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EXPLAINER: How Illinois hopes to avoid summer eviction surge

July 30, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to oust tenants who were behind on their rents.

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Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in Illinois:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

The state’s own moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of August, more than 17 months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued it. Eviction filings can resume at the start of the month, but enforcement can’t resume until September.

Pritzker extended the order several times during the pandemic. After landlords of small properties complained that it was hurting them financially, the Democrat modified his order in November to require tenants to vouch that they met certain conditions.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

The state expects to provide $1.1 billion in relief to renters and landlords, plus $400 million that will be available in some cities. Pritzker’s office estimated that the money could help more than 120,000 people.

Individuals can apply for up to $25,000 that would be paid directly to landlords. A separate $280 million program focuses on utility costs.

According to the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the agency has received nearly 95,000 applications for rent assistance seeking a total of more than $900 million. As of Wednesday, it had paid roughly $180 million to 20,480 households, prioritizing people who were unemployed or had very low incomes.

A state law created this year also seals the records of any evictions between March 2020 and March 2022, aiming to prevent pandemic-related financial woes from deepening a renter’s ability to get future housing.

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Teri Ross, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online, also encouraged people who are behind in their rent payments to contact community groups that have received money from federal relief packages to offer aid or legal services.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

It varied in recent months based on the renter’s location. Ross said counties in the Chicago area have not allowed landlords to file lawsuits seeking to boot tenants for being late on their rent.

Elsewhere, counties that did accept eviction filings largely didn’t act on them. Eviction orders entered before the pandemic began and those based on health and safety concerns were allowed to proceed.

In September, all Illinois courts can resume eviction proceedings and enforcement.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority is providing training on rent relief and other assistance to judges around the state. The agency’s director, Kristin Faust, said the goal is to encourage landlords and tenants to enter mediation rather than move toward eviction.

Housing advocates said some counties already have embraced that approach and hope it will help some renters stay in their homes while giving their landlords financial relief. But they still expect a flood of people to be evicted from rental homes this fall.

HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

As of May, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Chicago area was 2.7% higher than the year before, at $1,900, according to a June 16 report from Realtor.com. That was higher than the national median cost of $1,770.

The median cost of studio and one-bedroom units in the Chicago area dropped during the past year but still topped the nationwide median cost. The median rent of a Chicago one-bedroom was $1,650, compared to the national figure of $1,466. A Chicago-area studio apartment, meanwhile, cost $1,345 per month, compared to $1,294 nationally.

Those prices are far out of reach for many renters in the city and surrounding suburbs, said Karla Chrobak, a supervising attorney with CARPLS Legal Aid, an organization that provides free legal help in Cook County.

Chrobak said clients seeking the group’s help already struggled to find affordable housing before the pandemic, making the prospect of being evicted now “terrifying.”

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

Ross said community organizations around the state “are in fear of seeing mass evictions.”

“I hope that we see communities working together, landlords and tenants,” she said. “Keeping communities stable is largely dependent on keeping people housed consistently — not precariously.”

One indication of the scope of the problem is recent census data showing that 109,211 Illinois residents were concerned they could be evicted within the next two months.

Faust, director of the state agency managing rent relief, hopes shared efforts to keep tenants in their homes will help Illinois avoid mass evictions.

“We’re going through a shared trauma here and we’re going to deal with it together and we’re going to address it together,” she said.