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Citing huge need, city officials start issuing $1,000 grants for housing costs

About 83,000 people applied for help from the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program.

Marisa Novara, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing, speaks during a news conference at City Hall about the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 23.
Marisa Novara, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

City housing officials said Tuesday they expect to start issuing grants of $1,000 each this week to Chicagoans who have shown they need help with rent or mortgage payments.

An overwhelming response to the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program, with its initial $2 million allocation, shows the depth of people’s hardship as jobs are lost due to the coronavirus, Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said. The agency is seeking other funding sources to support more grants later this month, she said.

Some activists have called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to tap tax increment financing money to provide direct help to people or small businesses. She has declined to do so, citing legal restrictions on how TIF funds can be disbursed.

Novara said her agency is working with others in the city and state to find more funding sources. The initial $2 million was drawn from Chicago’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, which is bankrolled by developers building market-rate housing.

Of the 2,000 grants of $1,000 each, half are being disbursed through community organizations and the other half through the city via a lottery.

Novara said 83,000 applications were received for the city lottery. Housing Department staffers are reviewing the lottery winners now to determine if they have shown a loss of income. Novara said applications came from every city neighborhood.

The application period for those grants has closed. Those not chosen via the lottery remain eligible for a later round of awards, Novara said.

She said unlike the help coming from the federal government’s stimulus package, the city grants are made without regard to citizenship status.

Recipients cannot have had income above 60% of the area’s median, which is about $53,000 a year for a family of four.

Applications by ward to the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program

A ward map showing applications for COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant program. City of Chicago