Springfield, IL - Illinois Democrats are introducing a proposal to cancel rent and mortgage payments for 180 days to help those hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawmakers say this is crucial, as "housing is healthcare." The COVID-19 Emergency Renter and Homeowner Protection Act would ban evictions and block foreclosures for six months after Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order ends.
Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) says many are suffering from sudden and unexpected loss of income. She found 27% of Illinoisans weren't able to pay their rent in April. "This is why we understand that, particularly during this pandemic, black and brown families across this state are especially burdened and impacted during this moment as it pertains to housing."
Ramirez explains these communities face a higher risk for evictions and foreclosure. This comes as over half of the state's low income renters are rent-burdened, and the percentage of underwater mortgages is one of the highest in the country.
"No one should be afraid of losing their home because of this crisis," Ramirez said. "Everyone has a right to relief and recovery once this pandemic passes."
Resources to pay
Pritzker's stay-at-home order ceases enforcement of eviction orders during the disaster period. However, many Illinoisans are still facing challenges with landlords. Most being asked to pay up simply can't, if they're out of a job. "On May 1, many people who were asked to pay rent hadn't gotten a paycheck of course in six weeks," explained Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). "On June 1, it will be 10 weeks for many people. On July 1, it will be longer than that."
Even as the economy starts to reopen, Guzzardi says many people won't have the resources to pay. The North Side lawmaker has long advocated for lifting the ban on rent control in Illinois. He is the sponsor of a bill to repeal the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act.
"Many folks in our communities simply don't have the resources to comfortably pay rising rents while also meeting their basic needs of daily life. To add to that instability, people in our communities are never sure when rent might go up because the state has this ban on rent control," Guzzardi said. "Every time the lease comes due, the landlord may raise the rent by any amount they desire."
"Folks need support"
Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) will sponsor the COVID-19 plan in the Senate. "This crisis is showing decades of policy that has failed working class communities and it is now crushing us - crushing the people we applaud like essential workers on the front lines," Peters said. The freshman lawmaker says it's upsetting to see large landlords still filing eviction notices. He explained the housing crisis is personal.
"My mom died a few years ago with $300,000 of housing debt. I kept thinking about how she, like millions, was used as a pawn in a larger financial sector game. She was used as an investment tool for someone somewhere else," Peters added. He says Illinoisans need protection against discrimination. A portion of the bill requires landlords and lenders to accept payments made on behalf of tenants or borrowers from government or private relief funds."Folks need support, and to be lifted up during this crisis."
Bill sponsors are looking out for small landlords as well. The plan would establish a residential housing relief fund to pay landlords and mortgage lenders during the financial crisis. Ramirez hopes funding can also assist tenants who need to move or people unable to pay after the moratorium expires.
"We recognize that there's no way to talk about public health without talking about the impact housing instability has. We can't ask for people to shelter in place if they have no shelter to stay in," said Ramirez. The sponsor says the second Cares Act package has a substantial amount of funds specifically for rent relief. However, she hopes state lawmakers will continue to work with the Congressional delegation to help with canceled rent and delinquent mortgage payments.
Lawmakers hope they can return to the Capitol to discuss this plan within the next few weeks.