Housing & Community Development Blog

The Housing & Community Development Legal Clinic at DePaul University College of Law provides corporate and transactional legal assistance to organizations working in affordable housing and community development. DePaul law students participating in the clinic will offer posts about current issues in affordable housing and their experiences in the clinic. We invite you to learn more about us by following our blog or visiting our website. If you are an organization working in affordable housing and community development interested in working with the clinic, please contact us for assistance. 

The opinions on this blog are that of the student author and do not represent the opinions of the Clinic, the College of Law or the University. Nothing on this blog is intended as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice. This blog does not create a lawyer-client relationship. Readers must consult their own attorney for any legal advice.

Entreprenuership Classes are Almost Ready to Go

At the start of this school year, my partner and I were tasked with brainstorming and developing a lesson plan for business related classes that we would teach to budding entrepreneurs. At first, the assignment seemed daunting, but as we starting working, I realized that I underestimated this project.

I was a tutor in undergrad, so I have some experience with teaching, but to start from scratch and then have to relay that information in a way to students that most likely have little to no understanding of the concept, is significantly more difficult. Similarly, trying to combine different teaching styles, ideas, and personality types together to make the classes run smoothly and adhere to different learning styles is a challenge in and of itself.

Despite these challenges, and some speed bumps along the way, our classes are fully formed, and nearly ready to teach. We have three classes scheduled at two different venues, and each class will have a different audience. Our goal for these classes is not to memorize the material completely, but to have a concrete understanding that will allow us to be ready for any question or issue that might arise during our lesson. By being able to anticipate problems and questions, we will be able to already have an answer prepared.

I have come to realize that teaching is not about knowing all of the answers all the time, but rather, having enough of an understanding to be able to find the answer, or to direct the student toward the answer they are seeking. I have a new found appreciation for the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into teaching a group of students. I am looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring, and to what doors this assignment may open for me in the future. ​

Is Ben Carson Qualified to be Secretary of HUD?

Ever since Donald Trump made the announcement of his pick for Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there has been debate surrounding whether or not Ben Carson has the qualifications to take on such a position; a position previously held by Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.  So what exactly are the qualifications to be the head of HUD? Is it your experience living in subsidized housing? Or maybe it’s just your mere ability to connect with people. These two things are exactly what makes Ben Carson qualified, at least to his longtime advisor and friend, Armstrong Williams[1].

Ben Carson pioneered the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a fetus inside the womb, developed new methods to treat brain-stem tumors, and became the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery in the country at age 33[2]. Although all great accomplishments, none of these aforementioned events make him qualified to run a government department designed to develop and execute policies on housing. As Armstrong Williams stated, it’s the fact that Ben Carson grew up in subsidized housing and has never been disconnected from the people who live that lifestyle[3].

In 2013, Ben Carson was quoted as saying, “having grown up in dire poverty, the thing that I hated the most in life was poverty. I just hated poverty. But as I began to read those books, particularly about people's accomplishments, I began to realize that poverty was really more of a choice than anything else and that I could change that. And it really just depended on how hard I wanted to work”[4]. It is hard to imagine how a person with such a narrow mindset can have a positive impact on an agency that provides affordable housing and rental assistance to low income families; families who have not chosen to be in poverty, but rather have circumstances that won’t allow them to be in any other position. Once again convoluting the difference between choices and circumstances, this year, Ben Carson referred to slaves as immigrants[5]. Following Ben Carson’s line of thinking, this rhetoric suggests that there was never an issue between slave owners and their slaves. Why would there be? The people on the bottom of the slave ships chose to be there. You cannot run an agency that seeks to reduce long standing histories of residential segregation, and not understand the very premise from which that segregation comes from. This entire notion disconnects Ben Carson from African Americans, a group of people that make up 48% of the people in public housing[6].   

Ben Carson does not understand the people living in subsidized housing, nor the reason why we need or have subsidized housing in the first place. His purported qualifications are devalued by his own rhetoric and I can’t help but be nervous for the future of HUD.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2016/12/05/504421433/what-qualifies-ben-carson-to-run-hud-his-life-says-longtime-adviser

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Carson

[3] http://www.npr.org/2016/12/05/504421433/what-qualifies-ben-carson-to-run-hud-his-life-says-longtime-adviser

[4] https://socialistworker.org/2017/02/27/meet-dr-poverty-is-a-choice-carson

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/06/politics/ben-carson-immigrants-slavery/

[6] https://www.huduser.gov/periodicals/ushmc/spring95/spring95.html

How the Legal Clinic is Preparing Me for Practice

​There are many things that lawyers are not taught in law school: the importance of statutory interpretation, client communication, and client management. Unfortunately for future lawyers these are very important to being successful at your practice. Fortunately for me, my clinic experience has been quite focused on learning to be successful at these skills.

In law school students are primarily taught the law through analyzing cases.  This method teaches students to understand how the laws evolved, and how to apply the facts of different hypotheticals to the laws.  What is largely missing during this process is statutory interpretation. Sure law students learn about statutes, but the exams are typically rooted in case law. More importantly, the curriculum does not emphasize how to read statutes, interpret statutes, and apply statutes to the case at hand. While I had looked at statutes and regulations during my summer internships, it was not until my legal clinic experience that I realized that learning statutory interpretation was mostly absent from my education. However, since my clients’ issues have been primarily based on Illinois statutes and City of Chicago ordinances I have been forced to learn this skill.

Statutory interpretation is tricky.  This is because reading a statute is unlike reading anything else.   To understand the statute one must start by reading the statutory definitions section to ascertain how words are being used in throughout the statute.  After learning the definitions one must mentally plug the definition into the text as they read. Statutory interpretation forces one to keep track of many different concepts at once, because there are often multiple definitions in a single sentence.  At first I struggled with statutory interpretation, but now it is coming easier to me.  Learning how to properly read statutes before I’m thrust out into the “real world” has been invaluable, and I am grateful that it is happening in a more intimate setting dedicated to fostering my educational growth.

In addition to statutory interpretation I have had to learn how to balance client communication and management which are directly related to one another.  No two clients are the same just as no two people are the same.  What works for one client does not necessarily work with another, and figuring out how to communicate with your client to solicit the response you desire requires a lot of patience. Learning to speak clearly, precisely, and confidently are at the crux of client communication and management.  This also requires an innate understanding of your client, because the best way to effectively manage and communicate with them is in a way that speaks directly to their interests.

As I look back at all the late nights I have had this semester reading statutes, drafting client emails, and figuring out how to approach emergencies I realize that I have made so much progress in my law school residency.  I cannot wait to see where I am when I finish up these last two months!

Mixed Income Housing Equals Mixed Emotions

​Demonstrators filled the streets of Jefferson Park in Chicago on February 21st.  What were they protesting?  Constituents of the 45th ward rallied against a new multi-family housing complex proposed for Jefferson Park in Chicago.  Alderman John Arena announced a plan to build more affordable housing in Jefferson Park to address what he referred to as a need.  The community is particularly angry about the affordable housing complex that is planned to be built at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.  The plan is to build apartments that would rent 80 units below market rate and at least 20 units to affordable housing.  Community members are concerned that by adding affordable housing units it would “bring the city’s surging violent crime into a neighborhood known for its relative safety.”1  Do affordable housing units actually bring the “city’s surging violent crime”?  I think not.  I do believe however that the 45th Ward’s sentiments are not unique and are simply a continuation of prejudice towards persons who receive housing assistance that has existed historically in Chicago.   

In class we recently went over the Gautreaux litigation, the first major public housing desegregation lawsuit.  The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were charged with concentrating public housing units in isolated African-American neighborhoods in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act.  Notably, most of the public housing units were built on the south side, and those that were built on the north side had whites only policies.  Aldermen and Alderwomen played a significant role in preventing public housing from being built in their communities.  The Supreme Court ultimately found for the African-American public-housing tenants holding that CHA and HUD were guilty of employing discriminatory housing practices.  Although arguably not much has changed since Gautreaux, an increase in mixed-income housing developments have been built around Chicago.  The idea was to integrate communities and prevent further segregation.  

The question now remains whether prejudices and practices have changed as a result of the mixed-income housing development.  I believe that the protest in Jefferson Park indicates that it has not.  Jefferson Park is not the only Ward that has protested mixed-income housing.  About a year ago Alderman Gilbert Villegas of the 36th Ward rejected plans for an affordable housing proposal by the same Full Circle Communities that Alderman Arena is currently working with.  Villegas made his decision after his residents expressed “concern” that housing would attract crime to the area.  Arena is now facing a similar battle.  He has explained that Jefferson Park’s mixed-income housing units would be for people that already live in the ward, such as police officers, teachers, nurses, veterans, and those with disabilities.  Arena himself recognizes sentiments that continue to exist in his statement that “he hopes community dialogue on the proposal would be based on fact and not prejudice.”2  For now Arena will have to face the prejudice of his constituents if he wants to make mixed-income housing available in the 45th Ward.

1 Alex Nitkin, Jefferson Park Housing Debate Draws Voices From Around the City, dnainfo.com (Feb. 22, 2017, 6:07 AM), https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20170222/jefferson-park/jefferson-park-affordable-housing-mixed-income-protest-john-arena

2 Brian Nadig, 7-Story affordable housing project planned for Jeff Park at Milwaukee & Northwest Hwy, Navigate News.

Lessons for Memorandum Drafting

​Alex and I are working on a Memorandum for Brent that synthesizes research which will be used to understand how various Land Banks in Ohio, Georgia and Michigan use nuisance abatement laws to acquire blighted properties. This research is necessary in order to analyze how to better interpret Illinois law, or propose new legislation to enact or modify current law, enabling Cook County and South Suburban Land Banks to implement the most effective strategy (in this case nuisance abatement) to acquire blighted properties. Alex and I are currently on draft four of our memorandum. The editing process has provided some valuable lessons.

When drafting a memorandum, an important concept to consider is perspective. When Alex and I started writing the memorandum, we wrote from our perspective as students who had done the research. This perspective lead Alex and I to making the assumption that the reader already had an understanding of the research we performed. As a result, certain Land Bank and nuisance abatement procedures were not holistically explained. Instead of writing from our perspective, Alex and I should have considered the memorandum from the perspective of Brent and what purpose the memorandum has for Brent. Drafting the memorandum from Brent’s perspective would help us organize between those details that needed to be comprehensively explained and other details that Alex and I could briefly go over.

Another lesson Alex and I learned related to organization of the memorandum. When we first began writing the memorandum, Alex and I organized the memorandum according to how we conducted our research. Initially, we organized the memorandum by first focusing on the general strategies land banks use to acquire blighted properties. Next we would write about Land Bank laws, nuisance abatement laws, and how Land Banks are able to use nuisance abatement to acquire blighted properties. This format, however, made the memorandum difficult to follow. By organizing our memorandum by the way we researched, the memorandum seemed scattered. So, pursuant to Professor Lawton’s suggestion, Alex and I reorganized the memorandum according to states. Reorganizing the memorandum according to states made the memorandum more cohesive than how Alex and I had organized the memorandum before.

The final major lesson Alex and I learned in writing the memorandum was about cohesion and flow.  As Alex and I have found out with each paragraph of each draft, it is always important to keep the purpose of the memorandum at the forefront.  If the purpose of the writing was not apparent in each paragraph, from sentence to sentence, how could we as drafters expect the readers to follow our explanations and ultimately get from the memorandum what we aimed to describe?  By editing the memorandum with our message in mind, a constant eye towards organization, and an understanding of perspectives, the document becomes clearer with each edit, getting Alex and I closer and closer to a cohesive memorandum for the client.

Striking a Balance

Nearly three years of law school has taught me a very valuable lesson; one must learn to multitask (and not allow oneself to become overly distracted with any one thing) to succeed. My multitasking skills have been put to the test this semester, as I have had to balance my studies, work, and a flurry of unexpected health emergencies involving my mother and grandmother. Such a state of affairs does not seem unusual at first glance, but when one of your classes requires you to conduct a series of workshops for different audiences, and time is especially of the essence, the most common of life circumstances can become daunting obstacles. I have not cracked under the pressure, and I am confident that my partner and I are going to deliver the best possible workshops that we can to our “clients,” but these experiences have taught me how to multitask in ways that the past two and a half years of law school have not. Learning how to prioritize my responsibilities has been especially helpful to me this semester. 

In terms of balancing class, work, and family, I have learned that while I need to take care of my family, the best way for me to assist my family long-term is to graduate and receive my law degree, as this will allow me to procure the type of job (and thus, the type of salary) that I need to pay the bills and give my family the best quality of life possible. How does this relate to Clinic? I have learned to depend on my relatives more so that I can devote more time to emailing my client, making arrangements for the various workshops that our team is to conduct in March and April, preparing for the workshops, and seeing our team’s dream finally come to fruition. We have put in too much work this year for life’s unexpected circumstances to keep us from accomplishing our goal; I am learning how to strike a balance with my classes, work, and family. My increased ability to “strike a balance” not only applies to academic vs non-academic activities, but it also applies to the varying interests between my team members and our collaborators in regards to our workshops. 

My partner and I are currently preparing for the workshops that we are to teach in March and April, and while one desired collaborator is no longer a part of this venture, another collaborator wants to take this venture in a completely different direction-he does not think that we will be able to attract a good audience for our workshops. One of the most important aspects of becoming a good lawyer is learning how to negotiate; the connections that you make now will help you to procure work in the future. As such, my partner and I do not want to burn any bridges with any of our collaborators. While I still believe that our workshops can (and will) attract a suitable crowd, given the desired collaborative nature of our clinical project, I am willing to hear our collaborator’s suggestions on how to make this venture as successful as possible. I am continuing to learn how to strike a balance between my (and my team’s) interests, conducting a series of workshops, and our collaborator’s interests, something other than conducting a series of workshops. My ability to multitask and strike a balance with school, work, family, and varying project interests is a testament to my (and my partner’s) growth as a law student and a blossoming lawyer. Hard work truly does pay off.​

The Legal Clinic - Second Semster

While the first semester of the housing clinic had its own challenges of learning how to advise clients and what laws to look at to solve their issues, the second semester brought a new challenge of figuring out how to manage your clients along with your 3L law school priorities. The challenge was taught during the second semester of the clinic as Professor Lawton kept telling us during the first semester of the clinic, “I am going to push you off the cliff.” Professor Lawton didn’t mean this literally, but what she did mean was that she was not going to be as much of a guide for us during our second semester. When second semester started it felt very overwhelming, as Professor Lawton would say that she expected more from us and if we weren’t giving her enough she would push us. By Professor Lawton pushing us my clinic partner and I pushed ourselves to meet her expectations. We would spend hours and hours reading statutes for our clients and drafting documents for them and when we would go to our client meetings Professor Lawton would be proud of us because we were meeting her expectations.

Being a 3L in your second semester I believe is one of the most stressful times of law school, aside from the first semester in law school when you are trying to figure out how the whole law school process works. The stress of freaking out about the bar exam, because the schools passage rates have come in as 10% lower then last years, and below the national passage rate, stressing out about the bar application while trying to find all of the documents you need in order to meet the deadline, along with the stress of finding a job that you can have after law school all come together and terrify you as you are trying to survive day after day. On top of all these stresses you are trying to get good grades in your classes in order to boost your GPA, and you are trying to have your clients cooperate with you so that you can get what they need done for the semester. Balancing all of these different stresses and priorities of your 3L semester are very challenging and difficult as it seems that everything just keeps on piling up, one after another gets you to understand how the real world of being a practicing attorney will be when you graduate.

The reason I discussed all of the challenges during your 3L semester and with the legal clinic is because I want the take away to be that the legal clinic experience is one that truly prepares you for the outside world. The legal clinic experience teaches you how to manage clients when you have all your other law school priorities as well as, how to counsel clients, and how to do more practical things in the practicing world, such as read and interpret statutes. Getting this experience I believe was very important because in law school it is only through a clinic that you really learn the true meaning of what it means to be an attorney and part of it is, managing all the things that are going on around you and in your life while also managing your clients and their needs. The clinic experience teaches you how to accomplish everything all together.​

Any Student With Two Hands Has a Fighting Chance...To Achieve Results

    I have always been taught that one of the cornerstones of successful negotiation is cordiality. When you have an idea in mind and you want others to support and help cultivate this idea, one of the best ways to assure positive results is to be as friendly as possible. A friendly individual does not think that she has all of the answers; a friendly individual realizes that second, third, and fourth opinions are beneficial in helping her idea to be the best that it possibly can be. While I tend to agree that cordiality helps to breed positive negotiation sessions, I have learned through my experiences in the Clinic so far that you sometimes have to be uncharacteristically aggressive in order for others to take your ideas and opinions seriously.
    My partner and I have an idea that we want to build from the ground up, and in our quest to transform this idea into a reality, we must collaborate with individuals who, in many ways, are our seniors. When I say “senior,” I’m not referring to age; my partner and I are law students in a setting where we are acting as lawyers, and in trying to bring our idea to fruition, we are in constant contact with individuals who are long out of school and have much more experience in the educational realm than we do. With such a dichotomy in place, it becomes very difficult for my partner and I to see ourselves as “colleagues” or “equals” to our fellow counterparts; we feel as if we should address these individuals as “Mr.” and “Ms.” instead of addressing them on a first-name basis (despite our increasing contact with them). As such, my partner and I feel that in order for our ideas to be taken seriously (and to not be deemed inferior to those of our more experienced counterparts), we must (sometimes) act more aggressively than we would like to in order for our voices to be heard during the negotiation process. This aggression has manifested itself during our group meetings.
    My partner and I have met with our designated group twice this semester, and in both of these meetings, we have needed to establish that WE are in control of the meeting. My partner and I have organized these meetings in order to 1) propose our idea to the group and to 2) receive positive feedback (constructive criticism) on how to improve this idea and make this collaborative effort a successful one. While my partner and I have remained friendly during these conversations, there have been times when other members of the group have attempted to substantially alter or outright reject our idea because, in their minds, we did not have the expertise to understand what it was that we were proposing (insinuating that because they had more experience in a particular area that we did, their ideas were automatically superior to ours). These instances have reinforced the dichotomy that my partner and I have always felt existed during our meetings, and as such, we have had to aggressively fight to keep our ideas alive. For instance, we have had to talk over some of our counterparts when they have tried to dismiss our ideas; we have had to abruptly shift the conversation when a counterpart has started speaking on unrelated issues; we have had to repeatedly emphasize that this project, though a collaborative one, is still OUR project. All in all, my partner and I agree that we, as law students, have had to be particularly “hands on” in promoting our ideas to our more experienced counterparts; we believe in cordial negotiation, but we also believe that we must act aggressively to emphasize that we are in control of this project, despite our lack of expertise and experience in certain areas. As the title to this blog entry states, any student with two hands-symbolizing our “hands on” approach in promoting our ideas-has a fighting chance to achieve results-a final product that holds true to our objectives and we are satisfied with. I find this realization to be a great learning experience, and I am thankful that I have been able to learn such lessons throughout the course of my clinical experience.

Flipped Homes and Their Impact on the Affordable Housing Market

​    As a lot of us know from HGTV shows like “Flip or Flop” and “Property Brothers”, buying and selling homes to either make a profit, or to live in as your primary residence has become a new trend that is sweeping the nation. In Delaware for example, there was a 19% increase in the number of flipped homes between the second quarter of 2015, and the second quarter of 2016. These shows give us the inside look on what it is like to remodel an entire home, and what kind of profit you can make from doing so. What these television shows do not illustrate, however, are the effects that flipping houses have on the affordable housing market. What happens to the supply of affordable housing when buyers sell flipped homes for a substantially higher price than they purchased it for? According to an article featured in the Chicago Tribune titled “Return of House Flipping Eases Affordable Housing Crunch in Some States”, the answer to that question depends on your location.
    In states like Florida, where there is a surge of foreclosed homes and a flipping rate of 7.9%, flipping houses has helped get affordable housing back on the market. When you increase the supply of homes available for purchase in the neighborhood, the prices of those homes cannot be too high because they have to be competitive and comparable to each other. Theses homes are selling below the rest of the market and are contributing to affordability for low income families. Not only are the homes affordable, but the renovated homes are bringing the once blighted and abandoned neighborhoods back to life.
    On the flip side, there’s New York - housing advocates have stated that flipping houses reduce the supply of affordable housing and drives out low-income residents. In Brooklyn for instance, homes bought by flippers were affordable for families making $75,000 a year, but by the time that same house was sold, only families making $150,000 could afford it. The higher the price point, the lower the chance of affordability for low income families. Once these houses are flipped, the quantity of affordable homeownership opportunities decreases.
    I don’t think the intent behind flipping homes is to reduce the number of homeownership opportunities for low-income families. I think the intent for most people is to make a profit. No one buys a home, puts their own money into renovating it, only to sell it for the exact same price they purchased it for. If this were the case, there would be little incentive for most people to continue flipping homes, an action that has definitely contributed to the resurgence of many neighborhoods across the United States. The way the housing market works, it is almost inevitable that once you rehab a house, the value of the home increases. In the District of Columbia for example, the median flipped purchase price of a home is $280,250. Once this home is flipped and sold, the sales price increases to a median of $490,000. This type of profit margin is great for the flipper, but not so good for the low-income families who are still looking to become homeowners. The conflict between flipping homes and the availability of affordable housing that some communities face is one that I think will always exist as long as you have homes in foreclosure, and people willing to flip those homes.

First Client Experience

​Walking into the Housing & Community Development Legal Clinic I did not know what to expect from the clinic or from the clients. The first couple days of class were exciting; Professor Lawton talked to us about our clients and asked us to choose the clients we wanted to work with. I chose to work with Housing Cooperative Corporations because they were the ones that sounded most interesting to me.

The previous groups, who had worked with my new clients before, advised us that one of the clients tends to be non-responsive, while our other client is more responsive and responsible. After being told this about both clients, going into our first meeting, I expected it to be a smooth introduction amongst all of us. But instead, our first client meeting was an experience that I will never forget. The beginning of the meeting started off well with an introduction amongst all of us, as well as discussing the priorities our client had for the semester. But towards the ending of our meeting our client, in essence, decided to drop a bomb on us and casually told us that their maintenance man had advised them that they might have lead in their water, and that they will need to have all the pipes of their home replaced. Hearing this at our first client meeting my partner and I panicked because we did not know how to deal with a situation like this. Knowing that we couldn’t panic in front of the client, we immediately advised them that they should get the city to test the water of the home for lead, as well as have several licensed plumbers inspect the pipes and give estimates for replacing all of the pipes.

After our client meeting my partner and I immediately emailed Professor Lawton with a caption saying “Client Emergency”. Professor Lawton then proceeded to calm us down and told us how to take it step by step. Since then we have calmed down and have been following up with our client regarding lead being in their water as well as conducting thorough research for them. To us they are no longer the non-responsive clients because they have been effectively responsive so far, and we now refer to them as our most interesting and exciting client because at each meeting we don’t know what to expect from them. 

Land Bank Strategies in Ohio and Michigan

Alex and I are working with the Law firm Ancel Glink on the Land Banks project. The task of our assignment is twofold. First, we will be researching strategies that Land Banks in other states have utilized to acquire blighted properties. Second, we will be vetting these strategies under Illinois law in order to see what researched strategies are applicable in Cook County and the South Suburban counties. Alex and I have begun to research the following four states: Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Georgia. Thus far, we have done comprehensive research on both Ohio and Michigan, and this blog post will cover the strategies we found for those states.

There are three main strategies that Ohio land banks have utilized for acquiring properties. The first strategy relates to purchasing Real Estate Owned (REO) properties from lenders. When a homeowner defaults on his/her mortgage, the lender will take the property through foreclosure. In order to foreclose on the property in Illinois, a lender would have to go through the judicial foreclosure process. To proceed through this process, the lender will first file a foreclosure complaint with the court. Once the court issues a judgment on foreclosure then the judge or sheriff will have a public auction for the residential property. The sheriff will also give notice of the foreclosure auction/sale to the public. When the property is going through the public auction, there is usually a minimum bid that is comprised of penalties and taxes placed on the loan delinquent house. If there is no third party buyer at this auction, then it becomes a REO property. This REO property is a burden for the bank/lender because the lender must continue to pay taxes, insurance, broker’s fees, etc. on the property. So, in order to dispose of this property the lender enters into an agreement to sell the REO property to the Land Bank in Ohio.

A second way Land Banks in Ohio have acquired property is through a purchase agreement with Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae purchases mortgages from lenders and pools these mortgages together into Mortgage Back Securities (MBS) and then guarantees against losses on defaults from the underlying mortgages. When the housing crisis happened and many homes went into foreclosures, there was uncertainty as to whether Fannie Mae would be able to keep guaranteeing against losses. So, Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 which created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and gave it the authority to place Fannie Mae into conservatorship. The Treasury department used the authority given to it under HERA section 1117(g)(1)(a) to purchase Fannie Mae’s stock in order to provide capital to Fannie Mae so that it could keep providing funds to the mortgage market. This eventually led to Fannie Mae owning and guaranteeing many of the outstanding mortgages and it is from these mortgages that Fannie Mae sells chosen ones to the Land Banks for $1.   
The last strategy is through a purchase agreement with HUD. HUD obtains ownership of delinquent properties through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA insures mortgages for lenders if those mortgages meet certain standards. When a borrower defaults on their payments, the lender can take the property through foreclosure and the FHA can obtain ownership of the property through the foreclosure process. Because the FHA operates under HUD, ownership would go to HUD and it is these homes that HUD is selling to the Land Banks in Ohio. One ambiguity is finding out whether the FHA purchases the promissory note from the lender and then takes the property through the foreclosure itself or whether the lender takes the property through foreclosure and sells it to the land bank. Further research will help clarify this.

In Michigan, the largest center for redevelopment of blighted properties is in Detroit.  Detroit has a land bank called the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA).  This land bank acquires blighted properties through gift, purchases, and transfers. The land bank identifies blighted properties and has specific programs to acquire the property identified.  One of those programs simply acquires properties through purchase after foreclosure.
However, studies have shown that this entire foreclosure process in Detroit can easily take up to four to five years. In those years, as Michigan courts have taken judicial notice, not only is the jurisdiction missing property tax payments, but the homes are falling apart, effectively losing value by the day.  The longer it takes to sell a foreclosed property, the less it will sell for, and conversely, it will take that much more investment to rehabilitate the property.  As such, Detroit has a unique program called the Nuisance Abatement Program (NAP).  NAP allows concerned citizens to identify nuisance properties and report them to the DLBA.  Once the DLBA verifies that the identified property is in fact a nuisance under Michigan law (drug house, deteriorating, unsecured access by public, etc.), the DLBA contacts the registered owner of the property.   The owner, who often no longer lives on the property, has 3 options. They can agree to quickly rehabilitate the property, quickly demolish the property or gift the property to the land bank, or avoid further proceedings/hassle.

If the owner fails to reply to the DLBA, or simply fails to do what they agreed to do to abate the nuisance, the city of Detroit then files a complaint in civil court.  Notice of the complaint is sent to all lien holders and interested parties of record for the property.  This initiates a formal process for the previous attempts the DLBA made.  Once the Judge finds the property is a nuisance, the Judge enters an order giving the property owner the same three options it had before the complaint was filed. The difference is that if the owner agrees to rehabilitate the property or demolish it but they do not follow through with this commitment, the Court is able to enforce the Judgment by transferring title of the deed to the city.  In Detroit, the city then gifts the deeds to the DLBA, which then moves forward with its normal process to clean title and either resell the property or demolish it.

New Year, New Venture

​    I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about joining the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic’s legal team, and even more nervous after being assigned my client. I was nervous that the classes I had previously taken did not completely prepare me for what I was getting myself into. However, after delving into the project with my partner and Professor Lawton, I now feel slightly less uneasy.
    Our client is an entirely new venture, which means new ideas, new locations, and new people to meet and collaborate with.  The project is big, and as we progress over the course of the next six months, it is only going to grow exponentially.  Although the experience seems daunting, it has been overwhelmingly rewarding and enlightening thus far.
    As I previously mentioned, this is an entirely new venture with all new people. We want to build from the ground up in conjunction with several other parties, all of which have their own ideas for how the end result should look, which can be frustrating at times.  With that said, after scheduling and facilitating a few meetings, I have gathered a few takeaways from the experiences.  First, be flexible.  Scheduling one time to meet with several people from various departments is always complicated. Flexibility, not just with your schedule, but also with your expectations, allows the meetings to flow more smoothly.  Second, along those same lines, be patient.  Not everyone is going to agree with your ideas at first.  You might go into a meeting thinking that your pitch is the best idea since sliced bread, only to find that it was not as well received as you would have hoped.  Do not get discouraged.  Lastly, own the meeting.  If it is your meeting, own it. Go into every meeting with a clear head and a determination to persevere.  Other members of the group will try to take over at times; be polite, but firm.  You scheduled the meeting, and as such, you control the meeting.
    The challenges that my partner and I will face over the next few months are both new and exciting.  All in all, I am looking forward to everything this experience has to offer.

Constitutional Challenge to Chicago's Affordable Housing Requirements Ordinance

On September 30, 2016, District Court Judge Pallmeyer struck down a constitutional challenge to Chicago’s affordable housing program.  Plaintiff Hoyne Development is a real estate developer in Chicago.  He purchased a commercial property in Chicago’s 47th ward and successfully rezoned it.  However, Plaintiff, who does not agree with the Affordable Requirement Ordinance, chose to pay a $200,000 fee, rather than dedicate ten percent of the new units as affordable housing for rent or sale for thirty years.  Plaintiff, therefore, challenged this housing program arguing that “the government may not require a person to give up a constitutional right . . . in exchange for a discretionary benefit conferred by the government where the benefit sought has little or no relationship to the property.”  Judge Pallmeyer rejected Plaintiff’s contention holding that the Affordable Requirements Ordinance is a permissible use restriction that does not violate the Constitution.[1] 

The Affordable Requirements Ordinance was established in 2003 and expanded in 2007.  The program applies to new or rehabilitated housing developments and was meant to ensure that affordable housing continues to be available in the City of Chicago.  This Ordinance requires developers provide ten percent of their units to individuals earning less than Chicago’s median income, “which is $72,400 for a family of four.”[2] 

This decision is a very important one for the City of Chicago whose rent prices over the last two to three years continue to rise.[3]  According to the Chicago Tribune, this is likely a result of the decline in demand for homeownership and has triggered an increased demand for rental housing, to the point that the supply cannot keep up.[4]  The demand for rental housing has attracted commercial developers like Plaintiff to invest in Chicago housing.

This means that in addition to the low-income families getting pushed out of the City, most middle class workers and students will too.  Chicago is home to a plethora of schools and small businesses, which means that developers will greatly affect the demographics of those who can live in Chicago. This in turn will also result in more residents having to travel longer distances.  Furthermore, the demographics of this City are at stake.  As of right now, Chicago continues to be a very diverse place to live.  However, this will easily change, especially if the City allows developers to opt-out by paying a measly fee.  A $200,000 fee to a commercial developer is nothing compared to profit that they can expect from high-priced rent.  The City should, instead, require that these developers pay a proportional fee for every year they choose not to comply.  This would make it so that they pay a price that is proportional to their decision not to invest in those who are already here. For now, Judge Pallmeyer’s decision will protect Chicago from turning its back on low-income families who would be pushed out of their homes. 

[1] The court relied on a Supreme Court case that held that a regulation is a permissible use restriction when it is “not a dedication of property to the government akin to physical occupation of the land.”  Home Builders Ass'n of Greater Chi. v. Chicago, No. 15 C 8268, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135084, *10 (N.D. Ill. Sep. 30, 2016).


[2] Judge Nixes Challenge To Chicago’s Affordable Housing Reg, LAW360.COM, http://www.law360.com/articles/846763/judge-nixes-challenge-to-chicago-s-affordable-housing-regs (last visited October 5, 2016). 


[3] “Chicago’s median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in April was $1,940, a 1.8 percent hike over the same month the same month the previous year, according to the Apartment List, an apartment rental marketplace.  The median price for a two-bedroom apartment in Indiana listed at $800.00 by Apartment List.”  Apartment Rental Costs Continue to Rise, CHICAGOTRIBUNE.COM,  http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-renting-in-northwest-indiana-st-0510-20160509-story.html


[4] Id.  

Lessons from Transitioning from Law Student to Lawyer

Before I entered law school I spent eight years in the workforce: as a paralegal and a brief stint as an entrepreneur.  Although I liked those roles, I did not feel fulfilled and felt myself yearning for something more.  One day after an extensive conversation with a friend I strongly began to reconsider becoming a lawyer.  After much contemplation I took the plunge and made the decision to attend DePaul University’s College of Law.  Lawyers, administrators, and upper classmen tell you that the time will fly, but during the first year that seemed impossible. 

Suddenly I found myself about to enter my third year, and again felt that something was lacking for me with regard to my professional development: I was not sure how to “be” a lawyer.  I had heard from many of my new alumni classmates that the Housing and Community Development Clinic was an incredible learning experience.  I distinctly remember my mentor telling me in April to take the clinic: “I worked so hard in this class, but I have learned so much.  I am pretty sure that [what I learned in] this clinic is why I have my job today!”  As you can imagine, I was sold on getting into this much coveted clinic.

On the first day of class when Professor Lawton stated that she treats our clinic like a medical residency, I knew I was in the right place.  I have worked with clients as a paralegal, legal assistant, and legal clerk, but in clinic I am treated as the head attorney on the case – a terrifyingly awesome concept.  Now, as I am wrapping up my fifth week of clinic participation I sense changes in myself both personally and professionally.  This is especially true after learning the importance of integrative bargaining during our negotiation skills discussion. 

Integrative bargaining is the opposite of what comes to mind when one visualizes lawyers during a negotiation. Instead of trying to win at any cost, integrative bargaining is focused on finding out why the individual sides in a negotiation want the particular resolution that they are seeking.  At the crux of this negotiation style is the importance of working together instead of as adversaries, by listening to one another to facilitate an outcome that satisfies all parties.

Keys to successful integrative bargaining include: eliminating the use of “you” language in favor of “I” language, using objective criteria, considering multiple answers, actively listening, and not discounting the feelings of the other parties.   During this class I learned that the “I must win at all costs” mentality that is inherent in most law students and lawyers can get in the way of advocating for your client.  I have recognized my own non-integrative bargaining tendencies, and begun to actively try to eliminate them from my thought process and vocabulary.  Although it will take time, I believe that it will make me a better lawyer in the process, and I look forward to my continued growth in my clinic “residency.”

Learning About Land Banks

​Alex and I are working with the law firm, Ancel Glink, on a project related to the Cook County and South Suburban Land banks.  The housing clinic has worked with Ancel Glink on other projects associated with the Land Banks. This year, our task is to outline strategies that the Cook County and South Suburban Land Banks can utilize to acquire blighted properties in the Cook County and South Suburban communities. In order to formulate such strategies, our first step is going to be researching strategies that land banks in other counties from other states have used to acquire blighted properties. This will be an exciting project for both Alex and me because we are both interested in going into policy work. The second step of our project will be to vet the strategies we have learned from other states against Illinois law. In other words, we will be figuring out how to put forth strategies that would be applicable and feasible to accomplish in Illinois.

At their most basic level, land banks are either quasi-governmental, or governmental, agencies used to acquire, hold, redevelopment, or transfer several pieces of land acquired by public or private entities with the purpose of future development.   Land banks have existed in various forms for a long time.  Here in Cook County, land banks came into focus immediately following the housing bubble burst in 2008.  For several related reasons, communities across Cook County soon realized there were an unfortunate amount of properties that were becoming, in effect, "zombie properties".  Zombie properties refer to properties that in essence are existing on their own; perhaps its owner was underwater on the mortgage and simply left, or the owner hadn't paid property taxes and was at risk for eviction so they moved out.   Zombie properties are simply not good for communities.  Empty houses invite crime. Plus, while the municipal government has to spend taxpayer money for basic upkeep of the home, no one is paying taxes on the property, doubly impacting the taxpayer. Finally, with a flood of newly unoccupied homes, the housing market was oversaturated, driving property values into the ground.  In Cook County, land banks were thus considered as an option to acquire these zombie properties and somehow repurpose the previously blighted land, making it productive again.  In previous years, the clinic worked with Ancel Glink to establish the land banks in the area and determine how they could achieve this goal.  This year, instead of looking in at the problem and determining the best measures to address the problems, we are looking outward, to see what other counties and communities have done.

The research we will be conducting on land banks will help us learn how to develop policies surrounding areas of affordable housing, urban planning, and land development. We will also develop a better understanding of the foreclosure process and property tax assessment procedures in Cook County and South Suburban. At the same time, this will be an opportunity for us to develop our reading and legal research skills as we will have more exposure to law reviews and legal news then we have had before. Learning how to strategically skim through extensive documents will be a challenging task that we both look forward too. We are looking forward to an educational and rewarding experience.

My Dearest Entrepreneur Client

​From the beginning of this academic year, two teams in the clinic started working with small business clients instead of the housing related clients. Luckily, our team got a client who we can call an entrepreneur. 

Before this clinic, I worked with immigrants as my clients. Most of them need an interpreter to communicate in the United States and they barely have any idea regarding the American law. Facing those clients, attorneys tend to play a controlling role in their cases, as the traditional “attorney-centered approach,” instead of the “client-centered approach.” I remember one time when I spent 20 minutes explaining every possible option to my client through an interpreter. However, the only answer I got was: “You are the attorney. I will do whatever you recommend.” I doubt the same situation will ever happen to an entrepreneurship client.

Usually, entrepreneurs who start small businesses are experts in that field. They are passionate about they do. They are risk takers and idea creators. On the contrary, attorneys are risk averse and sometime, even idea killers. We will recommend having limited liability companies – to limit liability, purchasing insurances – again to limit liability, and putting everything in writing – again, to limit liability. I am learning to balance the risk and cost for the clients, especially when they just started formalizing their business.

In small business, entrepreneurs sever the function of owners, managers, and employees. They make decisions based on both personal interests and business interests. Attorneys need to be aware of those interests. For example, family members may start a small business together. Their family relationship can create an interesting dynamic for the company. Also, a client may insist to keep a business relationship informal for the benefit of their personal relationship. Attorneys have to respect the “common practice” in the clients’ field and situation, and provide as much as protection for the clients at the same time.

It was super rewarding to work for immigrant clients because they usually depend on the attorney so much. For entrepreneurial clients, I feel that we are in this together where we came in with different perspectives and educated each other along the way.

The Illinois Budget Crisis' Affect on Affordable Housing Providers

​It is difficult to understand the debates in Illinois about the budget crisis. One of the reasons may be attributed to the lack of understanding of how it truly affects people and their day to day lives. My clinic team partner and I recently found out that the Illinois budget crisis has had an impact on one of our affordable housing clients.

In my previous blog post last semester, I discussed the importance of affordable housing organizations providing services to residents to help them transition into the private market. Our client provides services in areas such as education, financial literacy, and employment. The existence of these services helps create a sense of stability for residents with the hopes of making the transition into the private market easier. However, without proper funding, social service providers are either limited in the services provided or unable to provide the services altogether. This affects residents who do not have adequate resources to navigate their everyday lives making it that much more difficult to transition out of affordable housing. 

Not only does it affect residents living in affordable housing, but the budget crisis impacts other social service providers and different population segments. Seniors are losing their home health care workers who help them bathe, cook, clean, and take them to doctor appointments.  Children do not have after school programs, which forces parents to make other arrangements or work fewer hours. People who suffer from mental health issues are not able to seek the help they need. Until we attempt to understand the advantages of social service programs and those it benefits, there will continue to be a disconnect regarding the value of these programs and more of a willingness to cut funding for these programs. But even with this knowledge, we still may not comprehend the need for these types of services until it is on our doorstep and affects us or someone we know personally.

Additionally, the budget crisis is also having an effect on staff members who work at social service providers. With the lack of a budget, there is an air of uncertainty looming over the workplace. Providers have responded by laying people off because they cannot afford to keep their entire staff. This results in remaining workers picking up additional shifts, which causes them to be overworked. The impact of either losing one’s job or potentially losing one’s job is creating financial stresses for these individuals and their families. These staff workers, just like everyone else, are trying to make a living. The budget crisis is putting people in an extremely difficult position making it harder for individuals to meet certain financial obligations thus causing an adverse effect on their livelihood.

Most of us hope that the budget crisis is resolved soon so that social service providers can continue to provide services for their clientele.  Nonetheless, even once a budget is determined there is no guarantee that these services would return.

Illinois Not-for-Profit Corporations Don't "Share"

In Illinois, cooperative corporations can be formed under one of two statutes: (1) the General Not For Profit Corporation Act of 1986 (805 ILCS 105) (“NFP Act”); or (2) the Business Corporation Act of 1983 (805 ILCS 5). In selecting which statute to form under, each and every cooperative makes an individual choice based upon its own characteristics, goals and purpose. 

To become a member of a cooperative corporation, an individual pays a sum of money in exchange for an ownership interest in the corporation. The owner essentially buys a share or portion of the corporation. This is often done through a document known as a share purchase agreement. The process and qualifications for becoming an owner are set forth in the bylaws written to govern the cooperative corporation. 

Pursuant to Section 106.05, the NFP Act prohibits all corporations formed under the NFP Act from issuing shares. Further, any evidence of contribution shall be delivered to a member but the document cannot be named “share of stock”​ or by any word or term implying that the instrument is a share” (805 ILCS 105/106.10). 

This presents a problem for housing cooperatives organized under the NFP. The housing cooperative’s bylaws, purchase agreements, membership certificates, occupancy agreements and other governing documents cannot refer to an owner’s interest as a “share.” However, there is an easy solution! The statute does not prevent the use of “contribution” or “member contribution” and thus those terms might be an option to use in place of “share.” Those organizing the cooperative corporation can get creative - with the help of qualified legal counsel, of course as there are legal consequences for these choices.

Second Semester Reflections: In Legal Research, Stay Out of the Weeds

In my previous post, I discussed why I chose to work in the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic. I concluded, “I wanted to gain a different experience. For the next nine months, I hope to gain a different experience. One that will challenge me, teach me how to interact with clients, and most importantly prepare me to become a better lawyer.” I can honestly say that I learned more about myself and how I need to adapt in order to become a better lawyer.

For some background, when I received my client’s case I immediately searched case law for the answer.  Logically, this made sense to me. I have been taught for the last two years that I will find the answer in the case law. However, as Professor Lawton would say, “stay out of the weeds.” She was pointing out to me that when you start your research in case law (the weeds) you neglect all the other sources of law. I skipped the federal and state constitutions, statutes, executive orders and regulations. In all, my research was incomplete.

Professor Lawton has taught me a valuable lesson: when you research, “start broad.” First, understand the question you are trying to answer. Second, map out all the sources of law. Third, narrow the sources of law that is relevant to the issue you are trying to answer. For example, if you are researching a state law real estate question, you will not have to research executive orders. Finally, you begin your research.

For myself, I am consciously thinking about all the sources of law before I begin my research. I will admit I still start my research in the weeds. It is an old habit that I am still trying to break. Thanks to the clinic, I am aware of this and can hear Professor Lawton saying, “stay out of the weeds.”

Second Semester Reflections:Contract Drafting Tips

One of a transactional lawyer’s major responsibilities is to mitigate risk for her clients. A crucial way to mitigate risk is by drafting clear contracts. I found out very quickly this semester that it is easier said than done. In my early stages of writing, I have encountered many obstacles and new insights into the art of contract drafting. With the help of my professor and classmates, I learned some valuable takeaways to consider before putting pen to paper. Here are some of the key lessons I learned while drafting this semester.

Know Your Audience
Many times it is easy analyze a legal issue in a vacuum and assume that you and your client will be the only readers of the contract. Not true! Make sure you are mindful of all of the potential readers of your legal document. A contract may make its way to other attorneys, judges, or third parties. Keep this information in your mind as you are writing.

Be Precise
Another important lesson is to be precise in your drafting. One way to do this is to make sure you are using the appropriate language. Consider the legal effects of using “shall” versus “may.” Avoid using terms that may be ambiguous and have multiple meanings if it does not support your client’s legal issue.

Test Out Consequences
A major way to mitigate risk for your client is to anticipate and plan for potential pitfalls that can arise in a deal. A helpful way to identify and plan for risk is to first consider all of the necessary obligations of the contract. Second, consider how these obligations will be met. Third, determine when and how a breach of those obligations occurs. Finally, make sure that you address all of these concerns while you are brainstorming and writing.

Fully Understand Your Client’s Objectives
Another easy way to improve your drafting is by fully understanding your client’s goal, project, or legal issue. I found it useful to map out the legal issue in a flowchart or diagram. The visual flowchart made it easier for me to spot potential legal issues or gaps in my understanding of the deal. Identifying these issues early on made my drafting much easier and more effective.

These tips have helped me tremendously in my legal drafting. I am sure I will learn many more in the remaining seven weeks of the semester.

Cabrini-Green Redevelopment

During Clinic last semester, we explored and discussed the evolution of affordable housing. Throughout our five part lecture series, we identified the meaning of affordable housing, what prompted affordable housing as well as the development and the redevelopment of affordable housing. What I enjoyed most about this series was learning not only about the legal and business issues, but the social issues individuals faced during that time.

Let's take a second and rewind back to 1967. During this time, one of the social issues affordable housing applicants faced was the segregation of blacks to specific areas of the city. Based on my knowledge of the history of the Civil Rights Movement, it was no surprise to me to learn that segregation of blacks took place by sending black applicants to the developments in the predominantly black neighborhoods. (Nope, I was not surprised at all.) 

What did enlighten me was the legal response to the segregation issue. In a 1981 Consent Decree, the Court introduced the concept of Revitalizing Areas where areas with a substantial minority population undergo redevelopment to quickly integrate the areas. Since then, HUD announced the Hope VI program, which revitalized the worst public housing projects in the United States into mixed-income developments. As a result, the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) drafted a redevelopment plan called the Plan for Transformation.

Now let's fast forward to the present. It has been many years since the birth of CHA’s Plan for Transformation and many affordable housing units have been demolished and redeveloped. More specifically, it has been over 20 years since the initial demolition began of the former Cabrini Green public housing development. In April 2014, CHA announced its plan for further redevelopment of the remaining vacant areas formally known as Cabrini Green. The plan consists of a goal to build 2300-2800 mixed-income housing units in buildings constructed on fourteen parcels of the total fifty acres of land.

Since then, renderings of the new Cabrini-Green redevelopment have been featured in various online news reports. More recently, the Chicagoist featured a report about a new high rise where two bedroom units will start at $3200 a month. Many viewers of the post expressed concerns about gentrification. Some viewers stated that it was unfair to the many former public housing residents forced out of Cabrini to now charge so much money in rent for market-rate units. Others stated that it was a form of gentrification because the former public housing residents that once lived in the Cabrini Green area would not be able to afford to live in the new units.

After reading the comments from the article referenced above, there are a few notes I would like to share in an attempt to lessen the ‘gentrification argument’ blow. The new apartment renderings to the CHA’s redevelopment plan for Cabrini Green calls for the buildings to be integrated with mixed-income residents. The CHA’s plan states that the units will allocate thirty percent of those units as public housing, twenty percent of those units as affordable housing, and fifty percent as market rate units. In other words, some former Cabrini Green residents will have the opportunity to apply for the units set aside as public housing and live in the new developments for a more affordable rate than $3200 per month. This supports HUD’s plan to revitalize once segregated neighborhoods to be more integrated in support of better community development.

Housing Clinic, Semester 2

Time to take it up a notch.

The professor warned us, and she was not kidding. It’s not as though the first semester was a walk in the park, but now I have my work cut out for me.  At first we focused on the basics; standards of professionalism, client management, and independent research. Now that we have some experience in these areas, she is really pushing us to see what we are capable of. It’s almost like the professor was teaching us how to swim when she fully intended on pushing us in the deep end! 

The multiple clients, back to back deadlines, and endless rabbit holes keep me on my toes. Client meetings during winter break, Saturdays spent reading endless statutes, and Sundays spent in the workroom are but a few examples of the dedication that has been created in me by my participation in this clinic.  It’s exhausting but it is so worth it. It is so nice to get compliments from clients and have them express appreciation for all the hard work and energy that goes into the work we do. It’s almost equally as nice to have shared a delicious meal with them in their home. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to work with such good people. I’m even grateful for the not always so nice people who give you the opportunity to work on your client management skills. 

I remember getting some guidance and being encouraged to ask questions first semester. Now, we all know what questions we need to ask ourselves to help us get the information necessary to complete the task at hand. We are now able to confidently guide our clients through their matters and feel competent in providing the services we offer.

Second Semester Reflections: Learning to Stand on My Own

The second semester has finally started, and I am extremely excited because this is my last semester in law school. I am so happy to be graduating this year - it was definitely a long time coming. As for the clinic, I am so pleased that I am able to be a part of it during my last year in law school. I have learned a lot from being in this clinic. I believe the experiences I gained from the clinic will greatly serve me in the future.

One of the things that I learned is that I really need to work on communication with my clients. During the first semester my partner and I had problems communicating with each other, but we fixed that. Now, I am having trouble communicating with my client. My partner and I will go weeks without emailing our clients or keeping them up-to-date with what we’re doing, and that’s really bad. So this semester I am really going to work on making sure I have contacted my clients at least once a week, letting them know what I am working on when it comes to their particular situation and letting them know if I have any questions.
I have also learned that I have to stop expecting my professor to give me the answer. When I don’t know something I look to my professor for the answer, expecting her to know it, which she does - but she doesn’t tell me. She makes me find it for myself and then explain it. This is a good lesson to learn now, because in the future I will not have anyone to look to for the answer. I will have to find the answer on my own and be able back it up. So I am going to try to do better from now. If I don’t know the answer I will either think through it or look it up. In the end, I’m glad I’ve learned these things now while I can still fix them, instead of down the road.

L3C: The New Kid on the Block

Are you thinking of starting a business that serves a social cause and also makes a profit?  Then you may want to consider structuring your business as a low-profit limited liability company (“L3C”). In 2009, the Illinois legislature amended the Limited Liability Company Act to authorize the formation of LC3s. The aim in creating this new hybrid legal entity is to allow business owners to combine the benefits of pursuing a charitable mission (similar to a nonprofit) with the advantage of earning a profit (similar to an LLC). 

What are the requirements of an L3C?
An L3C is a for-profit business entity that has many similar features of a limited liability company (“LLC”) with an additional focus on charitable work.  An L3C must have a primary purpose of accomplishing a charitable or educational purpose. Although an L3C is able to generate profit, it must state in its articles of organization that no significant purpose of the company is to produce income or property.  Therefore, the goal of generating revenue must be secondary to the overall charitable mission of the company.  Also, an L3C must state in the articles of organization that no purpose of the company is to accomplish a political goal.  Finally, any company operating as an L3C must contain the term “L3C” in the title.

What are the advantages of an L3C?
One advantage of an L3C is that owners of the company are able to earn profits from their work that contributes to a social cause. This “for-profit” feature of the L3C has an advantage over its nonprofit counterparts because it is able to attract investors that are interested in contributing to a social cause and also interested in seeing a return.  A second advantage of an L3C is that its primary business goal is to further the accomplishment of a charitable or educational purpose.  The Illinois Limited Liability Company Act requires an L3C and its owners to maintain this business goal for as long as the business exists. This state requirement provides an L3C with an advantage over an LLC that does not have this requirement because investors can rely on the L3C to maintain their charitable goal throughout the length of the investment (see Dana Thompson, L3CS: An Innovative Choice for Urban Entrepreneurs and Urban Revitalization, American University Business Law Review 2, no.1 (2012) at 145.

What are the disadvantages of an L3C?
Although many types of investors are allowed to contribute capital to L3Cs, many private foundations have been reluctant to jump on board.  Many private foundations still prefer to make donations to other nonprofit organizations rather than invest in L3CS.  In many cases, private foundations do not want to run the risk that their investment in an L3C does not comply with federal tax regulations.

Despite this fact, the L3C legal entity could be a viable business entity option for entrepreneurs in the future.

Client Counseling from a Student's Perspective

One of the roles of a lawyer is acting as a counselor to his or her client. It was a slight surprise entering into law school to find that there were few opportunities that allowed students to take on that role. Needless to say, I appreciate this clinic for allowing me the opportunity to take on that role and develop the necessary skills to effectively counsel the client.

When it comes to developing client-counseling skills, I learned that there are two major approaches to client counseling that a student should first understand. Those approaches are (1) the client-centered model, where the lawyer provides objective advice and allows the client to make the decisions, and (2) the lawyer centered model, where the lawyer makes the decision for the client. While both models arguably have the potential to yield positive results for the client, scholars favor the client-centered model because it allows for the client to take ownership of the consequences associated with their risks and decisions.

Once I learned and understood the differences in client counseling, I made the decision to follow the client-centered model when counseling my clients. In making that decision, I was unaware of the variations of difficulty that I could encounter. After facilitating a few client meetings, I picked up on a few things that helped client meetings run smoother and decisions. What helped me the most and allowed me to effectively counsel my business client was learning how to put myself in my client’s shoes and see her business and concerns the way that she sees them. Law students are trained to spot potential risks and issues and act in a manner to avoid risk or resolve issues. So naturally in my client meetings, I identified and described risks that my client did not consider.

I learned that it was best for me to walk my client through various scenarios to identify potential risks and issues instead of simply stating the risks and issues. This method allowed my client the opportunity to not only visualize the risks and issues, but also make her own decisions regarding the methods we could implement in avoiding those risks and issues. My client was then able to see from a business standpoint why those methods were important and give more value to our attorney-client business relationship.  At that moment, I saw the true value and effectiveness in the client-centered lawyering model.

Law Student to Attorney Clinic Experience

The Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic is easily one of the most valuable courses I’ve had the pleasure of taking while at DePaul.  And as unbelievable as this might sound, I really enjoy all my classes (with the occasional exception, of course). This has already proven to be so much more than just a class; not only am I learning things that only life (i.e. not books) can teach you, I’m getting the chance to work closely with some really talented people. I also am developing new (and strengthening existing) relationships that I hope will continue long after we complete the one year program and go our separate ways.

My learning experience has been enhanced through our discussions, case rounds, and client interactions. I believe that our small class size and diverse group helps foster communication, but ultimately it is everyone’s attitude that actually transforms the space into one that allows for the unfettered exchange of ideas. It’s as though we all have this understanding that we come from different backgrounds and bring something different to the table.  You can tell some thought went into this program. The professor incorporates thoughtful reading articles to complement the textbook so we get a nice balance of the fundamental concepts along with examples of the application in practice. 

The most enlightening aspect of participating in the Clinic has been the client experience. Books simply cannot teach you about the transformation from a student to a practitioner. I’m just a law student stepping into the shoes of a practicing attorney, assuming this role that is associated with the competent practice of law. And as if this weren’t disconcerting on its own, we have real clients that are actually relying on us for guidance. I’m comfortable working with clients in other settings, but cannot yet bring that same comfort level to my dealings here. I would be fooling myself if I purported to be an expert in any area of law at this point in my academic career. I try to be cognizant of the fact that I am a novice and this is a learning process. So, when I find myself in situations in which I search for an answer to a question only to find that it depends on the answer to another question which subsequently reveals 20 more, I try to keep in mind that the frustration is a part of the learning process and I try not to let it get to me. And so, I draw on what I’ve learned from my other classes, dig into my research, and use my good judgment to fill in the gaps. I’m learning so much and having lots of fun along the way. It’s only through the learning process and by gaining experience will I be able to elevate myself from novice status to the next rung up.

Thinking About Starting a Non-Profit in Illinois?

A nonprofit organization is an organization that uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus to owners. The most common examples of nonprofit organizations are churches and schools. One of the most appealing qualities of a nonprofit organization is the possible tax benefit. Illinois-approved non-profits are exempt from paying state income taxes in Illinois. Non-profits must apply for, and receive, an additional exemption from the state sales and property tax. With regard to the federal income tax exemption, the entity needs to apply to be qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization. 

In order to be approved as an Illinois non-profit, the nonprofit organization has to meet a “high” standard set forth by the state. First, Illinois requires a nonprofit organization to have at least three directors. The directors together will control the direction of the organization. Furthermore, a nonprofit organization has to maintain minimum company formalities to protect its directors from liabilities and maintain its tax-exempt status. As required of most business entities, the nonprofit organization is prohibited from commingling company and personal funds. The directors of the non-profit organization must meet at least once a year. The organization must maintain records of meetings by the directors. Maintaining corporate formalities helps protect the directors of the nonprofit organization from personal liability for the obligations of the organization. However, there are few exceptions to this protection from liability: the directors could be liable when he or she personally and directly injures someone, guarantees a bank loan or debt, fails to ensure the organization deposits taxes or files necessary tax returns, or intentionally, fraudulently, or illegally causes harm. More importantly, the directors and employees of a nonprofit organization can only make “reasonable” salaries or they may jeopardize the organization’s tax-exempt status.  Lastly, no “dividends” like those issued by for-profit corporations, can be issued by nonprofit organizations.

Due to all the requirements and paperwork, running a nonprofit organization is unlikely to be a part-time job. A startup and small organization may want to evaluate the worthiness of the tax benefit given its comparatively strict corporate formality requirement.

Transitioning From Classroom to Clinic - What I Didn't Expect

This is my first time being a part of a Legal Clinic and honestly it was not what I was expecting. To be totally truthful, I’m not sure what my expectations were going into it. All I knew was that it would be a great opportunity because I would be getting hands on experience working with clients and improving my research skills.  What I did NOT expect was to be pushed so far outside of my comfort zone that I would break down in tears in front of my professor.

Being a part of a Legal Clinic is completely different than being in class and learning about the law. In a class the professor tells you what to read, what to research, and that there is an answer out there to my questions. In the Clinic, Professor Lawton does guide you, to some extent, but you have to figure out what to research. And sadly, there is no easy answer to your client’s legal question. I learned that lesson the hard way. I spent several hours researching, searching every database I could think of and came up with no answer. To my astonishment, when I told the professor that I tried and could not find the answer, a tiny smirk appeared on her face. She knew I would do that, and she knew there would be no answer. I found out that I would have to come up with the answer myself, by reading statutes, case law, executive orders, state polices, etc. I was dumbfounded, I just couldn’t believe it, and finding out this awful truth only added to my stress.

Transitioning from classroom to Clinic has definitely been one frustrating process for me. I keep expecting the professor to tell me what do, what to research, where I can find everything I need. But instead she just looks at me, and calmly says, “Well what do you think you should do next? What do you think you need to research to provide a sufficient answer to your client?” And I cannot express just how frustrating and annoying that is! And I know she asks me these questions to prepare me for the real world, because when I am out there working my boss won’t tell me what to do or what to research; I will have to figure all that out on my own. So, even though I appreciate my professor for taking the time to teach me how to be an effective lawyer, it still frustrates me to no end.

But even though this is an EXTREMELY frustrating and stressful process, I am so grateful to be experiencing it. Professor Lawton is one of the hardest, most honest, and best professors I have ever had. She makes me want to do better and keep trying, because she told us as long as we don’t give up, she won’t give up on us. And since I can use all the help I can get, I will not be giving up. I will continue to push myself and I know I will stumble along the way, but that’s ok, because I know Professor Lawton will be there to show me why I stumbled and how I can avoid stumbling in the future.

Stability in Affordable Housing

One of our clinical projects this year involves an organization that provides affordable housing throughout the City of Chicago. Affordable housing is provided to those who meet certain income requirements and can include families, seniors, people with disabilities, formerly homeless individuals, and veterans. One of the organization's goals is to transition tenants from subsidized housing to private housing. 

The term stability is an important concept to understand in the context of affordable housing. Stability has various definitions according to the person defining it. It could be a term used to describe employment or a permanent place of residence. One of the difficult challenges is how an organization incentivizes its residents to transition into the private market when stability is of concern. 

A possible approach would be to offer certain services to residents in areas such as education, financial literacy, and employment. Residents would have an opportunity to learn information and apply it to their lives. At the outset of this project, I did not understand how to determine the type of information that should be presented to residents. I believe that this would depend on resident needs, but what I have come to find out is that the answer is less complex. Some of the knowledge I have acquired throughout the years in private housing is knowledge that I have taken for granted particularly because it is not afforded to everyone.  Examples of this could be tenant rights, landlord obligations, or budgeting concerns when utilities are not included as part of rent. Offering services is not intended to be the answer to the question about how to help people transition into the private market, but it is a start. Affordable housing is a contentious issue not just amongst residents and organizations, but also amongst cities and developers. 

Recently, there was an article in the Chicago Tribune titled, "Developer, Builders Sue City Over Affordable Housing Rule." The article is about a lawsuit between developers and the City of Chicago regarding the Chicago Affordable Requirements Ordinance. The ordinance requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing or to pay a fee. This article highlights an issue that is disconcerting. Most people would likely agree that it is important to create a safe, affordable living environment for everyone. However, people are not comfortable with the solution of having affordable housing available in their neighborhoods.

What is a Housing Cooperative?

What is a housing cooperative?

A housing cooperative is a multi-unit dwelling formed when people join democratically to own or control the housing and related community facilities in which they live (http://coophousing.org/resources/owning-a-cooperative/buying-into-a-housing-cooperative/).  Unlike a condominium in which each unit is independently owned and all owners contribute financially for the maintenance of the common areas, a housing cooperative is owned by a cooperative corporation established for the purpose of owning the property and running the cooperative. Therefore, the residents of the co-op do not own any real property but instead own shares of the cooperative corporation.

Owners typically acquire shares through a share purchase agreement. A share loan is a special type of loan that provides those who wish to acquire a share in the cooperative with borrowed shares if they do not have the capital to buy in up front. Those who obtain a share loan are provided with funds from the lender to cover the monthly carrying charges to the cooperative (http://coophousing.org/resources/owning-a-cooperative/buying-into-a-housing-cooperative/).

The monthly carrying charges paid by residents cover the cooperative corporation’s expenses in running the co-op and may include blanket mortgage payments, property taxes, management fees, maintenance costs, insurance premiums and utilities. All expenses are shared by the owners of the corporation. Even though co-op residents do not pay real estate taxes directly, federal tax law allows all residents to deduct their share of the cooperative’s tax payments, as well as their share of the mortgage interest payments and any share loan interest payments, on their personal income taxes (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/housingco-op.asp).

The co-op residents gain the right to occupy the property through a proprietary lease or occupancy agreement. All applicants are screened and approved by the cooperative corporation, in accordance with its bylaws or rules, in order to become residents or owners. Housing co-ops must abide by the Fair Housing Act and cannot discriminate based on age, sex, race, sexual orientation or religion (http://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/condos-vs-co-ops-whats-the-difference/2013/04/25/f673e29c-a5e6-11e2-b029-8fb7e977ef71_story.html). Applicants can only be rejected based upon financial criteria and an unwillingness to abide by the cooperative’s rules and regulations. Typically, the residents of the co-op are also owners of the cooperative corporation.

The owners gain equity depending on the type of cooperative in which they join. The three common types of housing co-ops in the United States and Canada include: (1) market-rate housing cooperatives, (2) limited-equity housing cooperatives, and (3) leasing cooperatives (or zero-equity) (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/housingco-op.asp). In a market-rate cooperative, the owner can buy or sell her interest at whatever price the market will bear and acquires equity similar to that of other types of home ownership (http://home.howstuffworks.com/real-estate/buying-home/housing-cooperatives.htm). Limited equity cooperatives have restrictions on how much equity residents can earn and how much they can profit from the sale of their shares in the corporation. This type of cooperative is typically designed to offer affordable housing and are advantageous to individuals who would not otherwise qualify to purchase a home. In a leasing cooperative, the property is owned by outside investors who lease the property back to the corporation.

Housing cooperatives offer a number of advantages to owners of the cooperative corporation that are different from that of other types of ownership. Unlike condominium and independent home ownership, owners have no personal liability in the cooperative’s mortgage. However, if one owner is unable to pay their share, the burden does fall on the rest of the cooperative to cover the difference. In addition, owners have control over the decisions made with respect to the property. Pursuant to the bylaws of the cooperative corporation, the owners and residents are able to vote on changes made to the residence.

As described above there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to cooperative living. The decision to join a housing cooperative is personal, and all housing cooperatives are unique. It is recommended that one fully researches the cooperative before they choose to join. For additional information regarding living in a housing cooperative, please visit http://coophousing.org/living-in-a-cooperative/.

Now I Understand Why To Take a Clinic

Going into the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic, I wanted to try something different. At an early DePaul alumni event I asked lawyers, “if you had to do law school all over again, what would you do?” An overwhelming number of lawyers said they would take a legal clinic course. At the time, I didn't know what a legal clinic course was or why the lawyers said to take it. Now I am beginning to understand.

After my first two years of law school, I felt like I was in the same position as my junior year of college. “I am almost done with my degree, but I haven’t done enough to translate that school work to real world application.” I have completed multiple internships ranging from working with a senator to working with Fortune 500 companies. While in law school, I worked for a mid size firm and did an externship for a judge. Still, none of this is like having your own client.

As a student, you are told what to do. As an intern, you are told what to do. As a student in a clinic, the client tells you what it wants. It is the student’s job to find out what that means. Unlike in class, the problem your client wants solved does not have a perfect answer. It is frustrating because everything a student has learned so far tells them there is a perfect answer. Welcome to the real world.

It feels strange typing this, but now I am the lawyer. Instead of the person taking notes in the meeting, I am the one leading it. The role change is scary. I have a strong sense of responsibility to my client, which I can't say I ever had before. For the next nine months, I hope to gain a different experience. One that will challenge me, teach me how to interact with clients, and most importantly prepare me to become a better lawyer.  

Why did the new lawyers suggest taking a law school clinic? The obvious answer is that it's the first time you are the lawyer. However, it is much more than that. It teaches you the real truth: there is rarely a right answer. For me, that is exciting.

Shining a Light on the "Only Game In Town"

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a community development program that uses the property taxes collected on the incremental growth in property values in “blighted” areas to fund private investment and infrastructure improvements in the area.    In the City of Chicago, when an area is approved to become a TIF district, the Cook County Clerk designates a base Estimated Assessed Value (EAV). The usual taxing districts, like the schools, parks, and libraries, receive property tax revenue based on the base EAV. The property taxes collected on the difference between the base EAV and the new EAV are then supposed to be invested into the development of the district. 

The use of TIF in Chicago has been a subject of a great deal of scrutiny for a lack of clarity and for the implementation of TIF districts in areas that already show signs of growth and development. During the process of starting a TIF district, the district holds open meetings and forums for community participation.  However, after the TIF district has been approved, there are few opportunities for community members to give their feedback on the development process or the use of the funds raised by TIF. 

To promote transparency in TIF usage in the City of Chicago, the City Council passed the Tax Increment Financing Sunshine Ordinance.  The Ordinance, which passed by a 48-0 vote in 2009, was passed to allow taxpayers access to information on the use of TIF funds without having to file a FOIA request. It calls for each active TIF District to publicize information regarding the establishment of the TIF District, employment data, as well as the annual reports submitted to the City’s Community Development Commission.  Starting in 2014, the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development was required to post even more detailed information on each TIF district. On the TIF data portal, there is a searchable map that allows the general public to see the boundaries of Chicago’s 165 TIF districts and information regarding the infrastructure and redevelopment projects within them. (http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/ChicagoTif/)

This is an important step towards improving the public understanding of the use of TIF in their neighborhoods. Moving forward, publication of the underlying reasons for the designation of each district as a TIF district could also help promote understanding. Since TIF districts are supposed to go in areas that are either blighted or in danger of blight, publicizing the blight factors present in an area (like age of structures, inadequate utilities, dilapidation, or lack of community planning) could encourage accountability in the decision making process and make it easier for taxpayers to understand the problems that the TIF money should be used to remedy.

Poverty in Illinois

The Social Impact Research Center, a Heartland Alliance Program, recently released its 15th annual report on poverty in Illinois.  The report gives a survey of where Illinois stands compared to other states regarding "key poverty factors."  According to the report: 24 states have a lower poverty rate than Illinois, 34 states have a lower unemployment rate than Illinois, 33 states have a lower rate of households paying over half their income on rent than Illinois, 22 states have a lower uninsured rate among children and working-age adults than Illinois, 21 states have a better on-time high school completion rate than Illinois, 17 states have a lower food insecurity rate than Illinois, and 15 states have a lower asset poverty rate than Illinois. The report also notes that at $721 billion, the Illinois state economy is the fifth largest in the nation.  The report urges Illinois to do better at addressing poverty in order to assure the financial stability of the state.  Poverty factors are often interrelated.  For example, as the study notes, affordable housing “ensures people can hold down jobs, study, and have enough money for other basic necessities.”

Of particular interest to me, in November of 2014, one in every 848 housing units in Illinois was in a stage of foreclosure.  In my opinion, the remarkably high foreclosure rate highlights a major problem area Illinois needs to address.  High rates of foreclosure are a detriment to many areas of the economy.  The state is not receiving tax money, residents are left struggling to find places to live, and banks are not receiving any mortgage payments.  By addressing the foreclosure problem, Illinois will be able to aid numerous sectors of the economy. 


New York's Poor Doors

This past summer New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved plans for a new high-rise luxury condo building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (40 Riverside Blvd.). The 33-story building will have 219 units, including 55 affordable housing units. The development has caused controversy because the building will include a separate entrance and separate elevators for affordable housing residents. The separate entrance has become know as the “poor door.” 

New York City is well known for its large population and density. In New York, as in many major cities, there is a shortage of housing. There is a particular shortage of housing for low to middle income residents. Providing affordable housing has moved away from public housing and has become more reliant on the private sector to build housing for low to middle income residents. Private developers are offered incentives to include affordable units in new developments by tax breaks and zoning variances granting rights to build more units.  

The separate entrances are accredited to recent zoning changes that allow developers to build multiple building segments on a single site, thus not requiring affordable and low-income units to be integrated within market rate units and allowing affordable and low income units to be completely segregated.

According to the developer, the affordable unit residents will pay $850 a month for one-bedroom apartments and $1,100 a month for two bedroom apartments (for perspective, $1 million in New York City can purchase about 430 square feet). To qualify for the affordable units, a resident would need to earn less than 60% of the area’s median income. For a family of four, that is about $52,000 a year (which is twice the federal poverty level and above the U.S. median household income).

The separate entrances highlight an underlying social issue. There is a real need for affordable housing for low and middle income individuals. The construction of more affordable housing and providing access to affordable housing is undoubtedly positive. However, where the alternative seems to be no housing at all, a challenge to an individual's meaning of worth seems to be a questionable price to pay.  

See http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-poor-door-on-a-planned-new-york-apartment-tower-with-affordable-housing-gets-a-makeover-1409276266

See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/nyregion/separate-entryways-for-new-york-condo-buyers-and-renters-create-an-affordable-housing-dilemma.html?_r=0
See http://money.cnn.com/2014/07/28/luxury/housing-inequality-poor-door'

The Clinic Experience: The push out of the nest

The clinic experience has been filled with opportunities both small and large to fall or fly. The clinic, by nature, asks us as clinic students to step outside of our comfort zones. This push has been exciting, terrifying and everything in between.

There has been one clinic experience that stands out to me as an exercise in personal evaluation and growth. As part of one of our projects, my teammate and I had to make a trip to a notoriously dangerous neighborhood in Chicago. I was aware of the neighborhood’s reputation, and I was extremely hesitant to make the trip. I decided to discuss my concerns with the professor and my teammate. I was asked to do some research and back up my concerns.

I came back the next week armed with a couple of articles and studies done in the neighborhood we were planning to visit. In a second discussion with the professor and my teammate, we looked at more than just the crime rates for the neighborhood. We talked about what kind of crimes were occurring and what we would do to be safe while we were there. After our talks, I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable, but I was willing to step beyond what was familiar to me and go with the team to the neighborhood.

After the trip, I looked back at the experience and the reactions I had. Everyone we met was friendly and engaging. The neighborhood didn't feel much different from the parts of the city I was more familiar with. I genuinely enjoyed the work we did while we were there.

This experience in the clinic taught me that it is okay to be hesitant about some things, but you have to be able to set back from the concern and analyze it rationally. My trip to this neighborhood was very pleasant, but I had done the research to feel more aware and comfortable with my decision. I felt like I had ownership of my choice to go. The clinic put me in a situation that I felt was unfamiliar, which scared me. I came out on the other end with a better understanding of not only that neighborhood, but also my responses to being asked to step outside of my comfort zone.

Final Thoughts on What We Have Learned in the Clinic

​​My name is Alex Sparhawk, a second-year student at DePaul University College of Law.  During my time with the Housing and Community Development Clinic, I had the fortunate opportunity to be partnered with Allen Thomas, also a second-year law student.  This last year we worked with the Institute for Housing Studies and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus conducting legal research on different policy related projects.  As our year with the clinic comes to a close, Allen and I had a conversation about our clinic experiences.  My comments are in regular font below; Allen’s are in italics.

So to get the ball rolling . . . . What expectations did you have before entering into the clinic, and do you think those expectations were met? 

My expectations were general ones such as getting experience in an area like municipal and state law relating to housing and housing issues, so working with the Institute for Housing Studies and Metropolitan Mayors Caucus has been great.  I think the experience I’ve been most surprised by, though, is how working for our client evolved as we went along and, by the end of the year, came together to be something bigger.  The smaller pieces we worked on initially, like a short memo detailing the differences between home rule and non-home rule municipalities, became a piece of a much larger project of researching the authority of those two different municipalities when they enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement for joint enforcement of a rental registration ordinance.  At the time we worked on those initial memos, I didn’t perceive a connection between them, but in the second semester of the clinic, those separate pieces – home rule, liens, an overview of rental registration ordinances, a look at landlord licensing – have really come together to be a part of something bigger.  That part of our clinic work I have found to be very exciting and to be a great experience that I wasn’t expecting when we first started.

How about for you?  Has the work we’ve done matched your initial expectations?  Any experiences that you weren’t expecting?

I would have to say I had similar expectations coming into the clinic.  For a while now I have known my legal interests lie in real property related matters and I hoped the clinic could offer actual working experience in the field.  To be fair, I thought the primary work load would involve landlord-tenant issues.  But, I think our assignments involving policy-related legal research have been a rewarding experience.  Individually, the work product we produced last semester seemed disjointed and unrelated.  Ultimately, however, the pieces fit together in a much larger scheme.  I really valued the opportunity to work with IHS and MMC on a project that has potential to affect thousands of people in the Chicago-land area and it was an experience beyond my expectations. 

One of my favorite moments was being called a “colleague” by the lead attorney charged with drafting the intergovernmental agreement you had mentioned earlier.  Having the opportunity to sit down and knowledgably discuss a challenging legal issue with a practicing attorney was definitely something I did not expect coming into the clinic.  I think the meeting we had with Attorney Denzin went very well and was a rewarding experience. 

What has been your favorite experience?  Do you feel that your experiences working at the clinic has helped develop any particular skill sets?

Concerning improving skills, I’ve definitely improved at statutory interpretation.  In a classroom environment, especially in the first year of law school, the case book really guides a student through the statutes. Here’s a statute, here’s a great case for illustrating how courts apply the statute, and then here’s some notes fleshing out what other courts have done and why they did it. It’s all nicely organized and makes perfect sense. Very clean.  But going to the statute as it appears in the statutory code, then finding cases (or legislative history or advisory opinions from the attorney general or whatever else is out there) that help illustrate the statute, and finally applying it to the question the client has asked is a whole different animal, especially when there isn’t a case on point and the question has never been addressed before.  And I really think I’ve gotten better at that part of legal research.  Although I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the ambiguity that sort of research can ultimately result in, I’ve at least come to accept the possibility of a less-than-absolute answer.

My favorite professional experience was the same as yours.  Not only the potential impact of the work being done on rental registration, but at the beginning of this semester when the pieces we had worked on in the previous semester fell into place as a part of a larger whole.  It was a great moment when I finally understood the big picture and everything just made sense.  I have to also mention that the weekly status meetings with you, me, and Professor Lawton had some of my personal highlights from the clinic.  Maybe my favorite was the meeting when, as soon as we started mooting an upcoming meeting with the client, I could not clearly state the phrase “necessarily implied by or incidental to.”  I had been saying this phrase for months without a problem and then, out of nowhere, I couldn’t say it for the life of me.  That meeting is closely followed by the ten-minute explanation of “ parcels of land” when nothing I said seemed to make it clear that there were two separate and distinct parcels of land – “one for the bridge and one to maintain the conservation area” -- and it really would’ve helped had I maybe said “two parcels of land.”  Also, worthy of mention was the status meeting when, before the meeting, you and I were focused on following the agenda (at least, I was focused on following the agenda), and as soon as the meeting started, you jumped right to the third item on the agenda.

Maybe those are “had to be there moments,” but they still make me laugh.  Any moments not related to work for clients that stand out for you?

Our weekly team meetings have been particularly enjoyable, and there were definitely a few “had to be there” moments.  The meetings were useful for ironing out our legal viewpoints on the particular issues we were researching, and provided a great opportunity to get to know one another better.  Sometimes our discussions stick to the legal issues, others were about job prospects, and a few times we took the opportunity to gripe on how cold this winter has been.

Or how early the meetings were.... 

Class time is something else I really enjoyed because as a group we hit it off very well.  We are a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds and with different perspectives.  That has led to some interesting discussions and viewpoints.  I appreciated that everyone actively participates in class discussion and the energy of the group has been very positive.  We have developed to be more than classmates and have grown to be friends.  I think because Prof. Lawton encourages participation and the structure of the class being small in size has helped in that regard.

Overall, I would recommend this course to any student interested in transactional legal work especially those interested in real property and community development related issues.  It’s a much different law school experience than your typical course.  The clinic is a sort of hybrid course that includes a lecture aspect and work experience aspect.  It provides an opportunity to directly interact with clients and apply the law to their particular set of circumstances.  I have been very pleased with this experience and the opportunities created by it.

I would definitely recommend the clinic to another student.  I thought it was a great experience, and looking back, it was a good decision on my part to enroll in the clinic.  Not only did I enjoy the classroom portion of the clinic and working with the client, but it’s so much fun writing cover letters when I can actually write about relevant work experience.

Chicago’s The Plant as Community Development

In the Housing and Community Development clinic we often discuss a variety of community development programs. We talk about what the goal of community development is, or should be, how to achieve those goals, and what the pros and cons of the innumerable programs are. Through these conversations I've discovered all types of programs and initiatives that I had never heard of, from Tax Increment Financing to Smart Growth plans to bringing business development to underdeveloped areas.

One of the most interesting projects I've heard of during this time is The Plant. The Plant is a food business incubator located in an old meatpacking building. In an effort to create a new type of organization, The Plant has connected numerous organizations in one building with the idea of creating an environmentally friendly, one stop shop for food businesses. Located on Chicago's south side, The Plant will incorporate indoor farming, small food businesses, and a brewery.

The Plant promotes a net-zero energy, closed loop model, in which the waste created by commercial kitchens is used to generate energy. Aquaponic farming creates a symbiotic relationship to grow vegetables and fish. The goal is to show that manufacturing and growing can happen in a sustainable way. The Plant's only focus, however, is not just being environmentally friendly, nearly all the businesses will be for profit, and will create an estimated 125 jobs.

I find this idea so interesting because it's not only community development but focuses so much on the environment as well. Too much I feel that developers, and government agencies view community development too narrowly. Often it seems that people look for one problem to fix, whether it be a lack of affordable housing, a lack of grocery stores, or a lack of accessible public transportation. Here however, The Plant has created a business that will be environmentally friendly, profitable, rehabilitate an abandoned building, provide restaurants for the surrounding community, and create jobs and educational opportunities all at once. 

Illinois Concealed Carry and Its Effect on the Real Estate Market

According to a Chicago Tribune article on March 3, 2014, several real estate companies in Illinois are having homeowners fill out forms to decide whether they will allow guns inside of their homes during showings.  If the homeowner checks the no box, a sign will be posted in the front yard of the home alerting prospective buyers there are no guns allowed on the property.  This rule only applies to the showing of the homes and not what buyers are allowed to do after purchase.  These new rules are being implemented at agencies across the state due to the passage of the concealed carry law in Illinois. The concern is for the safety of the agent while showing homes.  Many agents like the idea of having the signs in the yards of the homes, however some are not too sure it will be effective.  Michael Golden, the founder of @Properties in Chicago, thinks the idea is a good one, but enforcing it is another problem.  Other agents and real estate companies share the same sentiment as Mr. Golden agreeing that there is no real way to enforce the rule short of patting down prospective buyers.

Even though many other businesses have started to put the “no gun” signage in their windows, it raises a different problem in the real estate arena.  A big concern among agents is running away potential buyers who might be conservatives and feel offended by the signs.  The end goal is to sell the home and it might not be worth the risk to insult a potential buyer before they even set foot inside the property.  This will definitely put the homeowners who chose to have the signage on their property at a disadvantage. 

While I agree with the reasoning behind implementing this policy, I do not believe it will be effective.  Yes, a real estate agent's safety while showing homes is of the utmost importance, but if someone intends to do harm they will do it regardless of a sign.  One agent in the article brought up this very point.  You don’t want to risk deterring potential buyers by posting a sign that is definitely not going to deter a criminal.  In the comments below the article, one man stated while he was viewing a home a sketchy man walked in and was staring down the real estate agent waiting on him to leave.  In fear that he might do her harm, the agent asked the commenter to stay and after a stand off for about 15 minutes he had to walk her to her car.  The sketchy man did not leave until she pulled off and it was clear he was not there to view the home. 

I focused on that comment in particular because it raised a good point that an agent’s safety is at risk regardless of concealed carry.  They show homes everyday to complete strangers having no idea what intent or ulterior motive they may have.  There are many violent crimes that occur without weapons and a “no gun” sign will not save you from those crimes.  Also, hanging a sign will not stop people from bringing in their guns during the showings.  For this policy to really be effective the agents would have to wand potential buyers or send them through metal detectors, which I’m sure is something they do not want to do.  Not to mention that they are not qualified to handle an un-cooperative buyer.  Now it becomes a matter of cost, will companies resort to these methods and hire security to enforce them at the properties? Sounds a bit extreme, right?

Overall, the intent behind the policy is great but the real estate market is far too consumer friendly to take the risk and set these boundaries.  The main goal is to sell homes and not insult the buyers. I am not saying that all buyers would be offended by the signage, in fact it might make some more at ease.  I am simply saying that I do not think it is worth the risk of insulting someone who might very well have the ability to purchase the home.  This is still a very new concept but I am curious to see how many real estate companies adopt this policy and how many homeowners opt to have the “no gun” signage placed in front of their homes. 

Transformation of a Clinical Law Student

Being in school for 20+ years, it is often difficult for soon-to-be attorneys to view themselves as anything but students. Though functioning as lawyers while in working in clinic, there is sense that there is a safety net surrounding the student. They are able to perform the legal work and analysis in the clinic, while having a steady hand nearby, guiding and assuring nothing bad will happen. Being more then three quarters of the way through the clinical experience and watching the hand full of students prepare for their first steps outside of the comfort of student life, there is a moment of pause and reflection. Growth has occurred in the passed months that have truly prepared the students for those next steps.

A natural shedding of the student identity occurs throughout the clinic process. During the first meeting with the client, the unknowing, insecure clinic student holds onto whatever preparation and notes they have as if they are the only weapons left for them to fight with. The answer to any question a client may have is printed in black and white on the piece of paper grasped tightly in front of them.  As soon as that student gets asked the curve-ball question they didn’t see coming, their face goes a bit pale. They struggle. They learn. They answer the question. They move on. This initial struggle is one of the biggest moments for that student.  It begins that transition of having to rely on the knowledge and skills that they have gained rather than their casebooks and outlines.  

By the second semester of this experience, those notes and preparation are two of many tools in the toolbox brought to a client meeting. They are accompanied by confidence, newfound knowledge, experience, and a sense of ease. There is a refinement that comes with the student being allowed to make those calculated risks that only the clinic environment provides. The mistakes and lessons that most attorneys painfully struggle through durinf their first years in practice are introduced a bit sooner to the clinic student so that they can start mentally preparing for the road ahead.

The next challenge the student has to overcome is making sure that the client and other professionals view them the way they view themselves. Just as the students initially need to prove to themselves that they are able to take on the real legal world, the clients that they work with often need reassurance as well. Another transformation takes place in this sense. As the student gains that sense of confidence, the client gains confidence as well. So much of being professional is the ability to carry oneself in a professional and competent manner. The client can sense this. The confidence that the student has gained fills up the room and puts the client at ease. They are able to look to the student as their acting attorney and are secure in the idea that their issues will get resolved.

As the end of the clinic fast approaches, this transformation from student to professional is more tangible than ever. These newly acquired skills are being used on a daily basis. There is reassurance that once the student is removed from the learning environment, they will be able to take on the new role that they are thrust into. One of the most fundamental realizations gained from the clinic is that others will perceive the student the way they choose to be perceived. By having confidence in their abilities, students are able to command the respect of even the most seasoned professionals. 

Chicago Spire Project Could Resume

One of the reasons I decided to move to Chicago is the splendor of the downtown city skyline.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in the United States.  And because I am interested in the development sector, I usually like to keep up to date with ongoing and planned projects in the area.  Not long ago I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune[1] claiming that the developer in the failed “Chicago Spire” project has found a new investor to resume construction.  For those of you unfamiliar, the Chicago Spire is a 150-story mega skyscraper designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to be constructed near Navy Pier. 

As it was planned, the project would tower above downtown and be the focal point of the city skyline.  Due to the economic downturn, the developer of the project, Garrett Kelleher, was unable to secure enough financing for the $1.5B project.  It quite literally never got off the ground.  Since 2010, the project has been tied up in a protracted legal battle and the property was put into receivership, killing the development.  Kelleher is still the owner of the property, but according to the article, owes more than $93M in principal, interest and late fees on the mortgage.  No construction on the site has occurred since 2008 and a 76-foot-deep foundation hole remains at the 400 N. Lakeshore property.

Kelleher bought the property in 2006 for $64M with a mortgage from Anglo Irish Bank.  During the foreclosure crisis, the Irish National Asset Management Agency took over the debt which it later sold last summer to Related Midwest, a real estate development firm.  In 2010, Lorig Construction, one of the construction companies responsible for building the ramps to and from Lakeshore Drive, initiated foreclosure proceedings against Kelleher’s company, Shelbourne North Water Street, LP, and it has since been placed into receivership.  As I’ve come to learn through my work at the clinic, under Illinois law a mechanic’s lien or construction lien, like Lorig’s, is statutorily given priority over the value added from the improvements constructed.[2]  This can often frustrate mortgage companies who expect to have priority by recording their lien documents first.

Last November, Related filed a federal lawsuit against Shelbourne seeking repayment of more than $95M of guarantees it had made on the project.  Shelbourne was subsequently forced into bankruptcy.  As part of the litigation, Shelbourne could file a reorganization plan to exit the bankruptcy proceedings, which would involve a plan to pay off the existing debts owed to the creditors.  Surprisingly, last January Shelbourne filed a reorganization plan seeking court approval to move forward with an investment of up to $135 million from Atlas Apartment Holdings LLC, a Northbrook-based apartment development and management company.  According to the article, Shelbourne has stated that the amount would enable it to pay all bona fide bankruptcy claims in full and as part of the deal Atlas would become a stakeholder in the development project for the site.  There is no detail in the court documents about the additional funds needed to construct the twisting, 2,000-foot tower that was to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  Nonetheless, it appears that actions are underway to continue work on the once famous Chicago Spire.

[1] Mary Ellen Podmolik, Chicago Spire developer gets funding, wants to resume project, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 7, 2014,  available at http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-chicago-spire-20140207,0,6626095.story. All factual statements and inferences contained in this blog post have been drawn from this Chicago Tribune article.

[2​] 770 ILCS 60/16

Racial Segregation in Housing: Government’s Failed Attempt to “Promote the General Welfare”

The United States Constitution declares in its preamble that the American government operates “to promote the general welfare.”  To achieve this end, federal, state, and local governments regularly implement laws.  But, to the dismay of racial minority groups, many of these laws often seek to promote the general welfare of some citizens, not all.  Housing law, in particular, is a perfect example of the systemic discrepancy in governmental execution, as the provision of sufficient housing is still a racially divided and racially influenced matter.

One should take note that the Constitution declares every American citizen is entitled to the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  This grandiose language can be pragmatically interpreted to suggest that these rights include the ability to freely purchase and rent property.  For Black Americans, however, this right, was, and still is, very much context specific.  Historically, Black Americans were not given the unalienable right to freely purchase or rent property in white neighborhoods.  Prior to the 1950s, Black Americans were lawfully kept out of white neighborhoods through use of racially restrictive covenants.  For example, deeds or lease agreements would often include these covenants to prohibit residential properties from being occupied by Black Americans.  However, the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, turned the use of racially restrictive covenants on its head.  The Court in Shelley established that the enforcement of a racially restrictive covenant in state court created an equal protection cause of action in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The effort to abolish racial segregation in housing did not stop with Shelley.  Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  This federal law prohibits discrimination in the selling and renting of homes on the basis of race or color.  Yet, after this law surfaced, Black Americans were still forced to live in segregated and impoverished neighborhoods primarily due to racial tensions and local residential zoning laws. 

Zoning is a method used by local governments to regulate land use.  For example, local governments can designate certain regions of their municipalities for residential, commercial, or industrial uses.  Ordinances may even specify the type of structures permitted to be developed on a plot of land.  Local governments can draft zoning ordinances in such a way as to promote the interests of some of its citizens, while excluding others, especially Black Americans.  Because Shelley v. Kraemer and the Fair Housing Act taught the country that overt discriminatory practices in housing were unacceptable, exclusionary zoning practices were put into full effect.  Rather than overtly declare that Black Americans were prohibited from moving into white neighborhoods, zoning ordinances established development requirements or restrictions to make it nearly impossible for Black Americans and low-income individuals to afford housing.  For example, an exclusionary zoning ordinance might impose strict density restrictions, thereby prohibiting the development of multi-family housing structures.  Alternatively, the ordinance might mandate a lot size requirement to promote development of single-family homes, which require purchasers to secure home-loan financing from a bank.  These ordinances increase the amount of housing or development costs, closing the door to housing opportunities in the face of low-income individuals.  Using these zoning laws, local governments can effectively ensure a type of socio-economic segregation, which consequentially has a disparate impact on low-income Black Americans. 

A relatively recent example demonstrating the use of exclusionary zoning occurred in Westchester County of New York.  In 2006, the Anti-Discrimination Center sued Westchester  because of its racially segregated towns and exclusionary zoning practices.  In 2009, Westchester County and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entered into a settlement agreement, requiring Westchester to build 750 affordable housing residences in an effort to promote racially and economically integrated societies.  Although Westchester was ahead of schedule with the development of these residences, the county placed these homes far from affluent white communities governed by exclusionary zoning laws.  The settlement agreement provided that Westchester County must promote nondiscriminatory housing practices such as eliminating any zoning rules that prohibit the development of affordable housing.  However, the County Executive, Rob Astorino, vetoed a bill that would require landlords to accept government vouchers as rental payments in affluent areas.  According to Astorino, he vetoed the bill to take a stand against unwarranted invasion by HUD and the federal government. 

To be sure, Astorino’s stand for federalism and state power is severely misplaced when asserted in the context of racial and economic disparities in housing.  Exclusionary zoning practices are the modern day representations of the “racially restrictive covenants” once banned by Shelley.  These practices represent failed equality in the housing market for racially and economically diverse groups.  These practices further drive a dagger into the beating pulse of the promise made by the Constitution that all citizens have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of “property.” Finally, these modern day practices signify a loud crying contradiction to the American government’s declaration to promote the general welfare of its citizens. The preamble could quite literally read “We the people . . . promote the general welfare [of our economically valued white citizens, while disregarding the basic needs of the urban black poor,]” and it would appropriately capture the sad reality of our housing system today.   

Veterans Deserve Better

I started out writing this blog on a positive note. I wanted to discuss Veterans Treatment Courts (VTC’s). I wanted to highlight how helpful VTC’s are because they bring together resources that a veteran would otherwise not reach out to or know about. I wanted to talk about how these VTC’s actually work to “cure” criminal behavior by cutting through the symptoms and addressing the underlying causes. I wanted to point out the low recidivism rate of these treatment courts. And then I did my background research regarding veterans and mental health. As a veteran, I knew the numbers were bad. I knew that America was sending its best and brightest off to fight in two wars that it lacked the resolve to commit to. I knew my brothers and sisters were returning home with hidden injuries. I didn’t realize how bad the situation was. At this point, the focus of this article will be just to highlight some of the astounding numbers in order to raise your awareness level.

We should first talk about suicide. Twenty-two veterans a DAY commit suicide. Let that number soak in for a minute. Approximately every hour a veteran takes his or her own life. Think about that next time you are sitting around in class, watching the clock tick down. And this number is probably severely under representative of the true number of veterans that take their life on a daily basis because a few large states aren’t included in this report (California and Illinois). I don’t have some deep analysis about why this is happening. I’m not here to analysis the way the VA and the Armed Services are attempting to combat this epidemic. I’m only letting you know it is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. The most powerful country in the world should not ask its citizens to serve in its defense and then allow this to occur.

The numbers for other problems aren’t any prettier. Some studies estimate that one in three veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from either Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression. A RAND Corporation study, published in 2008, looked at 1.6 million veterans since 2001 and concluded that forty-seven percent of veterans returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan with either PTSD, depression, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The study went on to mention that a lot of veterans returning home had various combinations of the above mentioned conditions. Additionally, twenty-percent of veterans turn to heavy drug or alcohol use when they return home. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of veterans still in the Army that were involved in an alcohol related incident exploded from 1.73 per 1,000 soldiers to 5.71 per 1,000 soldiers.

I devoted this whole article to the numbers because I think just including a paragraph or two in a larger article on VTC’s would sell the problem short. This is a legitimate crisis, and with the wars winding down, many veterans are leaving the military support structure and reentering the civilian world. When I talk about VTC’s and their importance in a later blog post, it is important to comprehend the sheer enormity of the problem that society and civilian courts will face in dealing with a segment of the population that sustained these hidden wounds while serving their country. Veterans don’t need fancy beer commercials. They don’t need you to stand at a baseball or football game when the national anthem is played and they don’t need you to stand up and clap when a veteran is honored at a sporting event. They need contributions to programs like VTC’s, job training programs or other reintegration programs.

Hurry Up and Wait

The amount of work that a lawyer has for a given week often ebbs and flows. One week you will have more than you can handle, while the next week you will have barely enough to keep you busy. When you’re lucky, lawyers can manage their workload based on their own personal preferences and schedules. However, sometimes outside circumstances, such as supervisor or client requests, dictate the times in which work must be completed, and you must hurry up and wait. 
Hurry Up

Tasks and projects that require fast work surface often in the legal field. Sometimes, your supervisor requests that you write a brief, pleading, or research memorandum. While you are more than willing to complete the task, often your supervisor’s given deadline may be far less desirable than you wanted. Other times, one of your clients may request that you do an initial draft of a contract or give her an answer on a legal question. Once again, even though you may genuinely want to do the work, her expectation of when you can reasonably finish it may be unrealistic. Despite being doubtful that you can finish the projects on time, you always defy all odds and get it done in time – even if it means pulling a late night.


Getting a project done within the requested time frame can give you both a sense of relief as well as a sense of accomplishment. Since you were given such a strict and short time frame within which to complete the project, you would expect to have feedback or comments on the project very quickly, if not immediately. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes your supervisor or client gets busy and cannot offer you any sort of response to the work that you have accomplished. Although you may have skipped meals and sleep in order to get the desired product finished, they may not even look at it that day – or even that week! It’s not that your hard work has gone unappreciated or unused, but it has just not received the immediate attention that it seemed to require, especially based on the short time frame within which you had to complete it. It often seems strange that you had to rush and stress so much just to have your work put on the back burner.   

Silver Lining

Although it can be incredibly frustrating to be forced to hurry up and wait, it is also important to remember to value the free time that you have as a result. Even though your work on the project may have consumed all of your time and exhausted you, it is now done, and you can relax for the time being. While you are waiting on your supervisor or client to give you their feedback on the project, you can complete other tasks or work that you have. Or even better, maybe you could just take a break. Despite any frustration that may accompany the hurry up and wait paradigm, it is always important to remember that in the busy life of the lawyer, lulls in work are hard to come by, so they should be greatly appreciated.

Finding the Right Balance

Many lawyers, especially transactional lawyers, must depend on and work with various individuals, both inside and outside of the legal profession, in order to get projects done.  Sometimes things go perfectly. The project gets done on time, and it seems like it’s from a dream. However, sometimes things go wrong. The project is not done on time, and it seems like it’s from a nightmare. 

This post will analyze a hypothetical situation in which a team of student lawyers is required to work with an individual outside of the legal profession in order to complete a project for their client. In this particular scenario, the individual who was assisting the team has failed to complete the project as requested by the team and required by the client, delaying the delivery of the final project to the client by an entire month. The analysis below presents some hypothetical ways to incorrectly react to the individual’s failure to complete the project based on the needs of the team and the client, followed by some suggestions for how student lawyers should appropriately deal with these types of situations. 

What NOT to do: being too passive

1. Just wait to see what happens. Maybe the individual will realize what she has done wrong and contact you concerning how you can work with her to remedy the problem. 

2. Send a gentle, confused email. Who knows, maybe the details about the project were somehow lost in translation. A reminder email might stimulate the individual to remember your explicit and clear details about how the project should be completed.   

3. Avoid the individual. Maybe the pressure of the deadline was getting to the individual and she needed some distance. Perhaps once you give her a little space, she will deliver a stunning, new project that is exactly what you wanted.

4. Try to fix the project yourself. I mean, its totally outside of you area of expertise, but in order to get things done the way that you want, sometimes you just have to do them yourself. 

What NOT to do: being too aggressive

1.  EMAIL, EMAIL, EMAIL. They can’t ignore you forever. If it takes bothering them to get what you want, then fine. Everyone is busy, so they should be able to get back to you in at least one of the ten emails you sent them. 

2. Send a rude, demanding email. If they’re not going to take you seriously, show them you mean business by sending a threatening email. Sometimes being nasty will get your point across. 

3. Yell and pick a fight with the individual. Show her who’s boss by intimidating her. You want her to know that this is your project and you don’t want her to mess it up.

4.  Call the individual’s supervisor. If the individual you’re working with doesn’t want to help you, then go above her head. Demand to speak to her supervisor – the supervisor will surely understand your point of view and fix the problem for you.

Finding the right balance

Each of the above actions is an extreme example of an ineffective way to deal with an individual who has failed to deliver the project in the way that the two of you had agreed. Every student lawyer needs to find his or her own voice within the clinic and figure out the best methods for clearly communicating with individuals in order to achieve the desired final project. In most situations, the best way to manage individuals who are helping with your project involves finding a balance of all the methods mentioned above. It is important to be assertive with the individuals you are working with, but to also give them room to do their job as well. It is crucial to gauge each particular situation to figure out what tactic will be the most effective in order to get the project finished. This is a skill that every student lawyer must develop, and it just takes time and experience to find the right balance when working with individuals on projects.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the Clinic, the law school or the University.

Dramatic Need for Change in the Legal Education Industry

In my last blog, “Money Makes Things Happen: What is Causing the Change in Law Schools,” I described how market forces are affecting law schools. Those market forces are tightening the hangman’s noose on law schools. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported in October that the number of law school applicants dropped 12.3% from 2012. Total applications took a similar hit and dropped 17.9% compared to last year. In addition, Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado reported in his blog “Lawyers, Guns & Money” that approximately eighty percent to eighty-five percent of law schools are currently running on operating deficits. Campos says, “Since 2010, first-year law-school enrollment is down nearly 25 percent and tuition revenue is down by about 15 percent in real terms.” He goes on to state that costs have not declined in a similar fashion, resulting in the operational deficits. 

With this new information, it is irrefutable that law schools must adapt or die. The real questions are (1) will a particular law school adapt or die and (2) if a law school adapts, how will it adapt. In the following section I will address question number two and describe a few of the larger scale ideas floating around on how to change law schools.

  1. Dissolving or Reforming the ABA: This isperhaps the most sweeping reformation idea out there. The argument put forth in support of this action is that because the ABA over regulates the law school industry through accreditation requirements, the law school industry has been hampered from adapting to market changes. I think reforming the ABA accreditation requirements is a very real possibility and will allow law schools the ability to adapt to changes in the market. I do not think dissolving the ABA is a good idea because its regulation of lawyers greatly benefits our profession. The ABA’s regulation of lawyers allows clients to bestow an incredible amount of trust and confidence in us as lawyers. Reform the ABA accreditation standards, but keep the ABA.  The other critique of this course of action is that it does nothing right away to alleviate the glut of new lawyers. 
  2. Dissolving Third Tier Law Schools: This would provide immediate relief to the problem of more lawyers being produced than there are jobs for. In addition, demand for the remaining law schools would immediately pick up, perhaps alleviating some of the budget problems discussed below. The problem of how this would be accomplished is perhaps insurmountable. The ABA certainly doesn’t possess the power to just simply “dissolve” a law school. If the free market supports a third tier law (a problem that might work itself out if the budget predictions of Campos are to be believed and given time) school than there are no straightforward ways to end the law school. 
  3. Dis-enrollment of the Bottom Third of 1L’s: One suggestion is that after first year grades are received, some of the third and second tier law schools dis-enroll the bottom third to quarter of students. Some schools, like John Marshall, already have practiced this. This addresses some of the problems of lawyer over production, but would have to be practiced nationwide to address the scale of lawyer over production. One problem is who would mandate and enforce this practice? If too many schools practiced this there would be a weird “race to the bottom” situation in which students began applying to lower ranking schools to avoid the risk of dis-enrollment in higher ranking schools. 
  4. Shortening Law School: This is the most likely change to occur. Earlier this year President Obama spoke out in favor of shortening law school to two years. Even some in the ABA have spoken favorably about this change. The immediate impact is less student debt for a law school graduate. But does this really address the problem of too many lawyers? I like this change and I think it is about time (ABA has discussed this since the 70’s), but I don’t see this addressing the core problem of too many law schools graduating too many lawyers.

I hope that the sheer scope of some of these actions drives home the point that law schools are on the precipice of change. The very fact that some of these actions are being debated shows the seriousness of the challenges facing the legal education industry. This coming change will be enormous in scope and unavoidable. Eventually you adapt or die, and I’m not sure which one law schools are going to choose.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the Clinic, the law school or the University.

Ex-Offenders and Chicago Public Housing

According to an October 17, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune the Chicago Housing Authority may be considering changing the policy on allowing ex-offenders in public housing. Ex-offenders have long faced barriers when trying to gain access to public housing. Currently HUD requires public housing authorities to establish a lifetime ban on admission for people who have produced methamphetamine and sexual offenders who are subject to a lifetime registration requirement. Local public housing authorities, however, are able to add their own restrictions on top of those that are federally required. The CHA denies applicants for Housing Choice Vouchers if either the applicant or a household member has engaged in drug-related or violent criminal activity during the 5 years prior to screening. Often though, when enforcing the waiting period the CHA looks at when the ex-offender was released from prison and not at when the offense took place. This means that many ex-offenders are denied access to public housing many years after their offense took place.

While many people may support denying ex-offenders access to public housing, they may not realize the consequences. Homeless shelters are often the only place these people have to go, the Chicago Tribune article cited a study that showed 48% of the people using homeless shelters in Chicago are ex-offenders. Because CHA includes household members as those who are banned, often this means that families cannot be reunited for fear of losing housing for the entire family. Juvenile offenders are not exempt and cannot rejoin their parents' household so they lose out on the support system their family may be able to provide, a support system that is essential to their successful rehabilitation in many cases. Ex-offenders without stable housing, and without support systems are more likely to re-offend, yet the CHA has prevented them from having either. 

While the CHA has made nothing official, former CHA CEO Charles Woodyard seemed to suggest that the Authority was open to the idea. The problem now is how to implement it. How can you explain to the residents of mixed-income developments, which were developed partially as a response to the crime of former CHA buildings, that they will now be living next to ex-offenders? How will the screening process work? Which offenses will no longer require a waiting period? What will CHA do to ensure these developments remain safe? Undoubtedly there will be many opponents to allowing ex-offenders access to public housing, but it's also clear that something needs to change.

Illinois Fast Track Foreclosure for Abandoned Properties

You want to sell your house. You have a showing today -- potential buyers are going to look around your house, and if they like what they see, they’ll make you an offer. You’ve just finished raking the leaves and cleaning up outside, making sure your house looks good from the moment those potential buyers step out of their car -- curbside appeal, your real estate agent likes to call it.

You look down the street. A little ways down, a house has stood abandoned for almost a year. The family that used to live there couldn’t afford the mortgage payments -- nice people, maybe not so good with money -- so they left. They said they were going to move in with family down south until they got back on their feet.

Wherever that family moved, they aren’t taking care of the lawn anymore. The dead yellow grass is maybe a foot high, the dead yellow weeds are twice that tall, and there are dead leaves everywhere. That abandoned house’s curbside appeal is zilch, worse than zilch, and it makes the whole street look pretty bad -- makes it look like a street potential buyers don’t want to live on. You know the people coming to see your house today are going to take one look at that abandoned home and its overgrown yard, and think twice about making an offer for your house. 

Sure would be nice if someone would at least take care of that lawn. To get that done, you have a couple of choices:

(a) You can call the bank that has the mortgage and ask them to take care of the lawn. Assuming you can find the right person to talk to at the bank -- not a very safe assumption -- it’s not very likely they’ll take care of it by the time of your showing, if they take care of it at all. Banks are in the business of lending money, not landscaping.

(b) You can call the village and ask them to take care of it. They might take care of it . . . eventually. Not by this afternoon, though. And when they do take care of it, you’ll think that’s pretty neighborly of them . . . until you realize that you and your neighbors have to pay for that service with property taxes.

(c) You can do it yourself. But you have to leave for work, drop the kids off at school, run some errands -- do something other than take care of that lawn down the street -- so there’s not enough time. And why should you have to take care of someone else’s lawn?

(d) You can hope the potential buyers don’t notice.

Out of necessity, you opt for (d). The potential buyers, though, will notice, and even if they make you an offer on your house, it will be lower than you wanted -- all because of that abandoned house down the street.

Recently, the clinic team working with the Institute for Housing Studies (IHS) was researching real property liens and prioritization of liens. IHS was interested in understanding liens for several reasons; one of those was the possibility that a municipality might be able to use liens to acquire blighted properties. Ultimately, though, our conclusion was that liens were a poor tool for acquiring blighted properties, in part because the foreclosure process is so slow. In Illinois, foreclosure is estimated to take almost two years.

Earlier this year, the Illinois General Assembly recognized how slow the process was, as well as the damage blighted property can do to a municipality, and passed legislation to speed up the foreclosure process for abandoned residential property.

A lien represents a debt owed to the lien holder, and this lien is secured by property owned by the person who owes the debt. In effect, the property serves as collateral for the debt. To collect on this debt, a lien holder can institute foreclosure proceedings against the property. The end result of these proceedings is that the property is sold at auction, and the debt owed to the lien holder is paid out of the proceeds, if any, of that sale. In the case of one category of blighted property, abandoned residential housing, the additional advantage for a municipality is that the vacant house moves back onto the market.

For abandoned housing, the current owner is no longer taking care of the property, and the costs for keeping up the property -- clearing weeds, boarding it up to keep children or other people out, and otherwise ensuring the property doesn’t present a danger to the community -- fall on the municipality, which means it falls on the residents of the municipality by way of taxes. By moving the property back on the market, the abandoned housing now has a new owner who can take care of it and, more importantly, pay for its upkeep.

A municipality derives a further benefit by getting the abandoned property resold to an owner who will regularly pay property taxes. A municipality relies on property taxes for a large part of its revenue, and those taxes are based on the value of property within the municipality. Neglect of an abandoned property not only decreases its own value, it also has a negative impact on other property in the area, so property values go down, and when property values go down, so do tax revenues. The longer a property remains vacant, the more harm it does to property values, and the sooner the property moves back into the hands of an owner, the sooner it stops losing value and harming the value of near-by properties.

To help alleviate this problem, the Illinois General Assembly amended act 735, section 5 of chapter 735 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes to provide for fast-track foreclosure. To take advantage of this, a lender (the mortgagee) must file a motion requesting an expedited foreclosure process, and the court must establish that the property is abandoned.

Characteristics of abandoned property are set out in the statute, and the property must meet at least two of these.  These characteristics include “doors are smashed through, broken off, unhinged, or continuously unlocked,” “law enforcement officials have received at least one report of trespassing or vandalism or other illegal acts being committed at the property in the last 6 months,” and “the property has been stripped of copper or other materials, or interior fixtures to the property have been removed.”  There are also exceptions to ensure the property is truly abandoned including the posting of bona fide “for sale” signs, and the building is secure and “in substantial compliance with all applicable ordinances, codes, regulations, and laws” as evidence the home isn’t abandoned.

If the court grants this motion for an expedited foreclosure, the process is potentially reduced from almost two years to 90 to 180 days.

 To further aid municipalities, the General Assembly also enacted a fee schedule for foreclosures. This schedule charges a foreclosure filing fee based on the number of foreclosures a lender files in a calendar year, and a percentage of these fees go to municipalities to help defray the cost of maintaining abandoned housing, with the rest going to housing counseling programs in the state.

Some estimates report that 18,000 homeowners a year might benefit from the housing counseling, and being able to expedite the foreclosure process could save lenders $43,000 to $89,000 per property.

All-in-all, these new statutes provide a good incentive to lenders for quickly dealing with abandoned properties and helping municipalities alleviate some of problems that arose after the mortgage crisis.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  These are the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinion of the law school or University.

The Many Hats of a Law Student Clinician

When applying for the community and housing development clinic in the spring of my first year of law school, a barrage of questions flooded my mind: Do I know enough? What if my client doesn't like me? What if I get stuck in the role of student? But most of all, the question on my mind was “Am I prepared for this?” The blunt answer to this question was no- not because I didn't have a strong foundation from my first year coursework, but because there was no way a law student could truly prepare for the multitude of experiences and roles they would have to take on in the legal clinic environment. These new experiences are unique to the environment. 

Within my first two months at the clinic, I have taken on roles that I could have never anticipated. The legal clinic student, like a practicing attorney, takes on different roles for their clients and wears a variety of hats, if you will. 

Clinician as actor

I personally experienced this role quite literally, having to act in legal literacy training videos for my client- a feat I was definitely not prepared to undertake. But law student clinicians as a whole learn to manage their own character when speaking with their client. Though we may not have the years of experience our graduated counterparts have, we too have knowledge and an evolving legal background to be able to efficiently work with real world clients. Presenting this persona is a key element to the clinic that I did not anticipate. 

Clinician as teacher

Although the initial thought when entering a clinic would be to take on the role of student, I have found the role as teacher to be equally important. When discussing our cases with our peers in the clinic, it is crucial to be able to articulate and educate them on the legal situations we are encountering with our clients. It is through this mutual teaching that often unexpected and valuable lessons are learned. 

Clinician as chef

Yes, I said chef.  This is not because we are working with food, but rather like a chef who may be experimenting with a new recipe for the first time, law student clinicians have to adapt to the situation. For many of us who are used to following strict guidelines, and not necessarily swaying from the recipe, it can be a challenge to be dependent on real life clients. Patience becomes a key ingredient. Remaining calm in the face of change or the unexpected often creates a sweet and memorable result. 

Clinician as Manager

The role of manager is one of most important roles a student can take on in a legal clinic. Each legal student becomes a manager of his or her efficiency. It is up to the legal student to determine how their time can be most valuable while working for their client. Similarly, it is up to the students to keep their projects on track. This is done through standard communication with clients, but there is also a finesse that comes with this territory that is learned through the management process.  Finding the correct tone in order to create a comfortable relationship with the client, while still maintaining an air of authority in order to get tasks accomplished and maintain respect, is a difficult balance to maintain. The clinic environment teaches this invaluable communication skill. Being able to effectively communicate and manage client relations is a lesson that will be forever used. 

 The legal clinic has taught me so many lessons that I had not anticipated. Beyond the lessons, it has given me the opportunity to step into the shoes of an attorney. Through this experience, I quickly discovered the multifaceted nature of the occupation and it keeps me encouraged for the future. The dynamic environment of the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic has provided a platform for law students to try out the many different roles they will be expected to take on in the real world. Hats off to you legal clinic! 

Is The CHA Violating Its Residents Fourth Amendment Rights?

According to a Chicago Tribune article on August 15, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) for violating the Fourth Amendment’s proscription on unreasonable search and seizures.  The suit was filed on behalf of Joseph Peery, a 58-year-old resident of the Parkside of Old Town Developments.  This area used to be the Cabrini Green housing projects.  The complaint, found on the ACLU’s website, alleges the CHA’s drug policy forces residents in mixed income housing to submit to a drug test before they are approved and every year they continue to reside in the housing.  If the residents fail the drug tests or refuse to take them, they are evicted. According to the complaint Peery has never used drugs and has passed the test for the past four years.  He believes forcing residents to submit to the tests is degrading and stigmatizing.  

The residents are required to go to the business office, urinate in a cup and hand it to an officer.  Peery states the procedure is not done privately and is open for anyone to view.  After the residents give their urine samples they are required to sit out in a public hallway holding the cup until they are called.  Peery states the process makes the residents feel like criminals even though they have done nothing wrong.  There is no age restriction on the policy and Peery has witnessed older women, some who are even disabled, being forced to submit to the testing.  This drug policy is not enforced at all CHA residences and it is unclear how they decide which units will have the drug testing enforced.  Right now the policy is only being enforced in six of the mixed income housing units.  Over the years since the program started only 51 people have tested positive for drugs, which is about 4% of the CHA housing population.  

I find myself having mixed feelings over this policy.  On the one hand I feel that it is put in place for a good reason.  There has been a history of drug use and drug dealing among the residents in the Chicago housing projects.  Now that the projects are torn down and these residents are living in mixed income housing I can see why the CHA wants to keep a close watch on drug use.  In the mixed income housing units there are both low-income residents who receive vouchers and residents who pay the market rate rental prices.  Although the property managers are not supposed to inform the regular residents who is low income and who is not, many residents are at least aware if the property they are residing in welcomes low income residents.  I can see the concern some of those residents may have, especially in certain areas, about what is being done to prevent drug use and crime.  

The residents of these units argue that just because someone is using drugs does not mean they pose a threat and the CHA should be worried about the drug dealers.  While there is a point to that argument, residents could be equally concerned with drug users.  If you are living next to people who use drugs their house may become known as the “drug house” where all the other drug-using residents come to do their drugs.  This can definitely become problematic and cause the regular residents to move out. Word travels fast and eventually the unit will become known as drug infested and will no longer be mixed income housing.  It will eventually become straight low income housing due to market rate residents not wanting to live there, which will make it a housing project like Cabrini all over again.  I believe this is what the CHA had in mind when they started enforcing this policy.  The policy applies to all residents in the complex and not just the low-income residents.  

On the other hand, from the resident’s point of view, especially those who are not low income, I can see their frustration.  Having to submit to a drug test before you are qualified to live in an apartment is not a big deal if it is a one-time thing.  I think it gives the residents comfort to know that the complex they are moving into has a no tolerance policy for drugs.  However, I believe it becomes problematic when you require the residents to submit to this testing every year.  Mr. Peery, who has been living at the residence for four years drug free, should not be forced to submit to drug tests every year nor should the disabled and the elderly.  People in this age group who have passed the test several times should become exempt after a while.  

Overall, I believe the policy needs to be revised.  It should not just apply to certain complexes because that gives off the idea that these are the “problem” buildings, which may not actually be the case.  If they are going to have a no drug tolerance policy it needs to be uniform and apply to all of the CHA properties.  Testing should be done before a resident moves in and again only if the property manager receives complaints from other residents that a person may be using or dealing drugs.  This would take away the inconvenience of forcing everyone to take drug tests every year.  As someone who has never taken drugs in my life I can see how insulting it would be for my complex to all of a sudden make me submit to random yearly drug tests.  

If the CHA wants to continue the yearly testing, certain people should be able to be exempt after a while unless there is a complaint.  If you are a resident like Mr. Peery, who has been testing positive for years and is not a known drug user, then I believe the policy should be waived.  The same goes for the elderly and disabled.  I do not believe 70 and 80 year old men and women should be subjected to these tests if they have not failed in the past.  The location and setting in which the testing is done needs to be changed as well.  If it is as Mr. Peery describes it, that is not fair or adequate.  The testing should be done in private at a testing facility and not at an office open to the public where the residents being tested are put on display.  It is going to be very interesting to see how this lawsuit turns out and what changes the CHA will make in the mean time.  

From Law Student to Lawyer in a Legal Clinic

In law school we learn the law; we read cases and then spend hours trying to understand them enough to be able to apply them to fact-patterns our professors write. We rarely, however, spend much time thinking about the impact of these laws on the individuals and communities they affect. We never discuss how the law can be used to help people. 

When I joined the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic it primarily interested me as an opportunity to learn more about real estate and to gain more transactional experience. To be honest, I wasn't very interested in the community development aspect of the clinic. Then I began to meet with some of the clinic's clients.

The people I've met devote their lives to helping strangers, whether by developing affordable housing or trying to help bring businesses in to revitalize underdeveloped communities. These people don't do this for the money. They aren't interested in prestige; they truly just want to make a difference.  And my job is to help them understand the laws that make this possible. 

For the first time in law school my job is not to memorize and overanalyze laws that seem to have little relevance to anything. Instead my job is to find laws and regulations that can assist my clients in helping achieve their goals.   For the first time I'm reading laws and applying laws that can have a huge impact on some of the most underrepresented groups in our society. Through tax incentives and other programs, legislatures, who often seem so removed from the "real world", are able to remove the economic barriers that might otherwise prevent people, like those I've met, from being able to have a meaningful impact. 

This has been by far the most exciting part of my time in this Clinic. I actually am able to see how our clients, who so truly want to have a positive impact, will be able to use the laws in place to help them help others. 


The author is a student in the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  These views are solely the views of the author and do not represent the views of the Clinic, the Law School or the University.

Chicago’s Use of Tax Increment Financing to Fund New DePaul Arena

According to a Sept 23, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune, the City of Chicago has pledged $33m to help construct a new event center as part of a revitalization project for the McCormick Place Entertainment District.  Dubbed the “DePaul Arena,” the proposed event center will cost $173m to construct.  According the Chicago Tribune, DePaul University has allocated $70m to the project, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (“McPier”) has pledged an additional $70m of general revenue backed bonds, and the City has pledged the remainder $33m to the project to be paid from Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”).

The article goes on to state that the proposed DePaul Arena will be a 10,000-seat event center adjacent to the McCormick Place West building that will host conventions and trade shows as well as the DePaul University men and women’s basketball teams.  The event center is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016 and is considered a key feature of the planned McCormick Place Entertainment District which also includes a 1,200 room hotel owned by McPier and operated by Marriot Marquis.  According to the Tribune, the City and McPier have mapped out a 12 block area adjacent to McCormick place as the McCormick Place Entertainment District in its plan to revitalize the area.  The plan hopes to encourage new business and jobs and attract a modern night life as well as increase the competitiveness of the McCormick Convention Center.  The DePaul Arena is described as an important step towards accomplishing the goals of the revitalization project.  The hope is that DePaul basketball will draw in a younger, vibrant crowd during basketball games as will entertainment headlines and convention events hosted at the arena.

One of the the most controversial issues with the project is the City’s use of Tax Increment Financing. TIF is a special type of Economic Development Incentive (“EDI”) utilized by many cities throughout the nation.  The funding for specific projects is generated by growth in the Equalized Assessed Valuation (“EAV”) of properties within a designated district over a 23 year period.  The amount of property tax the area generates is set as a base EAV amount. As property values increase, all property tax growth above that amount is used to fund redevelopment projects within the district. The increase, or increment, can be used to pay back bonds issued to pay upfront costs, or can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis for individual projects.

By using TIFs, the City argues it can stimulate growth in an impoverished or blighted neighborhood.  Successful revitalization projects can reduce vacancies, decrease crime, increase property value, incentivize property owners to improve and increase housing, reduce urban sprawl, and invigorate an otherwise declining property market. However, these benefits can also come at the cost of the current identity of the existing community.  Using TIFs to fund redevelopment assumes that property values will continue to increase sufficiently to fund the balance of the project.  This approach often relies on gentrification of neighborhoods which can have a detrimental effect on the existing population living within the community.  The most notable effect is the displacement of residents due to the increase in home prices and rent, the burdens placed on surrounding communities due to displacement, and potential resentment between existing residents and new ones.  Logically it would seem that community input is essential to community revitalization, but too often this is over looked.  The City and McPier should do their utmost to solicit community input into the overall revitalization project.  Hosting community input meetings, conducting community input surveys, and working with existing community organizations can help reduce the negative side effects while reaping the many rewards that follow a successful revitalization project.


Kathy Bergen, McPier Board OKs DePaul Arena Design, Chicago Tribune, Sep. 23, 2013, http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-depaul-arena-mcpier-20130923,0,19653.story.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Law School Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic. The opinions expressed in this blog are that of the author and not of the Clinic, the Law School or the University.

But I’m Just a Student...

Recently, while preparing for my first client meeting as a student in the Housing Legal Clinic, it occurred to me that for the first time in my life, I had to play the role of a real lawyer. I found this idea very alarming. I was a student. I have always been a student. It is all I know. Seriously. 

Recently, while preparing for my first client meeting, it occurred to me that for the first time in my life, I had to play the role of a real lawyer. I found this idea very alarming. I was a student. I have always been a student. It is all I know. Seriously. 

In fact, beginning in 1994, I have been a student for 19 consecutive years. After high school, I went straight to college to get my B.A., and after college I went straight to law school to get my J.D. Of course, I have had a few part-time jobs in the interim, working as a host, deli clerk, tutor, and server – I have even worked as an intern at a law firm. But despite all of these minimum wage experiences, I still had only mastered the occupation of “student.” 

So there I sat, creating an agenda for my first client meeting, feeling quite lost. I already knew the project that I would be tackling for my client, but I had no idea how to elicit the information that I needed in order to proceed.

I found myself typing questions like, “What do you want done next,” “How would you prefer the project completed,” and, “When would you like it completed.” 

As a student, and even as a law intern, these are typically the questions that I ask. In fact, a good student should ask these questions, and then simply comply with the answer given to him or her. But, unlike a student, a lawyer cannot simply ask the client for all of the answers concerning how to move forward in a case. 

That is not to say that a client’s opinion on matters is irrelevant, but the client cannot be the one who independently decides the deadlines and subsequent steps in the case. The lawyer must work alongside the client to decide what the appropriate next steps in the case should be. Eliciting this information may seem simple, but when you have only ever taken direction in your life, turning the tables and leading a project can be quite daunting. 

After some collaboration with my teammate and professor, I was finally able to begin understanding the tricks to running an effective client meeting, and my first client meeting was a success. I had reformulated my previous questions to be statements like, “We think that these might be appropriate next steps,” “The project could be completed in these ways,” and “We anticipate that the project will be completed by this date.” Following each of these statements, of course, the client was given the opportunity to voice any concerns or questions about the proposed proceedings in the case, and decisions were made based on our collective thoughts. 

Rather than looking to the client to give me the answers that I naturally wanted by virtue of being a student, I was able to work with the client to arrive at those answers together, and it definitely worked. I had taken one step away form being a student, and one giant leap toward being a lawyer.

Needless to say, I still have a long way to come in regards to perfecting my lawyering skills, but I think it is safe to say that I am on my way. 


The author is a student in the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  The opinions on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of the Clinic, the law school or the University.

Tax Credits are like Carrots on a Stick for Companies

​“Tax Credits are like Carrots on a Stick for Companies” 

One of our Clinic’s projects deals specifically with the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).  LIHTC incentivizes investors to provide capital to developers to help fund affordable housing projects.  Investors, in turn, receive substantial decreases in their tax liability through application of the tax credit, which is typically awarded for a span of 10 years.  As with most incentives, there follows a list of mandatory requirements.  

“Tax Credits are like Carrots on a Stick for Companies” 

 A fundamental premise of psychology is that most people, absent the altruistic few, behave in ways to improve their circumstances.  In the context of business, most often, that behavior involves making a decision to yield increases in one’s wealth.  This desire for self-gratification is a mere innate quality, but it makes the topic of tax incentives an interesting concept to study.  

Of course companies are interested in maximizing profit, so they are not eager to spend money on an unprofitable project.  So, how does one encourage a multimillion-dollar company to invest money into the development of affordable housing?  Well, what would one do to get an apathetic teenager to clean his room or an unrelenting toddler to eat her vegetables?  Simply put, provide them with an incentive.  To induce most individuals to perform a desired behavior, the targeted individual must know that the behavior will yield a favorable outcome for him or her.  Perhaps that inducement comes in the form of money for the teenager or a cookie for the toddler.  Tax incentives operate much the same way for businesses.  For example, to induce a business to invest into affordable housing (i.e., the desired behavior), the government will offer tax credits (i.e., the incentive).  Tax credits provide the company with the opportunity to substantially decrease the amount of tax liability it owes to the federal government.  And you would be hard pressed to find a company that does not want to limit its tax liability! 

One of our Clinic’s projects deals specifically with the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).  LIHTC incentivizes investors to provide capital to developers to help fund affordable housing projects.  Investors, in turn, receive substantial decreases in their tax liability through application of the tax credit, which is typically awarded for a span of 10 years.  As with most incentives, there follows a list of mandatory requirements.  Under LIHTC, the developer is not granted the tax credit until he or she has sufficiently completed the affordable housing project to the satisfaction of the governing state agency in charge of administering the credits.  If the project fails to comply with the mandatory requirements, the developer does not receive the tax credit and the investor cannot decrease its tax liability.  With this particular scheme in place, both the investor and the developer will work diligently to deliver a satisfactory project; much like the teenager will clean his room better than a hired professional and the toddler will scrape her plate clean of any vegetables, all because the incentive is worth it! 

In a related discussion, Brazil demonstrates how it effectively uses tax incentives to generate economic development.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Brazilian government increased taxes on imported foreign cars, but offered tax brakes to companies opting to manufacture their cars in Brazil under its program called “Inovar-Auto.”  BMW was the first company to take advantage of the lower tax bill and Audi is likely to follow suit in 2015.  These incentives offer financial benefits to the car manufacturers and they strategically provide mediums to stimulate Brazil’s economy by creating jobs.  In short, we learn that tax credits are financial carrots on a stick for businesses.  If the government presents a good enough tax incentive (i.e., carrot), the company will likely operate in the manner the government desires, whether it is investing in affordable housing or opening manufacturing plants on foreign soil. 


The author is a student in the DePaul Law Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.

Welcome to the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic Blog

The Housing & Community Development Legal Clinic  at DePaul University College of Law provides corporate and transactional legal assistance to organizations working in affordable housing and community development.  

DePaul law students participating in the Clinic will offer posts about current issues in affordable housing and their experiences in the Clinic. We invite you to learn more about us by following our blog or visiting our webiste.  If you are an organization working in affordable housing and community development interested in working with the Clinic, please contact us for assistance.  

Rights of Illinois Condo Buildings Against Delinquent Condo Owners

A group of people have gathered outside the door of a unit in a condo building. They’re frustrated. They’re angry. They’re the members of the condo association’s board, and one of the unit-owners in their building is behind -- way behind -- in paying his assessment fees. If the board doesn’t get the money from him, everyone else in the building (including the angry members of the board) will have to pay more -- all of this because one unit-owner hasn’t paid his fees.

A group of people have gathered outside the door of a unit in a condo building. They’re frustrated. They’re angry. They’re the members of the condo association’s board, and one of the unit-owners in their building is behind -- way behind -- in paying his assessment fees. If the board doesn’t get the money from him, everyone else in the building (including the angry members of the board) will have to pay more -- all of this because one unit-owner hasn’t paid hisfees.

He agreed to pay the fees when he purchased the condo. Those fees are his share of the upkeep for the building’s common areas: its roof and hallways, maybe its elevator if it has one. These are important things -- things that need to be taken care of -- and because one unit owner hasn’t paid, everyone else will have to pay his share.

Maybe the board members sympathize. Times are hard. Economy’s bad. Property values are down. The current value of the condo is less than what he paid for it. But times are hard for everyone. The board members are struggling with the same bad economy. The value of their condos might be less than what they paid, too -- and if they don’t maintain the common areas of the building, the value will drop even more. So they need the assessment fees, one way or the other, and they can’t afford to pay more than they already do.

The board members are frustrated . . . angry. They’ve gathered outside the delinquent unit-owner’s door to get their money, and naturally he isn’t home -- maybe he hasn’t been home for months, maybe he doesn’t even live in the unit anymore. So one of the board members kicks open the door. They charge into the condo unit. They take all his stuff, bring it outside, and hold an impromptu yard sale, keeping their fingers crossed that the unit-owner’s couch, television, computer, and stereo bring a good price -- a price high enough to pay the association fees the unit-owner owes, so they don’t have to.

Those parts about kicking down the door and holding the yard sale aren’t true -- can’t happen, at least not legally -- but that’s what I imagined when I read the following: “Illinois Condominium Property Act allows for the forcible entry and detainer, or eviction, of a condominium owner who does not pay his or her share of common expenses, or assessments, thereby affording condominium associations a unique mechanism by which to collect on a lien . . . .”

I came upon the passage while doing research for the Institute for Housing Studies (IHS) at DePaul’s College of Business. The IHS is dedicated to collecting and analyzing data about housing to help provide affordable housing in Chicago and Cook County. As a part of this mission, it investigates the financial pressures the recent mortgage crisis and current recession are putting on condo associations, and one of these pressures is unpaid association fees.

I was a little bit outraged when I read that a condo association could evict one of its members. He paid for his property. It’s his by right, so how can others in the building take it away? These are private citizens, not the government. Can a utility company evict a person for not paying his bill? And if not, why should a condo association be able to evict a unit-owner for not paying his bill to the condo association? But the reality of forcible entry and detainer is neither as exciting as what I imagined, nor as outrageous as I initially believed, but it is an effective solution to a singular problem condo associations face when confronted with a unit-member who can no longer afford to pay his association fees.

Illinois law allows a condo association, once it has enforced a lien for delinquent association fees, to take possession of a unit. The owner still owns the condo, but he can’t live there. He has the right of ownership, but not the right of possession. Effectively, the condo association has evicted him. In order to regain possession, the delinquent unit-owner must pay his overdue fees. While in possession, the condo association can lease the unit, and through rents, generate income to help defray the cost of the unit-owner’s unpaid association fees. In other words, the other unit-owners in the condominium association don’t have to pay for all the unpaid fees of a delinquent unit-owner out of their own pockets. Instead, they can use the property of the delinquent unit-owner to help pay his association fees.

One situation where forcible entry and detainer is particularly effective is when the delinquent unit owner abandons his condo because he simply can’t afford it anymore. It takes time for ownership of the condo to pass from the delinquent owner to a new one who can pay association fees. Foreclosure is a time-consuming process, and a bank might be slow in starting the foreclosure process. The time it takes is likely measured in years, and those years are in addition to the months of unpaid association fees that drove the association to seek the lien on the delinquent unit-owner’s property in the first place. During those years, the fees aren’t being paid, and being able to lease the condo unit can make up some of the difference. The downside is that it requires the members of the association to become landlords, but in a poor economy, being a landlord might be a better choice than having to pay more money.

While this may seem an extreme solution, the Forcible Entry Act provides a statutory scheme for the condo association assuming possession of the unit. The whole process from obtaining the lien to taking possession requires judicial approval, so there is oversight by the court. Also, the law dictates how the condo association can spend the rent. Broadly, the rent goes to pay the delinquent fees, the costs associated with collecting those delinquent fees, and the current association fees; then the condo association must send any remaining money to the unit owner. As for that couch, television, computer, and stereo I imagined being sold at an impromptu yard sale, the condo association doesn’t get the delinquent unit-owner’s personal possessions. The sheriff is the one who actually does the forcible entering of the condo, and he takes responsibility for the possessions.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic. Views expressed on this blog are those of the student author and do not represent the position of the Clinic or the University.