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New llinois laws create affordable housing, assist more with utilities

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7.29 HOUSING

CHICAGO, Ill. - Many across Illinois struggle with homelessness. Leaders hope a new law can help build affordable housing for thousands of people in need.

House Bill 2621 created a large affordable housing plan using funds from the American Rescue Plan to build new homes. In short, the goal is to make sure everyone has access to a proper roof over their head.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority will have $75 million in federal funding to supplement buildings that qualify for low-income housing credits and develop new properties.

"That's funding for 3,500 new rental units and thousands of families whose lives will be changed for the better as a result of the work of the General Assembly," said Gov. JB Pritzker.

He hopes to have those homes ready for families by the end of 2024.

The law extends the Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit through the next five years. Lawmakers hope that will help encourage real estate and monetary donations for affordable housing development.

"In total, Illinois needs to add an additional quarter of a million units of affordable housing to meet the current demand, which IDHA is certainly up to the task," said IHDA Deputy Executive Director Karen Davis. "House Bill 2621 is a tremendous step forward in helping IHDA continue our mission to provide affordable housing for Illinois residents."

Building housing to put people in homes

This plan also creates two new property tax incentives to preserve affordable housing. Those options could encourage owners of multi-family properties to keep rent low by reducing the assessed value.

"These are critical tools not only to address the need of affordable housing, but also to address many of its root causes - homelessness, support for our veterans community, support for domestic violence survivors, and others who are most vulnerable among us," Pritzker said.

This legislation also enhances existing state law by requiring communities with limited affording housing to draft plans to address the need of housing locally. Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) believes housing should be a human right.

"The answer to unhoused people is housing. It's not complicated," said Guzzardi. "If we have unhoused people, let's build them housing and put them in homes. Provide them with the supportive services like we see here to keep people in their homes and to access those other important rights."

Another proposal signed into law Thursday gives undocumented residents and families with children under six the opportunity to access the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.

"Whether you're a citizen or not a citizen of this country or this state, you should not be denied heat. You should not be denied basic rights," said Sen. Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park).

Helping families struggling to pay utility bills

The state has provided over $343 million in assistance to more than 289,000 families since launching the Help for Illinois Families program last June. Pritzker says the law will help even more people receive assistance as the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity starts a new program with LIHEAP funds in September.

"Who wants their government to work for everybody and not just a privileged few," asked Rep. Barbera Hernandez (D-Aurora). "This law will not just keep people healthy and comfortable. Once again, it will save lives."

Paying for utilities is a struggle for many people like Donna Carpenter. The Englewood native has fought as a member of the Community Organizing and Family Issues organization since 2006.

"I know what it is to be without light, heat, gas, all of that. I've been there and I've done that," Carpenter explained. "So, I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. This is gonna help a lot of people."

Sponsors note people will need help with housing and utility assistance as the eviction moratorium comes to an end soon.

"Affordable housing is a cause I've advocated for my whole career," said Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). "I hope that affordable and equitable options prevail long after this pandemic is gone."

Addressing the lack of housing

"There's no excuse in 2021 for people in the state of Illinois to be living under viaducts, to be living out of their cars, to be living out of a duffle bag. There's no excuse," Guzzardi said.

Housing Action Illinois Policy Director Bob Palmer explained the housing plan offers incentives for housing in every part of Illinois. For example, provisions of the bill can help owners of smaller apartments hoping to improve their HVAC systems or install a new roof while keeping rent low. There are also resources and incentives in the law to address problems with a lack of housing developments.

The affordable housing law took effect immediately. Meanwhile, the utility assistance plan goes into effect on January 1. If you or anyone you know needs rental or mortgage assistance, go to illinoisrentalassistance.org. Additionally, anyone looking for more information about utility assistance can click here.

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Mike Miletich

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