Lights out could mean being put out

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Imagine being evicted from your apartment because your lights were shut off for non-payment. That’s what happened to Sharon Mosby, 42, who was evicted in October from her North Side apartment.

Imagine being evicted from your apartment because your lights were shut off for non-payment.

That’s what happened to Sharon Mosby, 42, who was evicted in October from her North Side apartment.

“My heat and water was included in the rent, but I had to pay for my own electric,” she said. “And once you get too far behind on a light bill, it’s hard to catch up. I just needed a little more time, but my landlord had me set out.”

For renters like Mosby, struggling to keep their electricity on to prevent eviction, there is a new fund available to provide assistance. Grants are available from The Homeless Prevention Fund for renters whose lease requires them to maintain electric service.

If approved, renters receive up to $1,000 to assist them in paying their electric bill. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

The Emergency Fund, a Chicago non-profit organization that provides community resources, is sponsoring the program, which provides immediate financial assistance to help low-income Chicago area individuals and families through a crisis or transition.

ComEd donated $500,000 to the program.

Eligibility for the program requires a disconnection notice or disconnected service, residency within the ComEd service area and a lease stating that utility service must be maintained in order to remain in the apartment.

Applicants who received a grant during the June pilot program are not eligible for another grant. During the pilot period, 1,000 people applied and 300 families were assisted.

If a renter previously received assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, they may still apply for help from The Homeless Prevention Fund.

Over the last few months, more and more families have been seeking assistance from the fund.

“We’ve seen a 16 percent increase in families requesting assistance in the last three months, as compared to this time last year,” said Nonie Brennan, executive director of the Emergency Fund. “The need continues to outpace available resources. That is why this program is so important.”

Brennan said that roughly 10 to 15 percent of people who become homeless could have maintained their housing with targeted financial assistance. By investing about $1,000 in a household on the verge of homelessness, the social service system can avoid spending an average of $13,600 on that family in the shelter system, she explained.

As the credit crunch tightens and the economy plunges, many landlords are placing tight stipulations in leases for tenants to follow. Maintaining electric service is one of them, said Mary Robertson, vice president of Household Management Company, a Black-owned property management company in Chicago.

“Many of the units we manage require that all utilities must be maintained as part of the lease agreement,” Robertson said. “Otherwise, you may get some tenants who allow their lights and gas to be disconnected in the winter time, and that can cause damage to the building.”

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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