardized his eligibility for the voucher program and risked homelessness.
George’s prospects began to change after he visited his doctor at PC Wellness Center, one of the safety-net medical facilities Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing has partnered with to form Healthy Housing Chicago. Healthy Housing Chicago is a medical-legal partnership that integrates LCBH attorneys into healthcare teams to provide high-quality, comprehensive services to Chicago’s renters experiencing critical housing issues. For many living in poverty, like George, housing problems create a significant barrier to medical treatment compliance by either causing or exacerbating medical conditions.
George mentioned his worsened asthma symptoms to his doctor, and she learned about the mold in his apartment. She urged him to move and along with providing medical advice and treatment, George’s doctor took another important step to ensure a healthier future: She referred him to LCBH for legal assistance.
When LCBH heard about the deplorable housing conditions they interceded, advocating that CHA allow George to terminate his lease and move from an unsafe home as a reasonable accommodation. Under the law, housing providers, including the CHA, must make reasonable accommodations in order to provide people with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy their homes. The next day, CHA granted LCBH’s request and provided George with his moving papers so he could move out and secure new housing. They then reached out to George’s landlord, confirming George’s intent to terminate his lease and vacate the apartment if the flooding and mold issues were not fixed.
The landlord refused to make any repairs, so a few weeks later George left the basement apartment behind and moved into his new place using his housing choice voucher. With the assistance of LCBH and its Healthy Housing Chicago partners, George could now freely breathe the air inside his own home without compromising his health and happiness.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing , an IL Equal Justice Foundation grantee, provides free legal and supportive services to improve housing stability for low income renters while advocating for affordable, safe, and decent housing for all renters in Chicago.