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Report: Rent ‘out of reach’ for most low-income families, experts hope Congress acts quickly

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The federal eviction moratorium ended over the weekend and many are struggling to get money to pay their rent. Protections for Illinois renters phase out this month, but housing experts say Congress must address another big issue. Rent for affordable housing is too high for most low-income families.

A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows rent is "out of reach" for most across the country. Experts say emergency rental assistance cannot solve the long-term affordability challenges that low-wage workers have faced for decades. That's why they're calling for more federal resources.

The 2021 "Out of Reach" data show Illinois renters need to earn over $22 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Let's put that into perspective for those working at minimum wage. In Illinois, that's $11. So, you would need to work 80 hours per week or have two full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

"Even though rents in places like Springfield and Quincy are lower than in the Chicago area, oftentimes workers income is lower as well. So, we still have that gap," said Bob Palmer, Policy Director of Housing Action Illinois.

Palmer says federal funds already set aside for rental assistance can address the immediate needs with the eviction moratorium phasing out in Illinois. However, he argues Congress should do more to help those most in need.

Invest the resources

"The housing issue is clearly a problem that our society could solve if there was the political will. It's pretty simple," Palmer said. "People lack housing, there's not enough affordable units, or people don't have sufficient income to pay for housing. If we had a consensus as a society that this is a problem that we needed to solve and we are willing to invest the resources, we pretty easily solve it."

Housing Action Illinois wants universal rental assistance through full funding of the federal Housing Choice Voucher program. They also hope Congress strengthens and enforces renter protections, especially for those with disabilities.

Many ADA-compliant apartments come at a high cost. Most people with disabilities that can't work rely on Supplemental Social Security. But that only gets individuals $794 per month.

"People with disabilities find themselves in a situation where sometimes they have to give up on something in order to really get what they don't want," said John Herring Sr.

Making homes accessible and affordable

The Springfield native is the Executive Director for the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living. Herring says landlords sometimes aren't willing to make the changes need to make homes accessible and affordable. That's why he's fighting for change.

Advocates continue to push for a larger stock of affordable homes available to those making the lowest income. They hope it can happen through annual investments into the National Housing Trust Fund.

"What are we gonna do as America, as citizens, as a state, to ensure that once that net if pulled those individuals don't drop all the way to the ground," Herring asked.

Herring says this isn't just an issue for low-income Illinoisans. He stressed affordable housing is a problem for all.

"If you let the weakest link fall, eventually everyone will fall," Herring added.

Palmer would also like to see a national housing stabilization fund for emergency assistance for families experiencing sudden and temporary loss in finances.

"You really can't be successful in life if you have a stable affordable home," Palmer said. "There's a long established consensus that the most successful way to help people experiencing homelessness is actually get them into housing. That helps avoid all the other social costs of homelessness. It also puts people in a better position to be successful in their life."

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Mike Miletich

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