After a moratorium expired last year, Cook County eviction rates have steadily climbed back to their highest levels since the pandemic started.
Landlords filed 2,500 eviction cases in Cook County circuit court in March. For comparison, that’s 300 more cases than the same month in 2019, according to a WBEZ analysis of data requested from the Office of the Chief Judge.
The South and West sides have been hit the hardest since the expiration of state and federal protections, which were designed to keep renters from losing their housing during the first waves of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Going back to that normal”
“There was so much public attention during the eviction moratorium and just before it was lifted, and there was all this public will and government resources to prevent evictions, which was great,” said Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois. “But I’m fearing going back to the normal of before the pandemic where people were being evicted every day mostly just because they can’t pay the rent. It seems like we are going back to that normal.”
When the state’s eviction moratorium went into effect in early 2020, evictions in Cook County plummeted. Since the moratorium expired last October, filings have steadily increased.
The chief judge’s office only released summary figures of monthly filing totals for eviction court, with no clear indication of how those cases were resolved or which communities were most affected. To measure the impact of evictions, WBEZ filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which ultimately enforces eviction judgments when tenants are ordered to vacate a home.
South Side, south suburbs were most impacted
Data from the sheriff’s office show 16 of the top 20 ZIP codes that experienced the most evictions after the pandemic began in March of 2020 were on the South and West sides of Chicago. The suburbs don’t make the list until No. 11, with the appearance of south suburban Chicago Heights. Then, nearby Calumet City at No. 22 and Riverdale at No. 29.
The top three ZIP codes that experienced the most evictions were 60649 (South Shore), 60619 (Chatham) and 60637 (West Woodlawn). According to Census Reporter, between a quarter and a third of residents in these three ZIP codes live below the poverty line.
The sheriff’s office data only includes a subset of eviction filings in Cook County: those with a judgment against the tenant, where the court ordered they vacate the home.
Property management companies typically file the most claims in Cook County eviction court. According to data on completed evictions from the sheriff’s office, the top three firms listed as plaintiffs since the pandemic started were Pangea Ventures, LLC, with 84, followed by Kass Management Services Inc. and Medallion Properties, LLC.
In 2019, the Chicago Reader wrote a profile of Pangea and published a list of companies affiliated with it that protect it from litigation. The newspaper’s analysis of Cook County eviction court data from 2007 to 2018 found that since the company was founded, “Pangea has taken as many people to court as the next four landlords combined.”
“Rental assistance has really been a savior”
Dennericka Brooks, director of housing at Legal Aid Chicago, said rental assistance programs have kept evictions from skyrocketing.
“Landlords and tenants are still engaging in rental assistance,” she said. “Rental assistance has really been a savior in this process for a lot of families to keep them stably housed.”
According to Daniel Hertz, director of policy at Chicago Department of Housing, DOH has distributed more than $150 million in rental assistance to approximately 30,000 households since the pandemic began.
Although Brooks is grateful for the eviction moratorium, she said, “We’ve been busy, very busy, this whole time. Because of the limited resources, we’re all struggling to keep up. There’s still a huge need.”
“I think the fear is that a lot of the interventions that were put in place during COVID are not permanent. As far as we can see, there is not another giant tranche of rental assistance funds coming down from the federal government,” he said. “How do we keep as much of these interventions as possible over a longer term?”
Jane Vaughan is a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University and a reporter with Jefferson Public Radio in Oregon. Follow her @jvaughan124.