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83,000 People Apply For Just 2,000 City Grants To Help Unemployed Chicagoans

The overwhelming demand for the grants means that fewer than 2.5 percent of applicants will get the funds, which will start going out this week.

Patrons ride an Forest Park-bound CTA Blue Line train in Chicago as fears of COVID-19 rise on Friday, March 20.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CITY HALL — Approximately 83,000 Chicagoans who lost their jobs or found their paychecks scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic applied for $1,000 grants to help them pay their rent or mortgages.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on March 30 that the Department of Housing would fund 2,000 grants with $2 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, which is fueled by the fees paid by developers under the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

The overwhelming demand for the grants means that fewer than 2.5 percent of applicants will get the funds, which will start going out this week, Commissioner Marisa Novara said.

“It is sobering,” Novara said. “It is very troubling, especially at a time when we are telling people to stay at home.”

City officials have begun working to find funds for a second round of housing assistance grants in response to the massive need. Those who applied in the initial round but were not selected would be eligible for future grants, and more Chicagoans will be invited to apply, Novara said.

Chicagoans can also directly contribute to future housing assistance grants by contributing to the Family Independence Initiative and selecting the Chicago Housing Fund.

Half of the initial round of grants will be awarded through a lottery system, while the other half will be distributed by non-profit community organizations across the city, officials said.

Data released by the Department of Housing show applications came from all over the city, with no more than 3 percent of applications coming from a single ward. The 12th, 16th, 28th and 37th wards on Chicago’s South and West sides submitted the highest number of applications, according to city data.

Novara said that did not come as a surprise.

“There are housing-burdened people across the city,” Novara said, adding that the pandemic has emphasized existing disparities in the need for affordable housing on the South and West sides.

Those who won the electronic lottery have already been selected for grants, officials said. Staff members are checking the eligibility of those who were selected, Novara said.

Community organizations are also working to select grant recipients and hope to award those grants as soon as possible, Novara said.

Applicants must be able to document a job loss or income loss, officials said. In addition, to be eligible, applicants will have to show proof that they earned less than 60 percent of the area median income, which is about $53,000 for a family of four, officials said.

However, the grants will be awarded regardless of applicants’ citizenship status.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for cash payments from the federal relief package that was signed into law last month.

Related: Residents await Lightfoot’s master plan on affordable housing as citywide crisis deepens