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Emergency housing assistance plan heads to Pritzker’s desk

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4.29 EMERGENCY HOUSING

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Senate passed a proposal Thursday to help people across the state struggling with housing payments or homelessness throughout the pandemic. The COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk for approval.

Sen. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) said this bill could help Illinoisans stay in their homes, whether it helps with rent or mortgage payments. Many people realize the moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures will come to an end soon. Democrats wanted to have a solution ready.

This legislation could automatically seal evictions from March of 2020 through March of next year. It also temporarily stops foreclosure proceedings and filings through May 1. The measure also puts a hold on judicial sales of properties until July 31.

Aquino explained clear requirements included in the proposal to ensure people in low-income areas in severe need of housing can access roughly $1.4 billion in federal emergency funds. The Illinois Housing Development Authority will distribute the funds.

"We want to prioritize again those folks that have been hardest hit by COVID or that have experienced homelessness before," Aquino said. "We want to make sure that it is targeted, that we are efficient and effectively getting those dollars to those most in need and affected by this global pandemic."

Under the proposal, renters could apply for the federal assistance. However, the money goes directly to their landlords.

GOP: Will the program be fair?

Republicans worry this bill discriminates against renters based on where they live. Although, many people who don't live in disproportionately impacted areas lost their jobs or struggled to get by as well. Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) feels the state agency handling the aid will pit renters against each other depending on where they live.

"I listen to the governor. The governor told all Illinoisans 'we're in this together,'" Barickman said. "But, what I see in the bill is something that says 'no, we're not.' And so, I think it falls short of earning our support."

Aquino emphasized this proposal takes care of anyone facing homelessness or trouble paying their rent or mortgage regardless of zip code.

"We are trying to stabilize our economy and communities that cannot afford another collapse of the housing market," Aquino said. "Be it if you are a renter...or you're a landlord - we are trying to stabilize this state and recover. Currently, we're still living in this global pandemic to this day."

This plan also prohibits screening companies from reporting on sealed eviction records. Companies could also face penalties for violating this portion of the law.

Championing housing relief

Rep. Delia Ramirez first introduced this idea during the special session last May. Yet, the plan didn't receive approval then or during the lame-duck session in January. However, sponsors had a successful third attempt after resolving previous issues with banks and the Illinois Realtors Association. The measure passed out of the House last month. Ramirez joined Aquino to celebrate the bill passing out of the Senate on a 39-13 vote Thursday.

"Today is a hard-earned victory for tens of thousands of Illinoisans who've needed, and will continue to need, the rental assistance and housing protections included in this bill. Recovery from a pandemic is only possible when people are safely and sustainably housed," Ramirez said.

Republican lawmakers frequently questioned where Illinois would get funding for this program. Ramirez explained the funding would come from the December stimulus bill and the American Rescue Plan passed in March.

Housing Action Illinois, a statewide coalition for affordable housing, congratulated lawmakers for getting the plan to Pritzker's desk. Policy Director Bob Palmer explained the rental assistance and foreclosure prevention resources could help homeowners and "mom and pop" owners of rental properties.

"At a time when so many have not been able to pay the rent through no fault of their own, the eviction sealing provisions will keep the mere filing of an eviction case from being an obstacle to a person finding housing in the future," Palmer stated.

His organization also urges Gov. Pritzker to sign the proposal as soon as possible since several provisions of the bill are time-sensitive.

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Mike Miletich

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