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Tenant's Plights

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ansell.qxd

Dear editor,

I found the article "It's Insanity!" [August 28] to be another disappointing example of why the Reader should stop writing stories about landlord-tenant issues. As my mother used to say, if you can't do something well, don't do it at all. Not since Ben Joravsky did a good job of covering the issue of landlord neglect in 1990 has there been a decent in-depth article in the Reader that is fair to both sides of the issues. It's not that there haven't been good stories to cover. How about a story covering the mayor's affordable housing plan, which actually netted not a single affordable unit in five years? When the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing released an in-depth study showing how unfair the eviction process is to tenants, there was coverage in four Chicago newspapers, but not a peep in the Reader. Finally, last year, after a long dry spell, the Reader included a piece about tenants having serious problems in their building in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Unfortunately the writer produced a badly researched article that seemed written to purposely denigrate tenant activism.

When the writer of the most recent story, Grant Pick, called me to ask questions about the Speredakos case, it became clear to me that he had set out to write a sensational piece about how tenants supposedly abuse the system. I took Mr. Pick to task at the time, telling him that the case was not representative of the real story in eviction court. Knowing that most of your readers are renters, I urged Mr. Pick to write a piece that explored both sides of the issue. There is another side. We would agree that eviction court is a place where litigants can run roughshod over judges. But in most of those cases, it's the landlords that do the running. Housing and legal groups across the city have been working to improve eviction court and the quality of judges in that division since it was shown that 95 percent of tenants are evicted summarily with virtually no opportunity to be heard. Yet, in a story that spanned six pages and fed into every bad stereotype of tenants as deadbeats, Mr. Pick included only one paragraph that addressed this side of the issue.

Mr. Pick quoted me as saying that I feared the case would become a poster case for landlords with abusive tenants. What I really said was that I feared that Mr. Pick's treatment of the story would turn this anomaly into a poster case that landlords would point to when pushing changes to the protections afforded by the Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance.

Maybe I am a hopeless idealist, but I thought the Reader was Chicago's "alternative newspaper," a phrase that speaks to me of fair, well-balanced reporting. However, after reading Mr. Pick's New York Post style "expose" (with matching cover--does anyone really think that the three individuals pictured on the cover made such awful faces without prompting by the photographer?), I'll be looking for my "alternative news" elsewhere.

Julie Ansell

Executive Director

Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, Inc.

Grant Pick replies:

In my story about court procedure being turned on its head by tomfoolery, I accurately quoted Ms. Ansell on her fear that Speredakos v. McMillion could become a "poster case" bolstering the public perception that unrealistic tenant demands burden good landlords.

My notes show that Ms. Ansell did stress that Speredakos was atypical and that my focusing on it would perpetrate false stereotypes of tenants and might help gut the Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance. I'm sorry the specificity of her point was lost.

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