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773.818.9054 office/cell
866.381.4238 efax

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Homeless Chicago Family Moves Into Foreclosed Home

From today's NY Times:

In a giggly voice, a small homeless girl with blue-framed glasses chased her younger brother and sister around the front porch of a long-deserted two-flat on the South Side, chanting, “Fight, fight, fight, ’cause housing is a human right.”

Jimmya Biggs, 10, and her siblings learned the chant — a nursery rhyme for the age of foreclosure — from a group of low-income-housing advocates, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. In a well-planned and orchestrated event on June 17, the campaign moved the children, their single mother and her teenage sister into the foreclosed building to bring attention to what the co-founder of the group, Willie J. R. Fleming, called the “twin evils” of homelessness and foreclosures.

Just a few weeks earlier, the children and their mother, Martha Biggs, 34, had been living in the family minivan, doing their homework and saying their prayers in the dim glow of a dome light.

“At the Anti-Eviction Campaign, we decided to play matchmaker and put homeless people into people-less housing,” Mr. Fleming said at a news conference on the front lawn of the two-flat.

But the family could soon become homeless again. The group does not own the red brick building in the middle of the 6700 block of South Prairie Avenue. It has been in legal limbo for about two years, vacant and abandoned by its owner, Stacy Hill, a schoolteacher who is exhausted by negotiations with banks and lawyers for a mortgage modification, said Ms. Hill’s mother, who gave the group the keys to the house. Ms. Hill found it increasingly difficult to maintain her mortgage payments because she had problems keeping tenants.

Deutsche Bank National Trust Company filed a foreclosure suit against the owner in 2009. Neither bank officials nor Ms. Hill, who has since moved to Philadelphia, would comment.

“She couldn’t get any relief,” said Ms. Hill’s mother, Pat Hill, executive director of the African American Police League and a supporter of the Anti-Eviction Campaign. “The banks were too big to fail and got bailed out. What about the people?”

The Anti-Eviction Campaign chose the two-flat because it was one of at least 1,700 foreclosure actions temporarily halted in Cook County after Fisher & Shapiro, the law firm handling the cases on behalf of the banks, self-reported to Circuit Court officials three months ago that documents in some of the cases had been altered. Many foreclosure proceedings could be delayed for months.

Last Monday, Ms. Hill filed suit in Federal Court against Fisher & Shapiro, alleging that the firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The suit seeks class-action status and damages.

Pat Hill said that her daughter is not fighting to get the building back. “She doesn’t want it any more after all of this,” Pat Hill said. “As far as we’re concerned, this home belongs to Martha and her kids and the community.”

The law firm’s managing partner, Lee Perres, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The only noise coming out of the 101-year-old building for much of the last two years was the sound of thieves ripping out copper pipes, radiators, ceiling fans, bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances. Neighbors feared that another crack house was slowly being born.

Before moving into the two-flat, before sleeping in their car, before wandering from relative to friend like refugees, the family rented an apartment in a weary West Side building. It, too, was in foreclosure.

When the building changed hands last year, the new owners raised the rent. Working on the line at a hot dog factory, Ms. Biggs, who grew up in the Cabrini-Green public housing development, said she could not afford it, along with gas and electricity. “We became homeless,” she said.

Mr. Fleming, the housing advocate, who also once lived in Cabrini-Green, knew Ms. Biggs and asked her to move into the South Prairie Avenue two-flat to make a statement and to provide shelter for her children. They both knew it would be risky. The authorities might come banging on the door and demand she and her family leave. But worse than that, she said, her children’s hearts could be broken again.

“They love it here,” she said the other day, showing off the freshly painted rooms and the used dining room set given to her by a neighbor. “This is a blessing. My kids don’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep or wash up. What happens next is in God’s hands.”

The group hopes that if the bank assumes ownership, it will allow the family to live there at a reasonable rent.

Before moving in, Ms. Biggs had to promise Mr. Fleming she would help repair the building. For six weeks, she worked alongside a skilled handyman, Tommy Tillman, learning how to put up drywall and install tile and plumbing fixtures.

She took time out to attend the eighth-grade graduation of her 15-year-old daughter, Jajunna. “She did it even though we were homeless,” Ms. Biggs said of her daughter. “I’m so proud of her.”

Ms. Biggs hung Jajunna’s red cap and crown on a nail in the wall of the sparsely furnished living room.

“For right now,” she said, “that’s all the decoration I need.”


4:09 pm cdt 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Magellan Development Starts Another High-Rise Apartment Complex

My former employer, Magellan Development, has started another high rise apartment development to cash in on the booming rental market.

GlobeSt.com reportsthat Magellan Development Group has broken ground on the $150 million Coast at Lakeshore East, a 45-story apartment tower in the company’s $4 billion mixed-use complex on Lake Michigan. Magellan and JP Morgan Asset Management, an equity partner, have invested more than $50 million, with another $99 million provided by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

The new tower will have 499 apartments, 18,000 square feet of retail and a 272-car parking facility. Amenities will include an outdoor pool, fitness center, media room, indoor spa and more. The project should open for occupancy by February 2013.

Magellan has already completed a collection of condominium and apartment towers on the site, with an average occupancy of about 95%. The buildings include the Regatta, Chandler, Tides, Shoreham and Lancaster, as well as the new Village Market, a 105,000-square-foot retail mall that will include the anchor Mariano’s Fresh Market.

James Loewenberg, co-CEO at Magellan, tells GlobeSt.com that the complex is so immense, and successful, that the company doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of the multifamily market in Chicago. “We’ve been strong since we started,” he says.

Also, the 28-acre site is only just more than half built-out, he says. Another seven buildings are planned. “When it’s all done, we should have more than 5,000 units and 15,000 residents on the site, with another two hotels. We’ve got about 3,000 units now. We’ll see how the Coast goes, but we hope to start the next tower next year,” Loewenberg says.

Brininstool Kerwin & Lynch designed the Coast. McHugh Construction Co. is the general contractor.


3:31 pm cdt 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Be Careful When Asked to Co-Sign a Lease!

The Chicago Tribune just had an article about co-signing a lease for a relative which I am reprinting below. Be aware that co-signer means that you're as responsible as the primary lessee (or borrower if you are talking about a mortgage!) and be wary of who you do this for.

Q. I agreed to co-sign a lease for my nephew. He lost his job, fell behind on the rent and eventually left the rental. But he owes two months' rent, and the landlord has demanded that I pay up. He's threatening to garnish my wages or attach my bank account. Can he do this?

A. Agreeing to be a co-signer is a significant undertaking. When you did so, you agreed to pay debts that the tenant, your nephew, failed to pay.

Unless the agreement says otherwise (and most don't, because these agreements are written by lawyers who are working on behalf of landlords), the landlord won't have to try to get the money first from the tenant, nor even exhaust the security deposit, before turning to you.

If you are a deep pocket and easy to find, the landlord will naturally look to you. In fact, savvy landlords won't accept co-signers who are not well-heeled and local for precisely this reason.

The most problematic consequence for co-signers occurs when the tenant has a defense to the demand. For example, suppose the tenant moves out, and the landlord claims he has left damage that exceeds the security deposit. The tenant says that the damage existed when he moved in.

The landlord cannot garnish wages or attach bank accounts until he has gone to court and obtained a judgment for money damages. But if the tenant does not show up for court and lets the landlord win by default, or offers a losing defense, your wages and bank accounts will be on the line if the tenant won't or can't pay.

Of course, skipping town or not vigorously defending the case would be a rotten thing to do to Uncle Julian. Most tenants who use family as co-signers will do their best to protect their family members.

And savvy landlords know that a family co-signer will exert significant psychological pressure on the tenant to honor his obligations, which makes such a co-signer a good bet.

Many states want to make very sure that co-signers understand the extent of their responsibilities when they co-sign a credit contract, loan or vehicle lease.

California requires that the following warning accompany any such contract in which a co-signer is involved:

"You are being asked to guarantee this debt. Think carefully before you do. If the borrower doesn't pay the debt, you will have to. Be sure you can afford to pay if you have to, and that you want to accept this responsibility. You may have to pay up to the full amount of the debt if the borrower does not pay. You may also have to pay late fees or collection costs, which increase this amount.

"The creditor can collect this debt from you without first trying to collect from the borrower. The creditor can use the same collection methods against you that can be used against the borrower, such as suing you, garnishing your wages, etc. If this debt is ever in default, that fact may become a part of your credit record. This notice is not the contract that makes you liable for the debt."

Landlords are not required to give similar warnings, but there's no logical reason not to. It might scare off some co-signers, but, in the long run, it will make things easier for a landlord who has to turn to the co-signer to satisfy a tenant debt.

8:14 pm cdt 

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