clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

City to offer $80 million in assistance to renters

Gov. J. B. Pritzker announced last week that the state eviction ban would be phased out by August. That makes a third round of rental assistance announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday all the more important.

A “For Rent” sign.
A new city program offers up to 15 months of assistance to help with rent and utility bills to individuals who qualify. Among other things, they must have suffered “hardship due to COVID-19, such as job loss, reduced hours or illness within their household.”
Sun-Times file

With the state poised to lift an eviction ban that has protected renters during the pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday earmarked $80 million in federal relief funds for a third round of rental assistance.

To qualify for up to 15 months of rental assistance and help paying utility bills, tenants must: live in Chicago; have suffered “hardship due to COVID-19, such as job loss, reduced hours or illness within their household”; be at risk of housing instability; have earned less than the maximum household income during 2020 at the time they apply.

Applications can be made at chicago.gov/renthelp and must be filed by 11:59 p.m. on June 8. Renters can get help filing their applications in multiple languages by calling 312-698—0202.

Landlords can apply for assistance on behalf of a renter.

Throughout the pandemic, low-income Chicagoans who have borne the brunt of the coronavirus and the layoffs and reduced hours triggered by the stay-at-home shutdown have been shielded by state and federal eviction bans.

But, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week that the state eviction ban would be phased out by August.

That makes the third round of rental assistance at the city level all the more important and well-timed.

“Whether it’s through the landlords or through direct payments to the renters, we want to make sure that we blunt, what we all fear is an eviction and housing crisis coming just down the pike,” Lightfoot told a news conference at the Resurrection Project, 1815 S. Paulina.

“It cuts the wait time in half for assistance offered to renters when landlords do not participate, protects renters from eviction while payments are being made on their behalf and more. And in a time still marked by intense uncertainty, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program will bring a much-needed sense of stability to our residents who need it most.”

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara noted that the first time Chicago offered rental assistance during the pandemic, there were 83,000 applications. The $2 million was only enough to provide $1,000 grants to 2,000 people. The other 81,000 got nothing.

“That showed us how deep the need was throughout our communities,” Novara said. “COVID shutdowns, while reducing the spread of the virus, have impacted many financially, threatening to cause an eviction crisis similar in scope to what we experienced in 2008.”

The overwhelming demand gave way to a second round of rental assistance that provided over $24 million to 10,000 households.

“We also established a no-cost, pro-bono legal assistance counsel for people who were experiencing illegal lockouts or even illegal evictions, despite there being a moratorium,” Novara said.

Now, with another $1.9 billion in federal relief coming to Chicago, there will be a third round of help that will allow the city to quadruple past assistance, Novara said.

“It is especially important ... because we now know that the governor will be phasing out the eviction moratorium by August,” Novara said.

“Tenants and landlords can receive up to 15 months of assistance — 12 months of back rent and up to three months going forward — and some residents may also be eligible for utility payment assistance. I cannot tell you how delighted we are .... to really be able — finally, a year later — to actually meet the scope of the need that this pandemic has created.”

The Department of Housing has once again forged a partnership with The Resurrection Project to administer 75% of the new, $80 million in assistance as well as to provide case management services.

A dozen other delegate agencies will assist in providing “in person services to assist residents with limited access to technology.”

Last year, residential housing groups, landlord associations and lenders signed a non-binding “Housing Solidarity Pledge” to show “flexibility and restraint” in dealing with one another during this unprecedented time of hardship to prevent the pandemic from triggering another wave of foreclosures.

Participating landlords agreed to offer grace periods with terms that “avoid repayment at the end of the deferral period.” They also promised to waive late fees for missed payments and allow renters who miss payments to amortize those payments over time.

No one was satisfied because it was only a pledge. But with more federal relief coming to Chicago, City Hall can deliver even more help.

• Also on Monday, Lightfoot said she plans to launch a “robust community engagement process” in early June to determine how the avalanche of federal relief funds should be spent.

That includes “grass-roots local roundtables, engagement with local ambassadors and in-depth discussions with subject matter experts” to determine Chicago’s “critical needs.”

“We’re not gonna come up with a plan downtown, pass it through the City Council, and not talk to the community members, leaders and stakeholders who’ve been most impacted by COVID-19,” the mayor said.

“I’ve listened to a lot of pain and a lot of anger coming from residents who feel like, for way too long, they’ve been left out. That their city hasn’t seen or heard them. This is an opportunity for us to change that around entirely.”