CHICAGO — Chicagoans who’ve lost income due to COVID-19 will be eligible to receive some rental assistance thanks to two initiatives approved by the City Council on Wednesday.
The council approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to create a $20 million rental assistance fund, as well as another effort to give an extra seven-day “cooling off” period for tenants facing eviction to negotiate a deal with their landlord.
More expansive eviction protection measures that were championed by the council’s progressive aldermen — including one that would have given renters a year to pay back missed rent — have been relegated to a committee likened to legislative purgatory at the last two council meetings.
The $20 million in rental assistance for those struggling to pay rent will come from the city’s housing department. It is funded by the $1.13 billion COVID-19 relief package the city is receiving from the federal government.
It follows a $2 million Housing Assistance Grant that distributed $1,000 to 2,000 Chicagoans in April when the economic fallout from the pandemic first hit the city. More than 83,000 people applied for relief in that program.
Renters who lost income due to the pandemic will be eligible to receive up to twice their monthly rent, capped at $2,500. The aim is to help 7,500 households, housing Commissioner Marisa Novara told a council committee last week.
Those who sought the rental assistance in April will not have to re-apply, officials said. A new online portal is in the works for new applicants.
Residents will need to provide proof of COVID-19-related income loss and a letter from their landlord verifying their monthly rent.
Officials did not immediately share a date for when the assistance program will begin.
In a separate press conference Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced the state will provide $5,000 grants for struggling renters, starting in August. The program aims to give grants to 30,000 Illinoisans. Another 10,000 people will receive up to $15,000 to help with mortgage payments, he said.
That assistance is part of a $900 million coronavirus relief fund.
Related: New $900 Million Coronavirus Recovery Programs Will Focus On Businesses, Rent Relief And More
Lightfoot’s eviction protection ordinance is meant to ward off an expected wave of evictions when the state lifts its moratorium, currently extended through July 31.
The ordinance requires landlords who file a five-day eviction notice to allow an additional seven days to engage in a “good faith effort” to work out an agreement with the tenant to avoid an eviction.
If the tenant can prove a loss of income due to COVID-19 by way of a letter of job termination, copies of pre- and post pandemic paystubs, or other “flexible” forms of proof including text messages from an employer, they can negotiate terms with the landlord to avoid eviction.
Suggested alternatives to eviction include a repayment plan providing at least 60 days to repay each missed payment, mediation or using a security deposit to cover all or a portion of what’s owed.
It would be retroactive to March 21 and continue until state and local emergency orders on the coronavirus pandemic are lifted.
Those opposed to the plan, largely aldermen on the city’s South and West sides, said there should be an exemption to the ordinance for small landlords, including seniors, who own six or fewer units.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she was worried seniors who live in owner-occupied buildings and rent as few as one unit could face foreclosure without the rent their tenants provide.
“Seniors have worked all their life for this, and I’m not against the tenants being able to receive some assistance, I’m just saying in this neighborhood I don’t want to see any more vacant buildings,” she said.
During a committee meeting on the eviction ordinance, Novara told aldermen that nothing in the ordinance prevents an eviction, it only provides more time for an alternative solution.
“This important ordinance will not only provide critical support to our tenants struggling as a result of this unprecedented crisis, it will also strengthen protections long-needed before COVID-19 to promote true housing stability and allow every Chicago family a chance to build, grow, and thrive,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
In addition to the $20 million in rental assistance, the relief package includes $3.5 million in mortgage relief and $500,000 in legal assistance to those facing foreclosure.
Although she voted to approve the mayor’s spending plan, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) urged fellow council members to push for more funding, saying people are leaving the city because they can’t afford to stay.
“People need help and we need to help them and we still keep approaching it with ‘oh well, you know this is all we can do,’” Hairston said. “This is who makes up the city of Chicago…and if they don’t have homes, then we don’t have anything as a city.”
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