By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
It was Friday morning in Chatham when a Cook County eviction team arrived at an apartment in the 8100 block of S. Maryland. It was going to be another busy day. On this street alone, sheriffs had six evictions to execute within steps of each other—a new record for the South Side. A burly male officer with a battering ram stood like an executioner.
The first two evictions did not happen. The owner or a representative of the property wasn’t there so the eviction was called off, but it kicked off a morning for a Crusader reporter who rode along in a sheriff’s police car for an inside look into the work of officers who have to do the dirty work of throwing out tenants under sometimes hot and hostile conditions.
After the first two evictions were called off, the officers then walked across the street to two three-story apartment buildings where they posted fluorescent green “No Trespassing” stickers on units that had already been vacated. Three of the units were trashed with garbage and possessions left behind by the occupant. The offensive odor coming from one unit was so strong that an officer strongly advised a Crusader reporter to stay away from it. Then there was the unit with a fireplace, that was left squeaky clean.
By the end of the day, officers on one team would carry out nearly 30 eviction orders. The total number of evictions for all teams that day was 63. Years after millions of Americans around the country and in Chicago lost their homes to foreclosures, evictions in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods are a daily occurrence keeping the Cook County Sheriff’s office busy around the clock.
So far, this year, on the South Side alone, there were 1,688 evictions that occurred in 10 neighborhoods, according to the latest figures from the Cook County Sheriff’s office. Last year, there were 3,377 evictions in those same neighborhoods on the South Side.
The highest eviction rate among all the neighborhoods is in South Shore, where there are 391 evictions. However, last year, South Shore had 850 evictions—the highest among the 10 neighborhoods surveyed by the Crusader.
Once a neighborhood for middle-class whites who fled the area when Blacks integrated Woodlawn, South Shore is about 95 percent Black and the median income is nearly $30,000 according to Statistical Atlas, a database that provides demographics by state and city.
The second highest on the eviction list is Chatham. This year, the neighborhood has had 316 evictions. The Bronzeville area is third with 261 evictions. Woodlawn is fourth with 229. Rounding out the list are Hyde Park/Kenwood (154), Englewood (109) and Back of the Yards (94).
Eviction is the final step landlords use to take back property after filing papers and enduring months of hearings in Cook County Circuit Court. In most cases, tenants don’t show up to contest the complaint for a number of reasons, but their main problem is lack of money to retain a lawyer. Once a judge grants a landlord an Order of Possession, tenants are notified by the Sherriff’s office that they will be evicted and that may come within 24 hours. Many vacate the property on their own rather than waiting to be forced out. It’s a humbling, if not humiliating, experience that many choose to avoid.
For this story, a Crusader reporter rode along for several hours with Bob, a member of a Cook County eviction team made up of four officers: three males and one female. The evictions unit has approximately 30 officers. The number of teams that go out each day varies. Four officers are assigned to a team. Every day, the teams spread out to cover the nation’s second most-populated county in carrying out eviction orders that can sometimes get testy.
The region that requires the most enforcement is the South Side.
The ride-along began at 8 a.m. with Bob, who has worked with Cook County’s eviction unit for six years. Before this, Bob worked for 15 years with Cook County’s SWAP program, which reduces jail overcrowding by providing an alternative discipline to incarceration.
At the beginning of his shift, Bob peruses a three-page list of evictions his team will execute for the day. His team has 30 evictions to execute that day, but the Crusader observed seven scheduled evictions during the ride-along. Many were in South Shore, but those would come later. Chatham was first on the list. Out of three police cars sprang four officers in the 8100 block of S. Maryland Ave. They entered the apartment building and climbed two flights of stairs before they reached their destination.
“Sheriff’s office! Eviction!” yelled one male officer. The door was not locked and the apartment looked abandoned and trashed with the tenant’s belongings.
The last two evictions occurred in the 1100 West block on Marquette Road in Englewood. As a precaution and standard procedure, members of the press do not enter an apartment or unit with the eviction team. The media is allowed into the property after the team leaves and posts the “No Trespassing” sign on the front door.
When the officers arrived to evict a tenant in Englewood, they discovered a neighbor was watching the tenant’s children. That neighbor was also evicted that day. The Sheriff’s office said the man had gone to the store to buy diapers. A total of 6 children, two teenagers and a toddler were evicted from two units. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office said this was not a “home alone situation” and the children had a place to go. Both units were left in unsanitary conditions.
Cook County has a social service team in its eviction department. The team provides counseling and helps connect tenants to shelters and social services. In extreme cases where there are no options for tenants with children and disabled occupants, an eviction will be called off, according to Sophia Ansari, spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s department.
Last year, the eviction social services department county-wide had 796 eviction cases opened, Ansari said. Of this number, 511 cases involved children under 14 and individuals with a mental illness.