Federal And Local Measures Offer Help With Housing Costs During The Pandemic

Cook County Sheriff’s deputy posts eviction notice
In this March 17, 2009, file photo, Cook County Deputy Sheriff Scott Hunter posts an eviction notice on an apartment in Evanston, Ill. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook County officials have suspended evictions for 30 days, but housing advocates say some renters will need more time to recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Cook County Sheriff’s deputy posts eviction notice
In this March 17, 2009, file photo, Cook County Deputy Sheriff Scott Hunter posts an eviction notice on an apartment in Evanston, Ill. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook County officials have suspended evictions for 30 days, but housing advocates say some renters will need more time to recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Federal And Local Measures Offer Help With Housing Costs During The Pandemic

The coronavirus health crisis is turning into an economic disaster for many in Illinois and across the country as people are laid off from work and others are prevented from earning an income due to stay-in-shelter orders.

With rent due at the first of the month, anxieties are high.

However, officials — from Chicago to Washington, D.C. — have approved measures to provide short-term relief to help people make their rent or mortgage payments and keep their homes.

Here are some protections that have been enacted, demands that are being made and resources for those with housing hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congressional Coronavirus Stimulus Package

The $2 trillion relief package finalized on Friday and signed by President Trump includes more than $12 billion in provisions for affordable housing. They include $5 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program, $4 billion for homeless assistance, and $2.25 billion for housing subsidies to low-income residents. The stimulus package also includes more than $1 billion split between housing programs serving public housing residents, Native Americans, individuals with AIDS, the elderly, persons with disabilities and efforts to enforce fair housing standards.

At this point, it’s unclear how individuals can seek assistance through these efforts.

According to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats from Illinois, the stimulus package includes additional protections for Illinois residents like: a 120-day moratorium on evictions for renters in federally-assisted housing; a 60-day prohibition of foreclosures on all federally-backed mortgage loans; and up to 360 days of forbearance for borrowers of federally-backed mortgage loans.

The stimulus package is a good start but gaps remain, said Andrew Geer, the Chicago-based vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit affordable housing builder.

Geer said more funding is needed to ensure that groups can continue using federal housing tax credits to build and preserve affordable housing. “To keep vulnerable families in their homes, we must find ways to promote the economic resiliency of our affordable housing partners and the high quality housing that they provide,” Geer said.

And while the stimulus package provides desperately needed support for homeless shelters and other service providers, the number of people with immediate housing needs is likely to grow as the economic fallout of the pandemic worsens, said Mary Cunningham, of the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.

“As unemployment climbs to unprecedented levels, much more emergency rental assistance will be necessary,” Cunningham said. “Many more people — people who were housing secure yesterday but not today — will need help. Our housing safety net is weak and ill-prepared in the face of this pandemic.”

Rent/Mortgages

In Chicago and across the county, there are calls to suspend rent and mortgage payments. United Working Families has issued a right to recovery memo, and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law has outlined top policy priorities they want in Illinois. The center’s letter to Gov. JB Pritzer calls for suspension of all rental housing evictions, property tax sales, and mortgage foreclosures, as well as utility shutoffs.

On Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the creation of the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program. It’s a joint effort between the city’s Department of Housing and the nonprofit Family Independence Initiative.

The program will provide $2 million in one-time housing assistance grants of $1,000 each to Chicagoans who can demonstrate that they were hurt financially by the pandemic due to job loss or some other employment status change. Applicants will be required to show proof that their household income was at or below 60% of the area median income prior to job loss.

In all, 2,000 grants will be awarded. Half of the grants will be awarded through a lottery, and the other half will be distributed by community organizations.

The city has created an online form to accept applications. Individuals can also submit applications with various community organizations. Applications are being accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, according to the city.

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, said the housing grants will be especially helpful for undocumented immigrants who’ve lost their jobs or who’ve seen their hours at work reduced.

“Undocumented immigrants are really going to feel the brunt of this pandemic, and that’s going to be exacerbated by the fact that, it appears right now, they will not qualify for most forms of federal relief,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Evictions

Cook County is postponing evictions for 30 days.

Mark Swartz, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), said postponing evictions only deals with the short-term impact of the coronavirus. “They’re not thinking about how do we handle the underlying effects of the economic issues around the virus that are going to put people in eviction court after the postponement ends,” Swartz said.

He said the recent Los Angeles order dealing with evictions during the coronavirus outbreak is a better model. The Los Angeles mayor ordered that tenants who can show an inability to pay rent due to COVID-19, whether due to workplace or childcare issues, must still pay their delinquent rent — but they’re given six months to do so.

For renters in the Chicago area, LCBH has created a website where people can get help with housing issues and to see if they qualify for legal representation.

Homelessness

The city of Chicago has an agreement with the YMCA of Metro Chicago, which will provide emergency shelter to people experiencing homelessness during the statewide stay-at-home order.

City shelters are at 99% capacity. Approximately 400 additional beds will be available through the YMCA partnership. In addition, the city’s Department of Family and Support Services has accelerated its homeless outreach program by increasing visits to encampments and deploying hygiene kits.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has new recommendations for homeless people who have COVID-19 symptoms. The group says homeless individuals who show symptoms on the street or in shelters should be prioritized for testing. If they cannot be tested, the coalition said those individuals should be placed in isolation housing. Individuals should also be in isolation housing while awaiting results, or after a positive test result.

Another resource is the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to residents who are in danger of becoming homeless because of an eviction risk. Renters must show that they’re experiencing a temporary economic crisis. Thus far, officials said there has not been an uptick in applications due to COVID-19. Chicago residents can apply at one of the six Community Service Centers located at:

  • Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th Street, Chicago, IL 60620, 312-747-0200

  • Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Avenue, Chicago, IL 60612, 312-746-5400

  • King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, IL 60653, 312-747-2300

  • North Area, 845 W. Wilson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640, 312- 744-2580

  • South Chicago, 8650 S. Commercial Avenue, Chicago, IL 60617, 312-747-0500

  • Trina Davila, 4312 W. North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60639, 312-744-2014

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.