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Evanston residents call for halt to elderly homeowner's eviction

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Miriam Finder Annenberg

Holding signs that read "Eviction Free Zone" and "People Over Profit," 16 Evanston residents rallied Saturday against a homeowner being put out of her foreclosed home, urging Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart's office to place a moratorium on reverse mortgage evictions.

The demonstration centered around Audrey Steele, an Evanston senior who lives in the house at 1824 Grey Street in the north suburb with her disabled adult son. The family is facing eviction, which was ordered last fall. The family was able to get a 60-day stay of that Nov. 16, 2017 eviction order, which expired Jan. 15, 2018, court documents show.

The brick, single-family home went into foreclosure in April 2015 – months after Audrey's husband Jerry died. And Audrey Steele's supporters argue that she is a victim of predatory lending.

In 2002, Jerry Steele signed a reverse mortgage, which lends homeowners age 62 and older a portion of their property's equity. However, since Audrey Steele was in her 50s at the tie, she was kept off the loan, she explained

After her husband died, she was told she must either pay the remaining loan or leave the house, which has been in her deceased husband's family for three generations, she said.

"It's really been rough for me," Steele said. "I'm still trying to find a place … rent is so high out here in Evanston I can't really afford it."

In 2008, Dart put a moratorium on foreclosure evictions, though not ones specifically linked to predatory lenders. At the time, The Chicago area saw an uptick in foreclosures as the economic recession waged on.

Sophia Ansari, a spokeswoman for Dart's office, told the Evanston Review Monday that county social services staff is looking into Steele's eviction order.

"We are certainly concerned about any eviction where occupants are in any way vulnerable and will not conduct enforcement until our social services staff are assured that those occupants' needs are addressed to the best of our ability," said Ansari.

The Evanston residents-turned demonstrators who gathered outside Steele's home Saturday said that lenders are taking advantage of low-income and often minority seniors in the community, a practice they said they see over and over.

Bobby Burns is the co-founder of Evanston Collective, a group that addresses issues facing the African American community in Evanston. He spoke at the rally, citing research he said points to predatory lending disparities.

"Although this is tragic, it unfortunately isn't unique," he said. "This neighborhood, which is historically black, was targeted."

Lonnie Wilson, who has lived in Evanston since 1956, said his family has been in the city for five generations. He said over the years, minority families have been displaced and their homes purchased by developers as affordable housing options diminish.

"When I grew up, whatever direction I looked in, I saw nothing but black," he said. "However, 20, 30 years later, they're gone."

Stephanie Kruger said she receives letters three times a week from developers offering to purchase her Evanston house. She said as property values rise, people are getting pushed out of their homes.

Resident Lenny Lamkin also noted receiving solicitations from developers in his mailbox, and said Evanston needs to work on issues of affordable housing and eviction as a community rather than leaving it solely in the hands of the City Council.

"We have an affordable housing fund in Evanston," he said. "They just haven't figured out how to use it."

Burns said he wished his organization could also get involved with buying foreclosed houses, as well.

"We could buy this home if we had the capital," he said of the Steele's house. "If we had the money, we could buy this home and give it back."

After rallying, the group marched south on Grey Avenue to Church Street, stopping at the corner to sing "We Shall Overcome."

The group fears more evictions are to come, but hopes their efforts will keep Steele and her son in their home for now.

"There's 200 of theses cases [in Cook County] going on at any time, and they're overwhelmingly in communities of color," said attorney Chris Kruger. "If we want to change … we've got to show up."

Miriam Finder Annenberg is a freelancer.



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