Nearly 300,000 Chicagoans Have Applied for Pandemic-related Rent Relief. More Assistance Could be on the Way

Close to 300,000 applications have been submitted seeking pandemic rent assistance through Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois state programs. However, officials claim there is a need for even more government assistance.

Following Congressional approval for additional funding in the American Rescue Plan, an additional round of rent assistance could be on the way.

This next round would be on top of several previous rounds of mostly federal rent relief doled out by Illinois, Cook County, and the City of Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, residents continued to seek rent assistance even as businesses began to reopen.

The number of applicants indicates people still need help, observed the executive director of the Housing Authority for Cook County, Richard Monocchio. Mr. Monocchio oversees the county’s rent assistance program.

“The economy may be recovering, but in many cases, individual lives certainly are not,” Monocchio said.


Chicago Officials Say Rent Assistance is Essential

According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, around 15% of renters in Illinois reported they were behind on their rent from late May 26 through early June.

Chicago officials say that rent assistance programs are essential to help renters avoid eviction and landlords avoid foreclosure. The state eviction moratorium is set to phase out.

Ensuring protections are in place for people still waiting for the processing of their rental assistance applications is key, once the eviction moratorium is phased out, said the policy director for Housing Action Illinois, Bob Palmer.

However, whether there will be enough assistance available to meet the needs of renters is the question, he said.

“We’re hopeful that between all the different rent assistance available, that it will stop a tidal wave of people being evicted once the state eviction moratorium is lifted,” Palmer said.

Additional local, state, and federal programs have offered mortgage assistance to property owners.


Illinois Distributes Federally Funded Rent Assistance

The state of Illinois has offered residents two rounds of federally funded rent assistance, over the course of the pandemic. Nearly 150,000 applicants applied for rent assistance in those rounds, including 70,000 completed applications in 2021.

Thus far, households approved for rent assistance in 2021 have received around $9,500 each. Despite that, the need for rental assistance remains, and word about the assistance programs has spread. As the pandemic drags on and on, families have had to scrape together their rent by borrowing or delaying much-needed purchases. Many people are in fact, reaching a breaking point.

Nearly 60% of applicants were approved for the first round, and Housing Action Illinois expects to approve more applicants during the second round. According to the agency, most of those denied assistance were not behind on rent, or had not lost income due to the shutdowns. The upcoming round includes a review process to catch application errors. Also, more funding will be available.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, all applicants who really need it will receive assistance.


Cook County Distributing Rent Assistance

Cook County also distributed two rounds of federally funded rent assistance in 2020 and 2021. The county received 6,400 applications during the first round, and more than 16,000 applications for the second round.

Monocchio points out the increased numbers are due to better outreach for the second round. Also, county officials were better coordinated with city and state programs.

Cook County is still processing the second round of applications, but Monocchio expects around 9,000 households will receive assistance. That includes every that met the April deadline. The county is also contacting households that submitted incomplete applications.

Nearly 20% of applications during the first round were approved. Many applicants were denied due to not meeting the residency or income requirements, or did not submit proper documentation, said Monocchio.

“I am not surprised at all by the massive need out there, because even before the shutdowns affordable housing was hard to come by for many people,” he said. “So the pandemic shutdowns really highlighted an existing problem.”


The City of Chicago Offers Assistance

Chicago has offered residents three rounds of rental assistance. The first occurred in March 2020, through Chicago’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund. The second round was funded with federal and donations, and the third round of rent assistance was federally funded.

Chicago received close to 27,000 applications from both renters and landlords for emergency relief. In the latest round, applicants sought a total of $137 million in rent and utility assistance. However, the city only has $80 million to distribute, so all applicants will not get the assistance they need.

“The number of applications and the level of aid being requested by renters and landlords just shows how many are still needing assistance 18 months after the start of the pandemic,” said Marisa Novara, Chicago Housing Commissioner. “While the current aid requests exceed our current funding, we will help as many as we can and look into opening another round of assistance later this year.”

In March 2020, Chicago issued 2,000 grants to over 83,000 applicants. During a second round, more than 10,000 households received assistance.


More Rent Assistance Coming

Options for rent assistance in the state remain. Illinois began accepting another round of renter applications for its assistance program, which closed on July 18. That program covers a year of past-due rent as well as 3 months of prepaid rent, offering up to $25,000. That program includes a path for renters with unresponsive landlords.

Another round of rental assistance applications could open as Cook County is due to receive an additional $74 million in federal funds. Monocchio estimates this could help up to 10,000 Cook County households.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that rental assistance has had,” he observed. “This is absolutely a lifesaver for thousands and thousands of Cook County residents, and all over the country. We’re never going to get to everyone, but hopefully, this means there will be more housing assistance in the future.”

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