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Pritzker announces $1.5 billion rental payment program, signs emergency housing assistance bill into law

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thumbnail_5.17 COVID EMERGENCY HOUSING

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. JB Pritzker wants to make sure people can stay in their homes once Illinois lifts the eviction moratorium later this summer. Monday, Pritzker announced $1.5 billion is available for renters and landlords who struggled to get by throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That's nearly four times the amount of aid available for housing last year.

Most people knew the eviction moratorium would come to an end at some point. The governor says Illinois will gradually phase out of the ban until it expires in August. But now, the state has a plan to help people cover the rent they missed over the past year.

Illinoisans who fell behind on payments or experienced financial hardship during the pandemic have the opportunity to apply for up to $25,000. The financial aid would go directly to their landlord or housing provider. $1.1 billion is set aside for renters and landlords to prevent evictions in the coming months. A separate $400 million will go to larger municipalities for rental assistance.

Housing relief for all

"Later this summer, we'll provide an additional $400 million, on top of the $1.5 billion for renters, for mortgage assistance. That means struggling homeowners can get relief too," Pritzker said.

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton says housing is about feeling safe during times of uncertainty.

"It's about being able to meet the needs of your children," said Stratton. "Housing is about feeling settled. It's about building community and having a home base. Housing is health care."

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Stratton says there's no better time to let Illinois families know that relief is available for the stress and anxiety of facing eviction.

"This assistance is available to all eligible renters in Illinois regardless of immigration status. ILRPP assistance is not a public charge benefit," explained Kristin Faust, Executive Director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Emergency Housing Rental Assistance law

Pritzker also signed House Bill 2877 into law to create a framework to distribute the funds to those most in need. Rep. Delia Ramirez hoped to pass this bill last May and January. However, her proposal fell short. After a tough battle through both chambers this spring, the Emergency Housing Rental Assistance Program Act is law.

Ramirez says the measure creates a COVID-19 emergency and economic recovery period spanning the start of the state's disaster proclamation last March through March of next year. This plan automatically seals eviction records through August 2022. It also temporarily stops foreclosure proceedings and filings through May 1. Judicial sales of property are now on hold until July 31.

The Chicago Democrat knows her plan can help those struggling between paying their rent or buying food and medications.

"Do I pay for my mortgage or do I pay for my utilities? We are asking you, inviting you, to apply for the assistance we have available today," Ramirez said.

People in need of this help can apply at Illinoishousinghelp.org. Those eligible for the funds could receive up to 15 months of assistance.

"You deserve to have a home."

Sen. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) stressed this can help people in every corner of the state.

"If you know someone that has dealt with homelessness at some point in their life, this bill helps them," said Aquino. "If you know someone that has dealt with COVID and their communities have been absolutely ravaged by COVID - which we know is throughout the entire state - this bill helps them."

Senate Black Caucus Chairman Robert Peters (D-Chicago) thanked the sponsors and Pritzker for creating an opportunity for equitable access to rental assistance to keep the most vulnerable in their homes.

"No matter where you live in the state of Illinois, you deserve to have dignity in your home. You deserve to have a home," Peters added. "I'm sick and tired of the BS that I've been hearing over and over again about the struggles people are in. This is the pathway to getting out of that struggle."

Utility assistance

The Pritzker administration is also replenishing the state's utility assistance programs. More than 260,000 households received roughly $280 million in benefits through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant program last year.

Illinois still has $30 million of LIHEAP funding available for families to use before the end of May. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says people qualifying for LIHEAP can access even more funds provided to Illinois through the American Rescue Plan Act.

DCEO started the Utility Disconnection Avoidance Program last month to prevent low-income families from losing service when they can't pay. Acting Director Sylvia Garcia says the department planned to help 80,000 families, but UDAP has saved power for 115,000 customers.

"We know even with more workers returning to work each day, the effects of the crisis are long-lasting and are impacting our most vulnerable communities across the state," Garcia explained. "As we pivot our efforts from economic response to economic recovery, LIHEAP, the Illinois Rental Payment Program, and other safety net programs will be essential for families facing difficult times."

Families who cannot qualify for the UDAP still have the opportunity to apply for LIHEAP benefits. You could find more information about the specific program at HelpIllinoisFamilies.com.

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Mike Miletich

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