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Illinois Launches Aid For Renters As Many Face Trouble With Payments

Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois Housing Development Authority will start accepting applications for $5,000 housing assistant grants on Monday. The authority says these are intended to help renters behind on payments since the pandemic hit in March.

Illinois will begin the first of two housing relief programs on Monday that will provide nearly $300 million to renters and homeowners who’ve lost income and are at risk of losing their housing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The relief comes in the form of grants distributed by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, with applications for renters in need opening on Monday, said Kristin Faust, the development authority’s executive director.

“This is an opportunity to help stabilize people, to help keep renters in their apartments,” she said. “Help keep everyone at home, which is what we’re supposed to be doing at this time of COVID anyway.”

Applications for mortgage assistance will launch in late September, according to the authority.

The state divided funding evenly between rental and mortgage assistance, with each program receiving around $150 million to distribute. The authority will be able to help around 30,000 renters with grants up to $5,000 and 10,000 homeowners with grants up to $15,000, Faust said.

“We think $5,000 will really help cover rent for most of March through December because a lot of people have been able to make some partial rent payments, but it’s going to be different for each person,” she said.

Faust explained the aid is for people who had been paying their rent or mortgage consistently through February before the pandemic restrictions hit.

“Really what caused you to get behind is a COVID-caused loss of income,” Faust said.

The rental grants are limited to households with income up to 80% of the area median income as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. For the Metro East, that’s a household income of $66,300. The housing authority determines eligibility as the first step to apply for assistance.

Applications also require a tenant’s landlord to provide information for it to be accepted, Faust added. Once applications close on Aug. 21, the authority will select grantees through a lottery process like other assistance programs in the country, she said.

“We’re going to randomize them and give everyone a fair chance,” Faust said. “And then select the top 30,000 and process those applications.”

There are other safeguards to ensure funding is distributed to residents across the state, not just the Chicago area, Faust said.

Nearly $80 million of the $300 million wasearmarked by the Illinois General Assembly specifically for counties that did not receive direct allotments from the federal coronavirus relief fund. Those counties and cities in the state have populations smaller than 500,000.

Another $100 million of the original funding will go to communities that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 cases for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, Faust added.

She said this assistance program is one of the largest in the country and will serve as many as 40,000 Illinois households.

“These are significant and unprecedented dollars that are coming through to help communities,” said Regina Greer, chief impact officer of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

But these funds alone will likely not be enough to meet the need for rental and mortgage assistance in the state and the Metro East, she said. Many households on the Missouri side of the river also face challenges with meeting rent or mortgage payments, Greer added.

“We are seeing locally some of the same trends that nationally most communities if not all are experiencing around increased requests for basic needs that center around rental, utility, mortgage assistance,” she said.

Across the St. Louis region, more people have been requesting assistance, especially for housing, shelter, food and utilities, based on the number of calls United Way’s 2-1-1 help line is getting, Greer said. The organization has already received three-quarters of the call volume it received last year in only seven months, she said.

“Typically, need always outpaces the resources that are available,” Greer said.

Around 10% of Illinois households and 9% of those in Missouri report they have no or slight confidence in their ability to cover rent or mortgage payments for August, according to the most recent Census Household Pulse Survey, conducted July 16-21.

The survey has been collecting responses since late April to track and understand the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on American households. Based on these survey results and current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 700,000 households across both states could face challenges to paying rent this month.

“This pandemic has crossed the borders of every demographic that you can think of,” Greer said.

Illinois and St. Louis currently have eviction bans in place, but those are only set to last until Aug. 22 in Illinois and Sept. 1 in Missouri. After they expire, some housing advocates fear a wave of evictions.

“If there were mass evictions, then we’re talking about a crisis on top of a pandemic, and no one wants to see that,” Greer said.

She emphasized support also needs to come from organizations and people outside of governments to help ensure the highest number of people can be helped.

“This is a time where community needs to help community, above and beyond what may be coming through state, local and federal government,” Greer said.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.