House Keeping (Chicago Weekly)

As the lingering foreclosure crisis pushes residents out of their homes, a campaign moves in

On most days, the abandoned café at the corner of 75th and Dorchester might as well be any other. In many neighborhoods on the South Side, foreclosed properties like this one aren’t exactly hard to find. Pick a block—almost any block—and you’ll find an empty home, a boarded-up storefront. Maybe both. Maybe more. It’s a story people have long been familiar with.

But if you come on the right weekday night, the café will be in business. The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign has moved in, and it’s here to stay. The campaign started around public housing in 2009, when some of the last buildings at Cabrini-Green were facing demolition, but it’s since turned its attention to a the fight for housing itself.

“I’m a national organizing activist, not a local joker,” Willie “J.R.” Fleming says, confidently bounding into the café. J.R. is one of the campaign’s founders, and its current chairman. But for all his healthy self-assurance, he’s not blind to the daunting task they face. “What can you do when the government says, ‘We got no resources’?” he asks.

The Anti-Eviction Campaign’s solution is to provide its own. It scouts out abandoned homes and arranges for people to live in them, matching “homeless people with peopleless homes,” as J.R. likes to say. It canvasses neighborhoods to build up community support. It connects homeowners and tenants going through foreclosure with lawyers to help them with the legal process, and accompanies them to court. It protests at banks that have signed fraudulent and predatory loans. And now, it’s branching out to advocate for policy changes, too.

 

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