LOGAN SQUARE — A local group is raising money to help one of their organizers and her family who are being kicked out of their Logan Square apartment after battling with their landlord over poor conditions for more than six months.
Palenque LSNA, a long-standing social justice organization serving Logan Square, Hermosa and Avondale, launched an online fundraiser last week to support Mozart Elementary parent mentor Blanca Beltran and her three kids, ages 16, 15 and 6.
Beltran’s family is being evicted from their apartment of four years — a three-bedroom, $1,100-per-month unit on Dickens Avenue — following a months-long dispute with the building’s landlord.
Beltran said she’s withheld rent since last fall because their landlord, Fernando Mendez, has repeatedly refused to fix persistent issues in the apartment, such as a bed bug infestation, water seepage and broken kitchen cabinets.
The substandard conditions took a toll on the family. Beltran said they were sleeping on the floor to avoid the bed bugs and set up buckets to prevent water from getting into the rest of the apartment during heavy rain.
Meanwhile, Beltran said Mendez frequently harassed her family, shutting off their gas and electricity. He even broke in once and unplugged their refrigerator, Beltran said. Beltran filed a police report for the break-in.
The troubles culminated in Mendez filing eviction paperwork with the courts, ordering the family to move out. Beltran received a final eviction notice earlier this month, according to letters from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Chicago ordinance states tenants can withhold a portion of their rent — or even terminate a lease in severe cases — if a landlord fails to fix problems inside a unit. It is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant who complains about living conditions, according to the ordinance.
Attempts to reach Mendez were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Palenque LSNA’s fundraiser aims to help Beltran and her family get back on their feet after a tumultuous year.
As of Wednesday morning, the fundraiser had raised $1,555 toward its $10,000 goal. All of the money raised will go toward helping the family settle into a new apartment and buy new furniture, organizers said.
Palenque LSNA, formerly known as Logan Square Neighborhood Association, is also paying for movers and a storage unit.
“I know it’s not easy to help someone, especially someone you don’t know, but that is something our community needs right now at this moment,” Beltran said in Spanish through a translator. “In Logan Square, there is a lot of displacement and we need a lot of help.”
As a parent mentor for Palenque LSNA, Beltran regularly tutors Mozart Elementary students. Beltran is also a community navigator with the organization, helping to provide immigrants with know-your-rights information.
Beltran herself emigrated from Mexico to Chicago in the mid-’90s. She is a domestic abuse survivor who moved to Logan Square about 20 years ago. She works for medical product distributor Fusion Medical as a salesperson.
Beltran said it’s been “very stressful” trying to find a new apartment in Logan Square, where housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Palenque LSNA housing organizer Juanairis Castaneda said Beltran’s struggle is not unique in gentrifying Logan Square.
“When you see such a strong-willed person going though a situation, it’s heartbreaking, especially knowing how much she’s helped our community. It pulls on your heart,” Castaneda said. “It just shows how urgent the need is for affordable housing in our community.”
Beltran said she knows of three other Mozart Elementary families who are also being forced out of their homes.
“I hope that by telling my story that other people who are in the shadows will be able to receive help,” she said in Spanish.
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