LOGAN SQUARE — Service industry workers across Chicago have been dealt a devastating blow. The coronavirus shutdown means they’re out of work until at least April 30 and they’re left scrambling to file for unemployment with millions of others.
Sarah Davis is one of thousands of service industry workers furloughed in the crisis. Davis works as a barista at a coffee shop.
Davis wasn’t surprised by the furlough; early on, her bosses communicated that it was a possibility and provided her with helpful resources.
“We were definitely taken care of,” she said of her employer.
But Davis was unprepared for what came next — that she could possibly be denied housing because of her unemployment status.
Davis had been planning to move out of her Ravenswood apartment on April 1 for months, long before the coronavirus crisis started. She was looking for a change, a chance to try out a new neighborhood.
(Sarah Davis is not her real name. Block Club is using an alias and leaving out details to protect her identity.)
When the crisis took hold, Davis wanted to keep things simple so she asked her existing landlord, a property management group called Kass Management, if they had any other apartments in the neighborhoods she was interested in.
Kass manages properties in neighborhoods across Chicago and has two offices, one in Lincoln Park and another in Hyde Park.
The property management company pointed Davis to their building at 2117 N. Central Park Ave. in Logan Square.
The apartment seemed perfect, so Davis and her future roommate, also a service industry worker who was recently furloughed, submitted an application.
In the ensuing email exchange, which was shared with Block Club, a leasing agent for Kass Management grilled Davis and her roommate about working in the service industry.
On March 24, Davis’ roommate wrote in an email to Kass Management, “Hello, Attached to this email are a paystub, bank statement, and a photo copy of my ID. I have also paid the full application fee.”
The leasing agent replied: “Hey [Sarah] they are asking for more proof of income from you and [your roommate]”
Davis then replied, asking for clarification: “We had received notice that based off of our income and credit check, we were approved for the apartment. I’ve attached that notice below. Who is the ‘they’ you are referring to?”
In his first reply, the leasing agent said he was going to find out more information. But in his second reply, he made it clear they were concerned about renting to tenants who work in the service industry.
“They wanna know exactly your positions – and more detail about your situation. Theyre cracking hard due to the virus. It’s just that they are worried about the work in the service industry,” the leasing agent wrote.
Davis shot back, saying that is “discriminatory behavior” and a violation of the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance, which prohibits landlords from discriminating based on a number of things, including source of income.
“I’ve attached the information above in hopes that you stop this discriminatory behavior towards your current and future tenants. I understand that times are tough and things are uncertain, however I have been an outstanding tenant with a clean record all my years with Kass,” Davis wrote.
“Based on our approval letter, our credit checks and tenant histories show that we are not a liability. Frankly, I feel like this is discriminatory towards a large body of the working class. I really hope this can be positively resolved and you will refrain from continuing this behavior towards your tenants, so no further action needs to be taken.”
In his last substantative response, the leasing agent said Davis and her roommate were approved for the “screening part, not the unit.”
“Your credit was ran, and you were approved for the criminal to be ran. It was not an automatic approval for the unit, just for the first process,” he wrote.
“We are asking all applicants to give us an idea of their current situations that’s all. Some people have lost jobs which will mess up their financials, and we are not discriminating, just asking for a more definitive answer to the questions, besides a yes or no..”
Kass Management was reached by Block Club, but did not respond to questions.
Davis called the ordeal “very disheartening.”
“It’s very upsetting to think of how many people can easily fall victim to this kind of discrimination,” she said.
Davis said after the email exchange, someone from Kass Management called her to try and work it out but they weren’t able to reach a resolution.
“She basically said she was calling to resolve my income issues on my application and said she wanted to get us approved, but when I called her back, she didn’t seem to go much into the issues,” she said.
Davis has since decided to sub-lease a different apartment, not owned by Kass Management. She’s aiming to re-launch her search for a long-term place in September, hopefully after things have settled down when her finances “are a little more figured out.”
Right now, Davis is living off accrued sick pay and the little money she makes doing freelance copywriting on the side. She’s applying for unemployment benefits and will soon get a stimulus check.
“I am definitely trying to take it day by day and remember to stay present and not get too tunnel vision on trying to imagine what it will look like in two weeks,” she said.
Davis said she worries her experience with Kass Management isn’t an isolated incident.
“If it came down to it, I have friends or family I can go to. For those who have families to take care of, this is such a bigger ordeal than one person. It’s very wrong,” she said.
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