SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- Housing security has been an ongoing issue for Illinoisans throughout the pandemic. The Illinois House Affordable Housing Committee used their first meeting to dive into data of families struggling to keep their homes during the pandemic.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports 200,000-500,000 Illinois households are at risk of eviction and homelessness. Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) says housing stability is critical for everyone.
"We have had some housing insecurities, we've seen them, but nothing like perhaps what we've seen during this pandemic," said Ramirez. "And as often times, a number of us have asked people to stay home, we have thousands of our families who have been and continue to be worried about what home looks like because they can't stay there."
Ramirez emphasized the importance of preventing more people from losing their homes. Housing Action Illinois reported roughly 10,000 Illinoisans were living on the streets or in shelters during a 2019 federal point-in-time count. Experts told lawmakers Black residents were eight times more likely to end up homeless compared to white residents.
"Families have been struggling"
Meanwhile, Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) stressed the committee should make sure all Illinois families have a roof over their head.
"Families have been struggling to afford their housing," said Guzzardi. "They have been struggling with homelessness. They have been doubling up living with friends or relatives, crashing on people's couches simply because they have not been able to have access to stable housing."
Guzzardi emphasized that this remained a quiet crisis for many years and only amplified during the pandemic. Witnesses at the hearing echoed what lawmakers had to say.
"A big picture thing is really just valuing housing as a public asset and a basic human need." said Bob Palmer, the Policy Director for Housing Action Illinois.
Palmer presented several solutions to lawmakers on how they can fix the issue. He suggested designing homeownership programs to reduce the racial wealth gap. Palmer broke down data showing 74.6% of white households are homeowners, while the homeownership rate among Black households is only 39%.
Republican lawmakers agreed with Democrats on the issue. However, the committee's Minority Spokesperson Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) explained landlords want a seat at the table for those discussions.
Members could pass a sweeping proposal to provide COVID-19 emergency housing assistance this spring. Democrats previously tried to pass this bill in May and in January but were unsuccessful.