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Hoping to stave off evictions, state to offer $60 million as ‘additional safety net, another layer’ to keep people in their homes

Deputy Gov. Sol Flores said the program, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 1, is designed to provide assistance through the courts to allow judges to direct those caught up in eviction proceedings to the funds, as well as legal assistance.

Homes in the Logan Square neighborhood in 2018.
Homes in the Logan Square neighborhood in 2018.
Erin Brown/Sun-Times file

Starting one day after the state’s moratorium on evictions ends, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration plans to provide an additional $60 million pool of funds to signal to those in danger of losing their homes “there’s still a way to avoid eviction.”

Deputy Gov. Sol Flores said the program, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 1, is designed to provide assistance through the courts to allow judges to direct those caught up in eviction proceedings to the funds, as well as legal assistance, if they haven’t yet sought other help.

“There is, we know, a certain group of individuals who will have not applied through the streams that are available right now” for a lot of different reasons, Flores said.

“So, we wanted to ensure there was an additional safety net, another layer that says ‘OK, even if you didn’t apply, there’s still a way to avoid eviction, there’s still a way to enter mediation.’ ... It’s really about trying to cover all of the gaps.”

The state’s eviction moratorium, designed to help those suffering financial hits from the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to end in three weeks. Pritzker issued an executive order last month to allow for eviction filings to begin Aug. 1 — but barred enforcement of the orders until Aug. 31.

Deputy Gov. Sol Flores.
Deputy Gov. Sol Flores.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Flores and other officials hope that offering assistance through the courts will help “target vulnerabilities and really look at developing a comprehensive program across the spectrum of housing needs.”

If someone has applied for rental assistance, the judge will pause, or give a stay in the proceedings, to allow the assistance process to continue to hopefully avoid eviction, Flores said.

The deputy governor said the idea came from conversations she and others in the administration had with advocates, those in the court system and landlords.

After those conversations, it became clear that some who needed rental assistance may not know about the state-based programs set up to help.

Bob Palmer, the policy director of Housing Action Illinois, said having an additional opportunity for tenants to receive rental assistance could help those who have technological challenges, like a lack of access to the internet or a computer, or for whom English isn’t their first language.

A court-based rental assistance program is one of the things Palmer’s group, which is a coalition of about 150 organizations, recommended to state officials early on.

The group is also calling on Pritzker’s administration to work with the Illinois Supreme Court to keep eviction protections in place through at least Oct. 3, when the federal moratorium is scheduled to be lifted. The federal moratorium only prohibits law enforcement from carrying out evictions and doesn’t include putting a pause on eviction cases as the state’s moratorium does.

The South Shore neighborhood in 2018.
The South Shore neighborhood in 2018.
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times file

“It’s very important that there be rental assistance available through the court and, ideally, judges or for those counties that have court-based mediation programs, [to] provide sort of the final opportunity for landlords to work with their tenant to accept the rent assistance to keep people in their housing,” Palmer said.

The state’s Illinois Rental Payment Program is already providing roughly $500 million in existing federal funds for rental assistance. State officials have reviewed nearly 70,000 completed applications submitted by landlords under that program, a spokeswoman for Pritzker said.

So far, $195 million has been disbursed. The state’s housing development authority has committed $203.5 million to rental assistance payments, making the state a leader in providing rental assistance, the spokeswoman said.

The state’s housing development authority is currently processing thousands of new applications for rental assistance. Funds are also available through the Illinois Department of Human Services.