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Use Canceled Blues Fest, House Fest Money To Help Chicagoans With Rent, Mortgage Payments, Aldermen Propose

Chicago's original COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant drew an overwhelming response — about 83,000 people applied for 2,000 grants.

Blues Fest was one of several summer festivals canceled due to the coronavirus.
Blues Fest/Facebook
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LOGAN SQUARE — A group of aldermen is pushing for city officials to use money that was supposed to fund Blues Fest, House Fest and other now-canceled summer festivals and events to beef up a grant program designed to help Chicago’s most vulnerable residents with housing costs during the coronavirus crisis.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) introduced an order Wednesday during the first virtual meeting of the Chicago City Council.

The order, which has nine co-sponsors, calls on city officials to amend the 2020 Annual Appropriation Ordinance and move the summer festival funds to the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant.

In the order, the aldermen demand city officials, including the budget director and the cultural affairs and special events commissioner, conduct a “detailed review” of the Appropriation Ordinance, identify which festivals and events are likely to be impacted by the coronavirus crisis and submit a report to the City Council’s committee on budget and government operations by May 15.

That report should then result in an amendment by May 20, aldermen wrote in the order.

The order will next be sent to the City Council’s budget committee for review.

Chicago’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant, which was initially allocated $2 million, drew an overwhelming response. As of April 7, about 83,000 people applied for help through the grant program.

City officials have worked to find funds for a second round of housing assistance grants in response to the massive need, but Wednesday’s proposal would open up an additional pool of money.

By beefing up the grant program, the order aims to help Chicagoans “excluded from the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts, including unbanked Chicagoans, homeless Chicagoans, undocumented Chicagoans, and Chicagoans returning to their community from prison.”

Ramirez-Rosa told Block Club the idea came from community leaders involved in neighborhood groups like Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “We need to identify money to assist vulnerable Chicagoans, particularly those who have been left behind by the federal government.”

The alderman said his office did a preliminary review of the budget and found this order could free up $33 million, but that amount could be much lower if certain costs are covered by the event companies themselves.

“The line item only tells one part of the story. You actually have to work with the city departments to” figure it out, he said.

The order is backed by several other aldermen representing neighborhoods across the city.

The nine co-sponsors include Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Ald. Felix Cardona (31st), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) and Ald. Matt Martin (47th).

It’s unclear if the order has the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The mayor’s office didn’t immediately answer questions Wednesday morning.

Ramirez-Rosa said he has not yet received a response from Lightfoot, though she was receptive when he spoke to her earlier this month about finding local sources of money to help residents excluded from federal relief.

“I think it was a good conversation. She recognized that it was an important need that needed to be met,” he said.

Lightfoot on Wednesday introduced her own plan. The mayor is looking to set up a $3 million grant and loan program to help owners of affordable housing properties keep tenants who lost income due to the coronavirus in their homes.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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