It’s a stark figure.
More than 100,000 Illinoisans told a recent U.S. Census survey that they fear eviction or having their homes foreclosed on in the next two months -- a result likely from the COVID-19 pandemic’s wrath on the economy.
With hundreds of notices already filed in court, a last-minute order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricting enforcement of evictions may be a levee holding back a flood of housing insecurity across the state.
Legal housing advocates tell NBC 5 Responds that for so long, it has been easy to “write off” those experiencing housing insecurity, but now, the problem is getting the attention it should have had all along.
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State officials and advocates said many people in Illinois are finding themselves in a scenario they’ve never experienced before: facing the maze of procedures and processes in eviction court while trying to find both financial and legal assistance to keep them afloat.
Resources are available, and NBC 5 Responds has a complete guide below for finding assistance.
But advocates fear for many who have been out of work for more than a year due to COVID-19, they are too far behind, and government assistance is their only option.
“If you lose a years’ worth of income, you’re not going to be able to do a payment plan,” said Michelle Gilbert, Legal Director for the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing (LCBH). “You’re too behind.”
The LCBH is one of many organizations offering free legal resources for tenants facing one of the most extreme challenges to date: the fear of homelessness. Gilbert said resources are standing by -- both for landlords and tenants -- they just need to know where to look.
“I am so hopeful that a tenant who is in trouble hears this and reaches out for help,” Gilbert said.
Status on Evictions in Illinois and the CDC’s Order
Karla Chrobak is one of many attorneys essentially on the front lines of this inevitable conflict regarding housing insecurity in Chicago and across the state.
When a pair of dueling state and federal eviction moratoriums expired at the start of August, Chrobak said the office phones at her nonprofit CARPLS began ringing.
CARPLS offers free legal resources for tenants and landlords, and Chrobak said they saw a slight uptick in callers expressing the same emotion.
“High anxiety, a lot of stress, and difficulty navigating the orders,” Chrobak said. But a new eviction moratorium order from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed things.
“The current status, federally, is that evictions can't be carried out until October 3,” Chrobak explains.
On August 3, the CDC’s Director signed an order preventing evictions from taking place until October, adding that evictions at this time would be “detrimental to public health control measures” designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the emerging Delta variant.
While the moratorium prevents the enforcement of eviction orders, an Illinois Supreme Court ruling still allows landlords to file the orders. And tenants are required to fill out a declaration form to stop the process, Chrobak said. (Click here for a link to the declaration form and more information from the Illinois Attorney General’s office.)
“[The Supreme Court order] allows for the filing of evictions but doesn't allow for entry of an eviction order until this kind of cooling-off period that people get to give them time to mediate a situation to avoid an eviction, which is everybody's goal,” Chrobak said.
The Lawyers Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) had been tracking eviction filings in each Chicago ward and community up until a state order was enforced, sealing eviction records (a move the LCBH had advocated for tenants.) From January 1, 2021, through May 8, 2021, the tracker totaled more than 1,200 eviction filings across Chicago.
But the numbers in the city and statewide could be higher, advocates say.
Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest results of its Household Pulse Survey. In it, more than 109,000 Illinois residents said they felt it was likely they could face eviction in the next two months. More than 19,000 said they thought it was likely their home would fall into foreclosure.
With many still out of work and owing months of back rent, CARPLS’ Chrobak believes there’s only one thing that will calm the waters: cash.
“Really, the solution is a cash infusion,” Chrobak said. “Let's be honest about that. That's what's going to solve this problem.”
Rental Assistance And Legal Resources for Tenants And Landlords
Chrobak and Gilbert, who work with landlords and tenants daily, said one thing is for sure: navigating the process of finding resources from eviction has been “overwhelming” for most people.
The reason, in part, is that there are many different avenues for financial rental assistance.
Chrobak suggests tenants and landlords check out a one-stop location for assistance at COVIDHelpIllinois.org or call the Eviction Help hotline 855-631-0811.
A group of nonprofit legal organizations staffs both resources. The COVID Help website even includes a chat option for anyone facing legal problems related to the pandemic or homeowners fearing they can’t pay their mortgage.
When it comes to federal and state rental assistance funding, there is a lot of money available.
In May, Governor JB Pritzker announced the state has $1.5 billion in rental assistance available and ready to be paid out through several organizations.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) is responsible for the 2021 Rental Payment Program. A spokesperson told NBC 5 Responds the window for applying has closed and that their office is reviewing more than 96,000 applications from renters requesting more than $915 million in assistance.
IHDA said it had approved $210 million for disbursement so far, but that officials believe the state “should have enough [funding] to cover rent shortfalls caused by COVID-19.”
Chrobak told NBC 5 Responds the application process has been smooth, but “the problem here is the backlog of getting the money paid out to the tenant and the landlord.”
For those who missed the application window for the Rental Payment Program, a state spokesperson said there is another rental assistance program through the Illinois Department of Human Services (click here for more information on those resources).
Chrobak pointed out some people she’s worked with weren’t aware of this IDHS program but that it requires a social service agency referral.
NBC 5 Responds asked the IDHS for their latest figures on applications approved and payments disbursed. A spokesperson said the information was not immediately available and required a formal Freedom of Information Act request.
Chrobak said she hopes the current housing insecurity crisis will raise awareness of a society fracture that has been there all along, one that impacts everyone -- not just those facing eviction or foreclosure.
“When we have a situation where we're seeing people facing homelessness, we're facing a greater risk of community transmission of COVID,” Chrobak said. “I'm hoping that what this does bring is an awareness to everybody, the larger community, of the affordable housing crisis.”
Full List of Resources
NBC 5 Responds gathered the complete list of resources below for both tenants and landlords facing problems caused by COVID-19.
COVID HELP Illinois
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: COVID Help Illinois is a free, online resource for eviction and housing issues, as well as other legal issues caused by the pandemic. The staff of the website says it is available 24/7 to anyone residing in the state of Illinois.
Eviction Help Illinois
Online and Phone Resource
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: Advocates said this hotline is a state-funded network of 16 non-profit organizations providing free legal aid, mediation services, and connections to other resources, including rental assistance, in response to the eviction crisis. These services are funded via a partnership between the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.
Illinois Rental Assistance Provider Network
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: This website offers resources available across the state of Illinois, including resources still accepting applications for rental assistance. The website is run by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA)
Cook County Legal Aid for Housing & Debt, Early Resolution Program
Online and Phone Resource
PHONE (For Cook County residents): 855-956-5763
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: The Early Resolution Program (ERP) includes free legal aid, mediation services, and connections to other resources, including rental assistance. Mediation is a chance for a landlord and tenant, or debtor and creditor, to resolve issues with the help of a knowledgeable and neutral person.