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Illinois Housing Agency Claims Success in Helping Pandemic-Hit Renters, Homeowners

Illinois Housing Development Authority

Illinois housing officials are touting the success of their programs helping families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, the Illinois Housing Development Authority reported that in 2020 it dispersed around $325 million in rent and mortgage assistance grants to more than 56,000 households.

In the state’s COVID relief bill, Illinois lawmakers instructed IHDA to allocate one-third of the federal housing assistance funding for disproportionately impacted areas — zip codes that experienced higher rates of infections and pandemic-related layoffs.

IHDA Executive Director Kristin Faust said in actuality, around two-thirds of funding went to such communities.

“Keeping families in their homes benefits the renters and the homeowners, but also the housing providers, the landlords, the mortgage servicers, the lenders, the neighbors, and the surrounding community,” Faust told members of the IHDA board in a virtual meeting Friday.

In addition to disproportionately impacted areas, IHDA has also prioritized providing assistance to racial minorities. Faust said two-thirds of the rental assistance grants awarded last year went to households of color.

However, not all minority populations benefitted proportionately. Faust said Latinos only made up 12% of rental assistance grants and 17% of mortgage assistance, lagging behind other groups.

“That’s an area where we want to do better next time,” Faust said. “Our program is eligible for undocumented households. We have to like blare that, we have to say that loud and clear so people know.”

Aarti Kotak, an IHDA board member, suggested in order to get greater response from the Latino community, the agency should expand their outreach to non-housing agencies.

“Getting trust is not unique to a sector,” Kotak said. “Trying to really expand into folks who might just be doing human services — they can connect with trust.”

Faust also said the agency needs to do a better job in providing housing assistance to households in downstate Illinois. In the same COVID relief bill from last year, the Illinois General Assembly wanted IHDA to direct $79 million in COVID-related housing assistance outside of the Chicagoland area. Faust said that number ended up closer to $64 million.

Over two-thirds of the total housing assistance funding was directed towards renters. In order to qualify for the one-time grant of $5,000, a person had to prove they were unable to make rent payments on time as a direct result of the pandemic and that prior to March 1, 2020 they had been diligent in their payments.

For mortgage assistance funding, homeowners could receive up to $25,000 if their mortgage was less than $450,000 and they earned less than specified income maximums.

As for 2021, the housing development authority plans to disperse over $500 million in rental and mortgage assistance grants by year’s end.

The grants will continue to be a much-needed resource. Last August, researchers at the Aspen Institute reported COVID-19’s impact on housing finances could result in 30 million to 40 million Americans facing eviction — with a disproportionate effect on Black and brown communities.

Gov. JB Pritzker has continually extended a moratorium on housing evictions, with the current order scheduled to expire on March 6.

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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