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Tenant facing eviction sues CHA

ArnetrFerguswith her fiance Marcus Protter has filed lawsuit alleging thshe wasn’t informed about about one-strike rule when she signed CHA

Arnetra Ferguson, with her fiance, Marcus Protter, has filed a lawsuit alleging that she wasn’t informed about about the one-strike rule when she signed a CHA lease that she claims was later fraudulently altered. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 8, 2012 6:24AM

The bag of marijuana police found in Cortez Rogers’ pocket on March 19 weighed less than a penny.

It was so small that prosecutors dropped the case — tiny enough that under decriminalization rules since passed by the Chicago City Council, it would have qualified for a $250 ticket.

But Rogers’ lightweight stash could have heavy consequences for his mom and four brothers.

Under the Chicago Housing Authority’s controversial “one-strike” rule, it could cost them their Bronzeville home.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Rogers’ mother, Arnetra Ferguson, who is fighting eviction from her house in the 3500 block of South Calumet as a result of her 19-year-old son’s arrest.

Along with five Cabrini-Green tenants in similar situations, she has filed a lawsuit against the CHA and two of its property management contractors, alleging that she wasn’t informed about the one-strike rule when she signed a lease that she claims was later fraudulently altered.

The women aren’t the first to make such an allegation. Last year, a Cook County judge stopped the eviction of Roberta Rendle, who was accused of harboring drug dealers at her Cabrini-Green home. The judge found that officials had failed to check a box on Rendle’s lease showing that she understood the one-strike rule.

At the time, a CHA spokesman called Rendle’s case “an isolated incident” caused by “an unfortunate clerical error” that would not jeopardize efforts to keep drug dealers out of the projects.

But critics charged that it showed how the one-strike rule is improperly used to evict public housing tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods.

And now Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges that in the wake of the Rendle ruling, CHA officials secretly scrambled to forge backdated tenant signatures on dozens of leases.

It quotes a CHA contractor who said that, after the Rendle case, she was ordered to “audit” Cabrini- Green leases to ensure they were “properly” marked.

Attorney John Mounce, who represents Ferguson, said he has at least 30 “transparently forged” leases, initialed in identical handwriting.

Mounce said the fact that tenants from West Side properties managed by H.J. Russell and from South Side homes managed by Woodlawn Community Development are making the same complaints suggests that the forgeries were centrally directed by the CHA and could be even more widespread.

The latest complaints come at an uncertain time for the remaining low-rise buildings at Cabrini-Green, the last vestiges of a housing project that once had notorious crime problems. The last high-rise was demolished last year.

The CHA, which declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, expects to solicit redevelopment plans for the site next year.

A spokeswoman said in a statement that the CHA is federally mandated to ensure that criminal activity is prohibited in its properties and that it “works to ensure that only those engaging in or responsible for criminal activity” are targeted for eviction.

But Ferguson says her son — who was arrested on the street, near her home — wasn’t even living with her. Though he gave police her address, he had been staying with his grandmother for five months when he was arrested, she said.

A few weeks later, she said, she was called into Woodlawn’s office and asked to “clear up some paperwork before this goes to court” by backdating her own agreement to the one-strike rule.

“I was confused,” she said, explaining why she says she signed the papers and backdated them. “It’s ridiculous.”

“I never had any issues with the management before this,” she said., If she’s evicted, she said, “I don’t know where we’ll go.”

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