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New Cook County rental assistance program to offer up to $4,500 per household hit hard by COVID-19

Suburban Cook County residents will be able to apply for the relief starting Monday, covering up to three months of rent payments.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle announces a rental assistance program aimed at helping residents struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. She made the announcement Friday outside of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle announces a rental assistance program aimed at helping residents struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. She made the announcement Friday outside of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
Elvia Malagón/Sun-Times

Starting next week, Cook County residents behind on rent can apply for assistance through a new program that is expected to provide households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with up to $4,500 each, Cook County officials announced Friday.

The $20 million program will take applications starting Monday through Aug. 18. It’s expected to provide financial relief of up to three months of rent — or up to $4,500 — to as many as 7,000 suburban households, said Richard Monocchio, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County.

The assistance is part of federal funds provided to the county from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Recipients will be picked through a lottery system, though 25% of the participants will be specifically chosen because they live in areas in the county that were hardest hit by COVID-19 cases, officials said. The county will give the money directly to landlords.

“It’s a very terrifying time for many families in Cook County and throughout this country,” said Commissioner Brandon Johnson, D-Chicago, standing outside of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center with other officials. “As our [Cook County] president has already indicated, the social inequalities and the gross inequities that have existed for a very long time in many of our communities have been exacerbated by this pandemic and this crisis.”

Johnson pointed to suburban Maywood, where about 25% of the village is unemployed, as an example of a community that has been hit hard by a pandemic causing financial devastation across the country.

Athena Williams, the executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, said that in July alone the organization received 800 calls from individuals who needed help making rent and mortgage payments.

Williams, like other housing advocates, anticipates a rise in evictions in the coming months. She said news of the assistance program made her happy.

“If I was in church, I would say ‘Amen, clap your hands,’” Williams said, as the small crowd obliged.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle described the pandemic as “ravaging” the county, saying many working families have suffered the brunt of the economic impact. A moratorium on evictions in Cook County is set to end Aug. 22.

“It’s evident that the need remains critical and urgent,” Preckwinkle said.

To qualify, renters have to show a financial hardship tied to the pandemic such as being furloughed, having work hours reduced or having to quit a job because of COVID-19. An individual household must have had an income less than $51,000 before March 27 to qualify. A household of five must have an income less than $78,650 to apply.

Applicants do not have to be U.S. citizens or residents. Residents who have a housing choice voucher aren’t eligible for the assistance, according to the county’s website.

Residents can review their eligibility at cookcountyil.gov/recovery.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.