On Dec. 3, 30 people gathered outside the Cook County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Chicago to demand that Sheriff Tom Dart stop carrying out evictions.
Attendees spoke about the housing conditions in Cook County, led chants, and marched a picket line at the steps of the Sheriff’s office.
Some of the attendees of the action included Gustavo Diaz and his son Junior, who live in South suburban Blue Island. Diaz had lost his job because of an injury before the pandemic began. He has been selling tamales to make ends meet, but has struggled to keep up with rent. He received an eviction order in November even though he is waiting to hear back from state and rental relief programs.
One of the speakers at the action was Candice Choo-Kang, an organizer with People United Albany Park. She spoke about the case of Gary Arriaga, who was able to fight off a threatened eviction in court with support from organizers from PUAP. Arriaga was pregnant when COVID began and was unable to work because of illness. She has five children of her own and helps her family with childcare, and during the pandemic fell behind on rent. She was able to apply for rental assistance and received funding to pay for rent through the middle of 2022. Despite this, her landlord and a court-assigned mediator still tried to get her to move out and pay an additional security deposit. She decided to keep fighting, and at the next court hearing, the landlord agreed to dismiss the case entirely.
Choo-Kang said of Arriaga’s case, “Most importantly Gary’s story shows that when we work together, when we organize together, when we fight back, we win!”
The examples of Arriaga and Diaz show that even when the billions of dollars Congress has set aside in aid to renters and mortgage payers is distributed, people that qualify and receive aid still face eviction. Landlords will take the money and still pursue eviction cases.
La’Shawn Latrice of Make Noize for Change connected the struggle against evictions to the struggle of the people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. The sheriff’s building is located in a complex that includes the main Cook County Courthouse and the Cook County Jail, one of the largest jails in the country. COVID has been a constant danger in the jail since the very start of the pandemic, and as of Dec. 9, 147 people inside were positive for COVID-19.
The Supreme Court overturned the federal eviction moratorium put in place to help combat COVID-19 on Aug. 26. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker subsequently refused to renew the Illinois eviction moratorium and it ended on Oct. 3. Since then, evictions have steadily begun to resume in Illinois.
On Dec. 7 alone, 47 evictions were scheduled to be carried out by the Cook County Sheriff.
Evictions now are especially devastating for families and individuals impacted. Cold weather has begun in Chicago, which makes spending a night without housing even more dangerous.
It’s also the holiday season, which adds to the emotional toll of eviction and displacement.
Finally, Illinois is seeing its highest number of COVID cases and hospitalizations in months. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Dec. 9, there is high transmission of COVID-19 in Cook County. Illinois is now regularly averaging over 7,000 new cases of COVID a day, more than any time this year. Evictions have been shown to lead to the spread and worsening of COVID.
In October 2008, during the height of the housing crisis when the county was seeing a record number of foreclosures, Sheriff Dart unilaterally stopped his office from carrying out evictions in foreclosure cases. His office only resumed evictions after the county court system agreed to reform certain aspects of the eviction process to provide more protections to tenants. The courts did not intervene against the sheriff, and the Illinois Attorney General at the time supported the moratorium.
More recently, other sheriffs in the United States have also stopped evictions, at least temporarily. The St. Louis sheriff has stopped doing evictions for lack of payment until the end of the year.
Going forward, organizers plan to continue the call that the Cook County Sheriff stop carrying out evictions. PUAP organizer Choo-Kang closed out her speech by saying, “We won’t rest until we win and we won’t rest until Tom Dart stops these evictions We won’t rest until we will defeat these greedy landlords and these crooked courts. We won’t rest until we have justice!”
Feature photo: Organizers gather outside the Cook County Sheriff’s office on Dec. 3 and demand an end to evictions. Liberation photo