The phasing out of the Illinois eviction moratorium begins on Aug. 1. And while state officials say renters will be protected through the court system and $2 billion in relief money, housing activists are skeptical.
Gov. JB Pritzker ordered that eviction filings start Aug. 1, but prohibition of enforcement will remain in place through the end of the month. The renters covered under this phase-out are people who submitted a declaration to their landlord indicating that they fall below a certain income level and that they were affected by the pandemic.
“This process will take a long time. So it’s not as if you file [at the beginning of August] and all of sudden hundreds of thousands of people are evicted in one month or two months,” Deputy Gov. Sol Flores said. “We’ve been in many conversations with the [state] Supreme Court and the judiciary to talk through how they will manage this internally.”
Flores said judges have been trained on how to work with sheriff’s departments and informed of the relief programs in place.
Illinois expects to help 63,000 households with the $500 million round of rental assistance that opened up to applications on July 18. In total, $2 billion is available through the Illinois Rental Payment Program. The relief comes from a federal stimulus package; landlords and tenants must apply together. The state expects even more rental assistance to come in the fall. Measures are in place for eviction mediation and renters can apply for money even after a landlord files an eviction against them.
Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department lauded Illinois, saying the state went from reporting zero assistance deployed in May to being the second highest provider of rental assistance among all grantees in June.
“We do believe that the amount of federal stimulus that we have, will match the need that is out there,” Flores said. Tenants and landlords can request thousands of dollars and go back 15 months.
But, for many, that help has not yet arrived.
As of mid-July, just 19% of applicants have received state money, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), which has helped thousands of tenants during the pandemic with landlord mediation, fighting unlawful evictions and access to rental assistance.
Michelle Gilbert serves as the legal director for LCBH. Over the past year and a half, when pondering the end of the state’s eviction moratorium, Gilbert has vacillated between predicting doom to feeling as if there is enough financial relief. Now, she is disappointed that not enough applications have been processed — and said the moratorium should be in place until the money is doled out.
“The message I’m hoping the governor, the courts, the elected leaders share is — landlords, just because you can file an eviction, doesn’t mean that you should if you have that emergency rental assistance application pending,” Gilbert said.
Jeff Baker, CEO of Illinois Realtors, said the phasing out of the moratorium is the obvious next step, and he doesn’t expect a deluge of evictions overwhelming courts.
“We’ve always expressed to policymakers that evictions are a last resort. And it’s a tool that allows housing providers to protect their business. By phasing out this moratorium, we’re allowing those housing providers to protect their businesses and their investments,” Baker said.
But Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) executive director Teri Ross said the legal and human services community are on edge. ILAO is a community partner spreading the word about state rental assistance money — not just to renters, but also to mom-and-pop landlords.
“There’re roles for everyone in the system to play — judges who are sitting on the bench, housing providers, financial people who are providing mortgages and sheriffs,” Ross said. “What I’m hoping for is for people to realize that we’re going to be stronger, if we can all work together and minimize the effect of this [eviction threat.]”
And on Aug. 2, the Monday after the first phase of the moratorium is lifted, Ross said she and others will have their ears to the ground, communicate with courts to see what eviction filings look like, and work furiously to get renters who haven’t applied for relief into the system.