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Federally-funded company evicting orphans

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Siblings Ty'Juan Lighthall, Ja'Kahla and De'Ajaha Parks

It was a hot, sticky day - the day I went to meet De'Ajaha, Ja'Kahla, and Ty'Juan.

The lights were dim, and their aunt, Erica Bledsoe, turned on the air conditioner when I mentioned the weather. The kids sat together on the couch, their aunt on the air mattress on the living room floor.

Sitting in their grandmother's apartment in Rogers Park, the home they've been fighting to stay in since Rosetta Bledsoe died last year, we talk about her - what she was like, how much they miss her.

Ty'Juan's eyes fill with tears. He's just 10 years old, and he and his sisters lived with his grandmother their whole lives.

What do you miss about her? I ask him.

"Just being with her," he says quietly, trying not to cry. "Talking with her."

Erica, who became their new legal guardian after Rosetta died, sits with her head in her hands. Northpoint, the company that leases Rosetta's apartment, has been trying to evict Erica and the kids since her mother passed away.

She moved in with her mom and the kids awhile back when Rosetta was diagnosed with lung disease. It was supposed to be temporary.

But last year, her mom went into the hospital. In a short time, Rosetta had a stroke, two brain surgeries and a heart attack. She never recovered.

Shortly before her mom's death, Erica went into the Northpoint leasing office, the company that manages the Section 8 apartment. When she asked the manager what would happen if her mother died, the manager said, if that happened, Erica and the kids would have 10 days to vacate the premises.

"I asked what I could do to keep that from happening," Erica says, "and she told me my mother would have to literally come off her death bed into the office to sign the papers."

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Their apartment building in Rogers Park

About six weeks later, she got the eviction notice.

Luckily, Erica found laywers who would take her case. Matthew Monahan, who works for Chicago's Legal Assistance Foundation, says Northpoint technically has a case. But it's a case that only goes so far, he says, and defies both common sense and human decency.

"These people are just being mean. It's like something out of Charles Dickens," says Monahan.

Northpoint's lawyers argues that Erica has been illegally occupying Rosetta's apartment, since her name does not appear on the lease. Erica says she never put her name on the lease because she never planned to stay. But, Monahan says, the three children were all listed on Rosetta's lease, and as their new legal guardian, Northpoint could give Erica the apartment. There's legal precedent for doing so, according to Monahan, and it makes sense to do it in this situation.

"We just keep wondering if anyone is going realize that they're evicting orphans, here," he says. "Northpoint is proceeding full-speed ahead, paying their private attorney with federal dollars so that they can evict innocent children from housing they have lived in all of their lives. We are fighting this case with every weapon we can think of."

The kids desperately want to stay. When I asked them why it was so important to them, De'Ajaha, the oldest, says they've never known any other home.

"I've been at this school since I was in kindergarten. All my friends are here," she says. "We've been here a long time. My grandma would want us to be able to stay here."

Erica Bledsoe
Listen to Erica talk about her mother's death
and the legal battle to stay in her apartment.


To be completely honest, this case is more than just another story for me. I identify with these kids. I lost my dad when I was only 11. When my father died, my mom also fought to keep my world stable. It meant that we stayed living at our farm, even though my dad died on the property, because it was my home.

When a parent dies, it's like the bottom falls out of a kid's life. The risks for suicide, depression, drug-abuse, promiscuity - they all skyrocket. One of the best things you can do after a parent dies is to keep their lives stable and solid.

And that's what Erica has been trying to do. But it hasn't been easy.

Rosetta died just before Labor Day, and when the management office told her she'd have 10 days to get out, Erica sent the kids to live with some other relatives on the West Side and enrolled them in school there. The kids didn't want to go, but Erica didn't have much choice.

But every weekend, every chance they get, the kids come home to Rogers Park. And they want to come back to stay.

I talked to Amy Sellergren, Northpoint's attorney, about the case. When I asked why Northpoint was trying to evict children, she bristled.

"Northpoint is not trying to evict the children. Northpoint is trying to evict Erica Bledsoe. The kids do not live in the unit," she said.

Northpoint refuses to acknowledge the kids as part of the case, even listing the family on legal records as "Erica Bledsoe and all other unknown occupants."

Sellergren said Erica has never been on the lease and that she doesn't meet the federal requirements to live in the unit. In Erica's case, that means a credit check.

Erica admits she doesn't have very good credit. Monahan says it's more that she has very little credit. She's has been poor all her life. When her mom died, she had to drop out of school to take care of the kids and the legal battle around the apartment. But there are waivers for cases like Erica's, but Northpoint isn't asking for one. They just want her out.

Staff in Northpoint's Chicago office declined to talk about the case. No one at Northpoint's South Carolina headquarters returned calls seeking comment.

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Read the letter

The case has also attracted some political attention. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky has gotten involved, writing a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Erica's behalf.

HUD, I'm told, is reviewing the case, but no one at the department was available to speak on the matter.

Leslie Combs, Schakowsky's staffer, says she's been calling every day to try and get something done.

"We think that they should be allowed to stay, not only for humanitarian reasons, but because the kids are residents there," says Combs.

Erica and her lawyers go back to court tomorrow. Their hope is that Northpoint will drop the case against Erica and let her and the kids stay in the apartment.

After nine months, Erica says she's tired of fighting, but she isn't going to give up.

"It's hard. I cry every night, every day. I need a place for my family. All I need is a stable roof over their head and then I can fly."

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7 Comments

frankalready said:

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this is sick. there is a special place in hell for this kind of profiteering landlord. megan, is MTO or any other organization doing anything publicly around this?

Megan Cottrell said:

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As far as I know, no one is organizing around the family at all. They could certainly use all the help they can get!

Teresa Puente said:

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Powerful story here of how bureaucracy stands in the way of human tragedy. Great job reporting this one out.

frankalready said:

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There's going to be a vigil to honor Rosetta's birthday and protest the eviction tomorrow (7/14) at 8:30 PM in front of their building 7721 N Paulina, Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=102093496918&ref=nf

Craig Kanalley said:

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Outstanding reporting, Megan. This is the type of story that can lead to change. I see your story has really been circulating around Twitter and elsewhere.

Let's hope the right thing happens in this case.

Megan Cottrell said:

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Thanks Teresa and Craig! I appreciate your support. I'm hoping that getting the word out there can help this family stay in their home. Please share it anywhere you can!

Cinnamon said:

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This is exactly more of what we need more of. Genuine reporting that not only doesn't hurt people, but does help people. Thanks for this story.

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