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State Launches $1.5B Housing Assistance Program As Eviction Moratorium To Expire In August

Most of the grant money in Illinois' $1.5 billion housing program is set aside for renters struggling to afford staying in their apartments during the pandemic.
File photo / Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Most of the grant money in Illinois' $1.5 billion housing program is set aside for renters struggling to afford staying in their apartments during the pandemic.

Illinois is launching a $1.5 billion federally funded housing assistance program for state residents hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday said the housing grants are meant to ease the transition when he finally lifts the state’s pandemic-era eviction moratorium in August. Experts are predicting tens of thousands of Illinoisans could be facing eviction when that moratorium expires.

State Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, who also pushed for the state’s first wave of rental assistance last year, said Monday that this program is meant to avert a massive housing crisis.

“To all people who, right now, are trying to figure out, ‘Do I pay for my rent? Or do I buy my diabetes medication?’ ... We are asking you, inviting you, to apply for the assistance that we have available,” Ramirez said.

Most of the grant money is set aside for renters, but $400 million of those dollars are planned for mortgage assistance in a separate program the state hasn’t launched yet.

Illinoisans are eligible for assistance grants for up to 15 months’ worth of rent dating back to June 2020, worth a maximum of $25,000. To apply for grants, renters must be at least one month behind on rent, have suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic and be at risk of homelessness.

The funds were made available to states by the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden in March. Illinois last year set up another housing assistance program that sent $329 million to 56,000 households amid the pandemic. 

Though Pritzker often touted that program as the biggest in the nation, and on Monday boasted this new program will be four times larger, aimed at helping at least 120,000 renters.

The governor said housing and wealth disparities that existed pre-COVID left 70% of Illinois’ “extremely low-income” families dedicating more than half of their income to rent. 

“In the face of the pandemic, many suddenly found they were being laid off or their workplace was permanently closing, or they needed to stay home to care for children or immunocompromised family members,” Pritzker said. “It was clear when we implemented last year's housing relief programs that the need was far greater than the dollars allocated to our state.”

Ramirez praised Pritzker for setting up last year’s housing assistance program and repeatedly renewing his executive orders extending the state’s eviction moratorium. By the time it expires in August, the moratorium will have been in place for 17 months. 

“Can you imagine not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night and that COVID is spreading into your building at work and you have no place to live because we don't have enough shelters available?” Ramirez said.

Landlords have pushed back on the eviction moratorium as the pandemic has worn on. In response, Pritzker in March modified the moratorium to cover renters who earn less than  $99,000 annually — or $198,000 if a renting couple files taxes jointly — to align with a federal ban on evictions.

Landlords and renters who apply for the new rental assistance together will get first dibs at grants beginning Monday. Joint applications will close on June 7. Tenants applying alone can access the portal beginning June 9, and landlords will have until July 6 to then respond to the application.

But state officials encouraged tenants to reach out to nonprofits to help them communicate with hostile or nonresponsive landlords in order to have a better shot at getting grants by applying together.

Back in February, the Illinois Housing Development Authority announced nearly two-thirds of rental and mortgage assistance grants were distributed last year to disproportionately impacted areas.

The new program will prioritize renters who live in areas of the state most affected by COVID-19 with high rates of infection and death, and those who have experienced homelessness before.

Pritzker on Monday signed legislation sponsored by Ramirez and progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, which will place a stay on certain, COVID-related foreclosure proceedings and seal certain eviction records until August 2022. 

In addition to housing and rental assistance, Pritzker also announced grant opportunities to help aid Illinoisans facing utility shutoffs brought on by financial hardship. 

“If your family is making less than 200% of the federal poverty poverty level, you could be eligible for these funds,” Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Sylvia Garcia said. “We currently have $30 million available for this program year, which ends at the end of this month.”

Those interested in receiving rental assistance funds from the Rental Payment Program should apply online on the Illinois House Development Authority website by Monday, June 7.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Hannah Meisel covers Illinois government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She previously covered the statehouse for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio.
Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.

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