by Dennis Rodkin
Albany Park Neighborhood Council
Diane Limas knows from childhood experience what it’s like for a family to live on the fringe of the housing market. Growing up as one of 12 children in a low-income family, she watched her parents struggle to find and keep rental housing in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. “Nobody wanted to rent to our family,” Limas recalls. “Getting housing was always an issue for us.”
So this past year, when she heard that seven families living in a Spaulding Avenue apartment building on Chicago’s Northwest Side had been threatened with eviction—despite the fact that they had regularly paid their rent—Limas, a member of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, sprang into action. As it turned out, the problem stemmed from actions by the builder’s latest owner. Unbeknownst to the renting families, he had used the building as collateral and fraudulently received nearly $2 million in loans. By the time the building went into foreclosure, the owner had skipped town.
While ultimately the families on Spaulding Avenue were granted a reprieve—the building has been placed in receivership, and the tenants have been allowed to stay—Limas suspected that the problem would continue to surface unless changes were made in the eviction process. To publicize the problem, Limas and others staged a July demonstration in the plaza of the Daley Center. After the demonstration, they headed up to the office of Cook County sheriff Tom Dart. They met with an undersheriff (Dart was out of town), and later met with Dart himself. “The mortgage problem popped up on all of us overnight,” says Dart. “Then Diane comes in with this situation in Albany Park that was just egregious.” Within a few weeks, Dart announced a temporary halt to foreclosure evictions in Cook County. (For more on Dart, see The New Law in Town, page 80.)
Limas’s involvement with the neighborhood council dates back to the early 1990s, when she bought a two-flat in Albany Park that she shared with one of her sisters. A city employee—she works for the Chicago Board of Elections—Limas was drawn by the cultural diversity of that Northwest Side neighborhood and its large stock of affordable housing. But after a few years, Limas noticed that condo conversions and rising rents had begun to undercut the community’s affordability. About 15 years ago, she began volunteering with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, where she championed civil rights and affordable housing.
“Everyone has a right to affordable housing,” insists Limas, 64, who praises Dart’s swift handling of the foreclosure problem. “As soon as he got the whole story, he did something,” she says. “It was a huge victory for the, so to speak, little people.”