Evanston-based Connections for the Homeless provided financial assistance to City Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, last month, helping him avoid eviction from his south Evanston apartment.

Reid became a client of the organization, which is the leading provider of eviction prevention support funds, when he fell behind in his recent payments.

Reid’s situation became public when MLC Properties and Management, the landlord of the apartment building on the 100 block of Callan Avenue where Reid lives, posted signs on the property stating that Reid was behind on his payments and was being evicted.

Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid, at the Oct. 10 Evanston City Council meeting. Credit: Richard Cahan

Because Connections is providing assistance to Reid, the council member will likely recuse himself from voting on the zoning request from Connections that is expected to come before the City Council within the next month.

Connections is seeking zoning relief to convert the Margarita Inn, 1566 Oak Ave., into a shelter for homeless residents. It has been at times a contentious process with many residents speaking out publicly for or against the shelter as the project winds its way through various city committees.

Eviction is called off

Marty Max, owner and founder of MLC Properties, confirmed that his firm received a check Nov. 30 for eviction-prevention assistance from Connections for the Homeless.

Under the terms of the assistance, the landlord must agree to call off pursuing eviction.

Prior to receiving the check, Max had placed two large signs wired to the fence at the entrance to the courtyard building on Callan Avenue where Reid lives, stating that the council member had not paid his rent and was being evicted, also listing an amount Reid was said to owe.

Several news organizations covered the story, and pictures were posted publicly on social media.

Reid apparently called Connections for its assistance. The agency has a contract with the Illinois Department of Human Services to distribute eviction-prevention funding and dispersed $3.5 million to 659 households in 2021.

“We saw, like everybody in the community, this horrible story about the airing of someone’s private and personal financial affairs,” said Nia Tavoularis, the agency’s chief development director, about the signs in front of the building. “But that is separate from someone coming to us and seeking assistance,” she said, and the help is given whether or not the a person is a public official.

“If someone comes looking for service, we have an obligation to fund them if they meet the eligibility requirements,” said Tavoularis. “The financial relief came because [Reid] sought out assistance, qualified for the assistance, and we’re obligated to provide it if we have it, and we did.”

According to city code, elected officials may have to recuse themselves from voting on a legislative matter if there is an appearance of a conflict of interest created by “a personal, family, client, legislative interest or economic interest.”

“Our expectation is that he [Reid] will be recusing himself from voting on upcoming matters related to the Margarita Inn’s special use,” she said.

Tavoularis said that applications received by Connections are filled out by both the household and the landlord. The agency goes over the forms to ensure they meet IDHS eligibility requirements, Tavoularis said.

“And if they are deemed eligible and funding from the state – which is running out – is available,“ the agency will grant the landlord the funds, Tavoularis said.

Under IDHS rules, the state pays up to six months of rental assistance. Also, as part of the process, the landlord must agree not to continue with eviction proceedings once the money has been received, she said.

Evanston council members earn just under $16,000 a year in their elected positions, considered part-time in the city’s council-manager form of government. Reid is a community college student and said he had not received a monthly $1,500 scholarship grant from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, affecting his ability to pay rent.

Catalysts for homelessness

Tavoularis stressed that Connections is not advocating against the landlord in the process and is sympathetic to the fact that building owners need to be paid and should not have to forgo their costs. 

“It’s a double whammy,” she said. “Many of the landlords who provide affordable housing [manage] small, family-owned properties, and they don’t have the capacity to take financial loss.”

Tavoularis said evictions serve as one of the biggest catalysts to keeping people homeless. “It creates homelessness, because an eviction stays on your record,” she said, adding that landlords sometimes use the information “as a screening tool, refusing to rent [an apartment] to you.”

“It’s actually perceived as the equivalent of having a major criminal conviction on your record in the eyes of a landlord,” Tavoularis said.

“We are in every case,” she said, “working to provide the safety net that keeps people housed and does not put them into a system that would perpetuate homelessness.”

Max of MLC Properties and Management said that prior to putting up the signs, he had made many attempts to try to reach Reid about the back rent.

Max said he even called Mayor Daniel Biss at one point, looking for help, but said the mayor told him he would not intervene.

He said the signs were a last resort, “something I’ve never done in 25 years of business.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. I would note that, as a responsible landlord, I have landlord insurance which can cover rental arrears of up to 3 months – so even a small landlord *should* be prepared to take some loss of rental income.

    Also, shouldn’t there be a discussion that the job of Alderman involves enough work to be a barrier to other employment in addition to serving a constituency? Or is our community saying we can only be represented by wealthy people who never need to access social services?

  2. Connections should have come forward this information at the onset. It is disturbing that a non-profit is giving money to an elected official and that is just now being revealed.
    How does Connections prioritize recipients?

  3. I have to seriously question Alderman Reid’s ability to serve on a city council that is responsible for spending on and approving many programs for Connections for the Homeless. He now has a very serious conflict of interest which will influence his voting, and the advice/consent he gives to other council members.

    Who does he represent? His 8th ward constituents or the group that is paying his rent?

  4. Why doesn’t Alderman Reid seek gainful full – time employment in order to sustain himself, and thus be able to pay his own rent? There are plenty of jobs out there he might be qualified for…

    Connections for the Homeless does a great and vital service in providing rental assistance to those in need, but IMO an able – bodied single younger adult should be paying their own rent. There are many single parents with young kids/dependents, the elderly, immigrants/refugees, the homeless and others who should have absolute first priority in accessing these housing funds, as these monies are not “unlimited”…

    Respectfully,
    Gregory Morrow – 4th Ward Resident

  5. I smell something fishy here from Mr. Max. Marty Max of MLC Properties became well-known for his record evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also sits on the advisory board to the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Buildings and probably has myriad connections with Evanston landlords in the 4th ward. I truly hope this is not an attempt to thwart the work Connections has done and the Margarita Inn zoning relief.