Before Patricia Hightower got involved with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, people in her building would carry buckets of water between floors when their plumbing wasn’t working right. And they’d carry those buckets on the stairs, because the elevators didn’t work either. And the bed bugs were no picnic. But when one or two tenants, out of the 204 units in an 18-story high-rise, complained, nothing got fixed. Once MTO came in, things changed, said Hightower, who now works to help tenants in other buildings organize. “They don’t come in and take over,” Hightower said. “But they tell you what your rights are, and how to go about working with management.” That includes notifying managers of problems in writing and communicating politely and calmly, she said. But she thinks the most effective thing is for the tenants to formally organize, with bylaws and elected officers, so they have a bigger voice. John Bartlett, MTO’s executive director, agreed. “If one tenant complains, the landlord might say, go ahead, just move out,” he said, and then give that tenant a poor reference when they try to rent somewhere else. “If all of your tenants complain, that’s a different matter.” MTO is one of the 25 organizations in the archdiocese that received a share of $630,000 in grants this year from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic anti-poverty effort. Catholics will be asked to contribute to the campaign at Masses Nov. 19 and 20. The issues MTO deals with primarily affect low-income residents, often people of color, for whom moving can be a severe financial burden, he said. Hightower said her building has functioned much better since the tenants organized, and that the tenants’ group and management have developed a good working relationship. “We don’t want it to be adversarial. We want to have a partnership,” she said. Metropolitan Tenants Organization has benefited from several grants from CCHD over its 30-year history. It is using the $30,000 national grant it received this year to organize members to advocate for the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program. That would be created by an ordinance requiring regular inspections of rental units, looking for things like deteriorating lead-based paint, mold and pests, Bartlett said. All of those have been linked to health problems, including lead poisoning, asthma and other respiratory issues. The way the proposed ordinance would work is that buildings that have many problems would be inspected every other year. Those with few problems would be inspected every five years, and those with no history of problems would be inspected every seven years. The inspections, to be conducted by the city, would be paid for with a $36 per unit per year fee on landlords. “The goal is to target the bad landlords and get them to maintain their buildings,” Bartlett said. In the meantime, MTO continues to operate a hotline for tenants to call when they have problems with their landlord. That hotline gets as many as 10,000 calls a month. While the Metropolitan Tenants Organization is active throughout Chicago, Enlace Chicago is a community-based organization that focuses on creating better living conditions in the Little Village neighborhood, a vibrant community whose 26th Street commercial corridor is the second-largest generator of sales-tax revenue in Chicago after the Magnificent Mile. Little Village, or La Villita, is 93 percent Latino, if the population of Cook County Jail is not included, and that is predominantly Mexican, said Docia Buffington, the organization’s development director. Enlace works mostly in the areas of community development, education and violence prevention, along with community organizing and advocacy in those areas and in the area of immigration reform. Last year’s $25,000 grant allowed Enlace to hire a part-time community organizer to work on immigration issues at the state and city level, as progress on federal immigration reform seems to be stalled. The group was then able to leverage that grant to get more donations and expand the community organizer position to full time. Now that person works on other issues as well, including advocating for legislation in Cook County that would help people who remain uninsured after the Affordable Care Act — many of them undocumented immigrants — get access to health care. “Because of that grant, we’ve been able to work on a lot of things,” Buffington said.