Illinois housing agency provided $815M of aid over past two years
CHICAGO (WGEM) - Illinois has provided financial assistance to thousands of people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic so they could keep a roof over their heads. In fact, the Illinois Housing Development Authority helped give $815 million to renters and landlords over the past two years.
State representatives had the opportunity Wednesday to check in with the organization in charge of distributing those funds.
IHDA approved nearly 64,000 applications for the first round of the Illinois Rental Payment Program. Executive Director Kristin Faust explained the average payment to each household was $9,134. She also noted that 56% of the recipients were unemployed for three months or longer.
More than 58,000 applications were initially incomplete or missing documents, so IHDA staff reached out to applicants and landlords to allow them time to fix applications. 34,251 of those applications were later completed, and 26,195 of the applicants were approved.
Faust was happy to see that landlords worked with their tenants on 70% of the rental payment applications. Still, 12,708 landlords declined the opportunity to help their renters get financial assistance. She noted that IHDA still allowed 1,160 tenants to send in application documents without their “unresponsive landlords.” Faust said more than $10 million of the rental funding went directly to tenants.
Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) was concerned to see that a significant amount of people without landlord support didn’t receive funding. Rodrigo Carrillo, director of strategic initiatives and planning with IHDA, explained the agency contacted landlords three times to confirm they weren’t participating in the process. Carillo said many documents came back because the addresses given were vacant buildings. He said that was a clear sign there were possibly fraudulent claims made.
Faust also said there is increased fraud with each new round of state funding. She stressed scammers have more time to manipulate the system as time goes by. But, there is a system in place compared to some state agencies that faced significant security hurdles towards the start of the pandemic.
“We have an internal path also to address direct allegations of fraud,” Faust said. “So, I think that any time there was a concern and we found a reason to deny an application, we would’ve denied it.”
The application period for the second round of the rental payment plan ended on January 9. However, landlords still have until Feb. 13 to complete any documents started by their tenants.
Faust explained this round allows people to receive funding for up to 15 months of missed rent payments dating back to June 2020 or up to three months of future payments until April 2022. People in federal and state-subsidized housing or using housing choice vouchers now had the opportunity to apply for funds as well.
There are also still situations where problems have occurred with applications. Rep. Mark Luft (R-Pekin) told Faust and other House colleagues that a landlord in his district submitted an application for reimbursement in September. However, the application was incomplete because a renter did not supply their income. Unfortunately, the tenant died by suicide on the property.
The state ended up denying the landlord’s reimbursement in a situation they had no control over.
“Hearing stories of people reaching a point of desperation so deep that they take their own lives should really be something that we all take to heart. This is life and death for so many,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago). “And I don’t want us to ever lose our grip of that.”
Faust said there is no policy in place to address that specific situation. She said tenants and landlords can call 877-428-8844 if they need housing assistance.
Faust also said IHDA will have emergency homeowner assistance coming this spring. Struggling homeowners will have the opportunity to apply for grants of up to $30,000. She hopes to have more information about that program in February. That will be welcome for many across the state who continue to wait for their opportunity to receive help on their mortgage payments.
The state hopes this will be a $200 million program that could grow in later rounds. Faust said people won’t have the ability to directly apply for the homeownership program. She said applicants must have previous conversations with their mortgage servicer or a housing counseling agency first.
“These are requirements that the federal government and Treasury are imparting to us,” Faust said. “The homeowner assistance fund is meant to be a fund of last resort.”
Guzzardi and Faust encouraged people to contact their mortgage servicer or housing counseling agency now so they can be prepared for that application process.
Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) said the state should also consider funding for people who may have been able to catch up on their housing payments but still need financial aid for food or utilities. Ramirez stressed that people are still going to be dealing with debt once the homeowner program starts.
“Maybe the Department of Human Services can provide assistance because that debt is still there incurred. And it was COVID-related,” Ramirez said. “I hearing a lot from constituents who are paying off the mortgage at the expense of a number of other things.”
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