Diversity Leadership Council Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Council

June 2017, vol. 10, no. 1

Diversity Committee updates

Women & the Law

The 2016-17 bar year has been tremendous for the Standing Committee on Women & the Law. From our first gathering at the Annual Meeting in Rosemont, we have been hard at work. The first half of the year was devoted to educating the ISBA and garnering support for Illinois’ future adoption of paid family leave legislation. This culminated in December with Committee Chair Julie A. Johnson joining ISBA Board of Governors member, Bridget Duignan, in an address to the Assembly at the Midyear Meeting in support of pending legislation in the Illinois Senate. While efforts in the state legislature have fizzled, WATL remains dedicated to catalyzing legislative solutions that help all of us balance the demands of both work and family in a way that employers of all sizes can embrace.

On March 8, 2017, WATL hosted our first ever International Women’s Day High Tea at Russian Tea Time in the Loop. With over 50 attendees, it proved to be a successful networking event that will likely become a tradition for years to come.

On the Committee’s nomination, our very own Lori Levin, who currently serves as Secretary, was selected as a 2017 ISBA Laureate. WATL showed up strong to support her, filling a table at the Laureate Luncheon on March 30, 2017. We are so proud of you, Lori!

The very next day the Committee came together again at the beautiful Acquaviva Winery out west in Maple Park, Illinois, for our only out-of-Cook County meeting. There is little better than a gathering of good friends and colleagues conducting business over wine and a scrumptious lunch!

We rounded out the year on May 11, 2017, by hosting attorney and filmmaker, Sharon Rowen, for a private screening of her new documentary on the history and experience of women in the practice of law, Balancing the Scales, followed by a fascinating discussion moderated by Julie A. Johnson. Over lunch in the gorgeous ceremonial courtroom at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, women attorneys from all over Illinois gathered for this exclusive CLE credited program. Everyone left feeling empowered and inspired by those who have come before us in this profession.

Thank to everyone who gave of their time and energy to this wonderful Committee!

Human Rights

The Human Rights Section Council continued pursuing its objectives of educating our fellow lawyers and the public about human rights issues on the local level, as well as from a global perspective. At our last Section Council meeting, we learned how the Loyola University Center for the Human Rights of Children is working to promote awareness of the unique ways in which children are affected by decisions beyond their control. Katherine Kaufka Walts, the center’s director, explained that the center is working on three key initiatives to promote children’s rights. First, they are looking at the impact of environmental toxins on children’s health as a human right. The center argues that clean water and clean air have a direct impact on not only health, but also happiness and long term development of children. Second, the center continues its work to bring awareness of child trafficking for both labor and sex in the United States. Finally, the center advocates for children forced to navigate complex systems such as the immigration system in the U.S. alone. Our Section Council looks forward to assisting the center in any way that we can to pursue these important programs.

This year, our Section sponsored or co-sponsored several great CLE programs, produced eight informative newsletters, and reviewed legislation impacting human rights in Illinois. We look forward to another year of championing human rights causes during these chaotic political times.

Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

The CLE Planning Committee of REM developed and presented a four-part CLE Program Series on Housing Justice v. Housing Injustice. The four parts were presented monthly as two-hour webinars beginning in January of 2017 and concluding in April, which was Fair Housing Month.

The Diversity Leadership Council graciously served as a program co-sponsor along with the Standing Committees on Women and the Law and Disability Law and the Human Rights Section Council.

Please see the following syllabus as a means for understanding the current relevance of the program to our legal community and to the residents of the communities who face barriers in their quest for safe, affordable housing. The four segments also addressed important social justice issues. This syllabus identifies the topics and issues covered and includes the list of the program’s impressive, knowledgeable speakers and moderators whom we thank for sharing their wisdom and insights concerning the challenges faced by minorities in many communities.

This effort shed light on the varied problems and the laws that offer useful tools to address the problems. From these discussions, we might collectively explore and figure out how to implement solutions and interventions. We also hoped to generate interest among lawyers for serving as advocates for the people and their communities that are in desperate need of support and access to legal remedies, economic support and social justice resources.

All segments are or soon will be available to view through the ISBA’s archives of previously recorded webinars. They are well worth two hours of your time—even eight hours for all four webinars. Please search for the program series on-line or call Jeanne Heaton or the knowledgeable CLE Staff at the ISBA Springfield Office for information about viewing these informative panel presentations.

HOUSING JUSTICE vs. HOUSING INJUSTICE HOW UNFAIR HOUSING PRACTICES KEEP SEGREGATION INTACT

A CLE PROGRAM SERIES EXAMINING THE IMPACT ON MINORITY INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES* OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION, MORTGAGE FRAUD, THE FORECLOSURE CRISIS and the HOUSING VOUCHER SYSTEM

 

PART ONE: SCOTUS Opinion, Fair Housing Policies and Housing Voucher Programs

In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project (Doc. No. 13-1371), decided by a 5-4 vote in June of 2015, the U. S. Supreme Court recognized the validity of the disparate impact theory for claims brought under the federal Fair Housing Act against owner/operators of government rental housing developments. However, the court also held that in a discrimination claim seeking liability under that Act, a plaintiff must show not only compelling data of disparate impact but that the data resulted from a particular policy enforced by the housing entity. How will this case impact the cause of access to affordable, quality housing by low-income minority residents?

• Related issues to be addressed: Impact of housing voucher programs and other affordable housing initiatives on individuals and communities: which ones work and which ones do not but instead maintain and even promote racial, ethnic and socio-economic class segregation. How can we measure whether government-funded programs “affirmatively further fair housing” as promised in policy statements? What should we make of HUD’s 2015 guidance which states that “adverse housing decisions may constitute racial discrimination”? How can we factor in the often profound impact on children’s education—or lack thereof—as a result of constant residence changes and schools’ residency requirements?

• Speakers: Kimberly Nevels, HUD, Director of Region 5; Marisa Novara, Vice-President of the Metropolitan Planning Council; Ngozi Okorafor, IDHR General Counsel; and Attorney Kate Walz, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

• Moderator: Sharon Eiseman

• Synopsis: In this segment, we learned about the laws and regulations pertaining to eligibility for affordable housing and enforcement of the anti-discrimination provisions (covering all the protected groups) by HUD at the federal level and by the Department of Human Rights at our State level. We also learned from our speaker from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law about ways to overcome the potential obstacles to filing a discrimination claim under the Fair Housing Act against owners or operators of affordable housing developments after the Texas Dept. of Housing SCOTUS Opinion holding that proof of a policy of discrimination is a necessary element of proof. In this session, the Vice-President of the Metropolitan Planning Council shared her agency’s research on how inadequate housing opportunities can reinforce segregation and all the societal ills that can befall communities without supportive resources for individuals, families and businesses.

*As used in the program title, “Minority Individuals and Communities” is intended to be inclusive of the broad range of minority or ‘diversity’ groups.

 

PART TWO: Landlord Privileges/Defenses; Tenant Rights/Remedies

Housing rights for victims of domestic and sexual violence under VAWA (Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013) and Illinois’ Safe Homes Act of 2007, both of which are intended to protect residents of rental housing.

• Barriers created for persons with arrest records or convictions for minor offenses; ‘Ban the Box’ laws across the country that help improve access to employment opportunities—and thus to housing—for the population with criminal records who are generally racial and ethnic minorities; use by landlords of background checks to screen out undesirable tenants: how abuse of due process rights by landlords leads to rejection of applicants and eviction of tenants; the disparate impact of such practices on minorities; and efforts to educate the public about the legal remedies of expungement and sealing of criminal history records. HUD’s April 4, 2016 guidance to “providers of housing and real estate-related transactions” on the “Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records” for screening rental applicants as well as in the sale and financing of various forms of real estate.

• When can landlords legally exercise their right to evict tenants? What remedies can wrongfully evicted tenants pursue? How does the displacement of families from their housing—and often from the children’s neighborhood schools and their friendship circles—affect the quality of life in the communities where this phenomenon is prevalent?

• Speakers: Matthew Hulstein, Supervisor of Chancery Court Access to Justice and Mediation Programs for CVLS; Co-Director Danielle McCain, JMLS Fair Housing Legal Support Center; Kate Walz, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

• Moderator: Masah S. Renwick, Renwick Firm, Inc.

• Synopsis: Registrants heard about challenges faced by tenants, including when the landlord as owner is facing foreclosure of the property where the tenant resides; other tenant rights; and what landlords must do to legally evict a non-complying tenant. The audience also learned where tenants can find help, including at the JMLS Housing Clinic where one of the panelists serves as a co-director. Another topic vetted was the recent enactments by cities and villages of ‘crime-free’ ordinances that facilitate evictions of tenants deemed as nuisances or as creating a nuisance for other tenants through no fault of their own (such as when a victim of domestic violence calls 911 for emergency help and police cars arrive with lights flashing) and how those ordinances are being challenged with some success. In Chicago and Cook County there may be more resources for tenants in such circumstances.

 

PART THREE: Mortgage Fraud, Subprime Lenders & the Foreclosure Crisis: Abandoned Residences, Deteriorating Neighborhoods, Decrease in Housing Options and Increased Violence

• How discriminatory practices of sub-prime lenders in minority neighborhoods have contributed to destruction of communities, especially of minority populations, and also occasioned gentrification to the detriment of those populations; how city and county resources and advocacy can help restore these areas.

• How does the foreclosure process work and how can the process be abused and by what entities? What kind of relief is available to the homeowner during the foreclosure process? What is likely to happen to the property that is the subject of the proceeding? If a community or neighborhood is experiencing a high volume of foreclosures, and thus many abandoned homes that will deteriorate over time, how might that affect the value of the homes (and possibly even small condo developments) and ultimately the community at large, including commercial uses in the area and the availability of home ownership for a low and moderate income population?

• Is anyone holding the lenders accountable? Weighing the impact of predatory and sub-prime lenders on the integrity of neighborhoods; analyzing the lawsuits filed against lenders by the Illinois Attorney General that, through settlements, have brought consumer relief and effected industry change; actions that municipalities, small and large, might take to assist foreclosure victims and help to heal devastated neighborhoods; what new, legitimate opportunities for financial incentives/assistance might be available for first-time low to moderate income homebuyers. Are particular populations, such as minorities, the disabled, women and single mothers, more vulnerable to abusive or predatory lender practices in the home-buyers’ market?

• Municipal ordinances providing for percentage set-asides for subsidized housing units in new multi-residential developments and the rationale for developer exemptions from such requirements through the payment of a set fee; what are benefits and drawbacks from the “gentrification” that might result from such developments?

• Speakers: Chicago’s Fifth Ward Alderwoman Leslie Hairston; Joel L. Chupak of Heinrich & Kramer PC; Assistant Attorney General Andrew Dougherty; Carina Segalini, Case Manager for the Cook County Circuit Court’s Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program

• Moderator: Yolaine Dauphin, Adm. Law Judge and REM Vice-Chair

• Synopsis: The audience for this segment was given a primer in how litigants can navigate the foreclosure process and what rights are afforded and what obligations are imposed upon both sides in the court proceedings. Also reviewed were the potential outcomes and the resulting consequences, and what impacts are seen in communities where foreclosures are commonplace. It was uplifting to hear about the major—and very successful—litigation brought by the Illinois Attorney General and Attorneys General in other states against numerous ‘predatory’ lenders for the harm they caused to many persons and families in Illinois and other states. The complaints identified the intentionally unlawful lending practices that led families to default on their payments for mortgages they could not afford and then into foreclosure. This process resulted in a surplus of abandoned homes that in turn led to vandalism and the deterioration of large areas of many urban communities. The success of the lawsuit in Illinois, reported on by the Assistant Attorney General who was part of the litigation team, was a huge monetary settlement of benefit to the victims who were able to experience some recovery through access to some of the funds and to counselling resources for ‘rebuilding’ their lives. The audience also learned about the Foreclosure Mediation Program created by the Cook County Circuit Court and overseen by one of the panelists, a program that gives defendant owners in foreclosure proceedings the chance to find a way to refinance their mortgages and maintain their homes. In addition, a well-known Chicago Alderwoman gave the attendees an overview of some City programs benefitting communities that found themselves devastated by the 2008 recession and all it wrought, including funding and other resources for selling ‘zombie’ properties and providing financial support to new owners for rehabbing or rebuilding so the affected communities can recover. However, we were reminded that such work takes time and continued support.

 

PART FOUR: Resources for Rebuilding Communities:

One response to the foreclosure crisis caused by predatory lending is a movement called The Anti-Eviction Campaign. Its leader and adherents promote taking over, fixing up, and “moving homeless people into the people-less homes” left in the wake of the housing crash. However, that approach does not end with the occupants having a legal right to occupy the premises—although such advocacy has brought attention to bear on the dual problem of abandoned housing units and people in need of housing.

• Issues/interventions to be addressed in this final segment include: plans for reviving and rescuing decimated areas from neglect through financial investment, reinvestment, and new construction projects in partnership with small developers; improving availability of resources necessary for daily life such as accessible public transportation services to help connect residents with their places of employment and families to their children’s schools, and open space and grocery and other retail stores; assuring sufficiency of law enforcement for protection and other community services; and programs to provide financial assistance for residential access for low and middle-income families, especially women and single mothers, persons with disabilities who are more vulnerable to abuse, fraud and employment challenges and a population that, due to ‘brushes’ with the law, have difficulty finding a job so they can find housing.

• Speakers: Steven Quaintance McKenzie, Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel with the Building and License Enforcement Division of Chicago’s Law Dept.; Staff Attorney Ryann Moran from Cabrini Green Legal Aid; Britt Shawver, CEO and Exec. Dir. Of Housing Opportunities for Women (H.O.W.); and Geoff Smith, Exec. Dir. Of the DePaul Institute of Housing Studies

• Synopsis: It is tempting to say: “just check out the webinar” because you will feel disheartened yet intrigued by the astounding research data from the DePaul Institute of Housing Studies about age and racial distributions in housing and home ownership across Chicago’s neighborhoods and where certain populations are concentrated, but also hopeful for those people who are disconnected from what we consider the normal activities and supportive services and resources we all take for granted. You will feel hopeful because you will hear four impressive speakers from equally impressive legal and NFP social service agencies explain in helpful detail what programs are available to assist individuals who are traumatized and communities that must rebuild—and there are many despite the terrible budget crisis Springfield has been unable to resolve. Such programs support residents who are in need of safe and affordable housing, in need of clearing their records of inconsequential criminal postings so they can find employment, and in need of finding other connections in their communities to sustain them. You’d also hear about families eagerly trying to re-establish their family stability through home ownership that is reachable for them because of some visionary government programs and public-private partnerships. One special program is the Cook County Land Bank which was explained in this segment. Its benefits will surprise and delight you because who doesn’t benefit when one’s neighbors are healthy and happy and where they want to be. IF ONLY WE STILL DIDN’T HAVE TO WRESTLE WITH THE PROBLEM OF SEGREGATED AND UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES AND WITH AREAS WHERE LONG-TIME RESIDENTS ARE BEING DISPLACED BY GENTRIFICATION! STILL—WE NEED TO CELEBRATE EVERY STEP OF PROGRESS WE TAKE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

*As used in the program title, “Minority Individuals and Communities” is intended to be inclusive of the broad range of minority or ‘diversity’ groups.

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Sharon Eiseman, soon-to-be Ex-Officio of the Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law, was so honored to serve as Chair for the 2016-17bar year. She notes it has been a very supportive, engaged and respectful group of lawyers whose contributions to the ISBA’s diversity initiatives are of continual and continuing value.