activists call for more resources for homeless people as eviction ban ends | Chicago News


(WTTW News)

Chatham resident Edrika Fulford knows what it’s like to be homeless. After quitting her job as a family case manager to care for her ailing mother, Fulford became homeless in 2015. By that time, she had also lost her mother.

“When I experienced homelessness I was just stunned,” she said. “I graduated from university. I know that’s not supposed to happen. I wandered, slept on the train, got up and washed like at McDonald’s or White Castle, whatever little restaurant.

Fulford spent around four years visiting homeless shelters and staying with family and friends before finding his own apartment. But she is still concerned about her living situation, given that the Illinois moratorium on evictions is due to end on Aug. 31 – a Chicago law will automatically extend the city’s ban on evictions for another two months, they said. officials said.

“I’m about to be homeless again,” said Fulford, a leader of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless who receives disability benefits and says she is behind on rent and utilities. . “I’m still on the edge.”

Fulford is not alone.

More than 224,000 tenants in the Chicago metro area said they weren’t sure they could pay next month’s rent; Another 90,000 tenants have said they will likely be evicted in the next two months, according to the latest Household Pulse survey from the US Census Bureau.

“People clearly feel threatened by homelessness right now,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The moratorium on evictions has been vital during the pandemic, according to Dworkin. “The fact that he’s in place is the only reason we haven’t had an overwhelming flood of people living on the streets or in shelters, or in these other situations of living with others.” , she said.

Yet businesses are reopening and residents are starting to resume their pre-pandemic activities – including owners, she notes. “It is unrealistic to think that we could have a moratorium on evictions forever,” she said.

And that shouldn’t go on forever, according to Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections for the Homeless.

“Homeowners have to pay mortgages on buildings. … Someone who lives for free in their investment property is not something we should be asking landlords. It’s not like they’re the enemy, ”Bogg said. “We don’t see owners as particularly keen on chasing people. They want their money, to which they are entitled.

Since the moratorium only suspended rent payments – rather than erasing them – Bogg predicts an increase in demand for eviction prevention services.

Connections has quintupled its eviction prevention staff from one to five to meet demand during the pandemic, Bogg said. “Before the pandemic people were two to three months behind on rent, now we are seeing people who are 12 months behind on rent,” she said.

Illinois has provided emergency rent assistance throughout the pandemic in an effort to prevent evictions, and in May Gov. JB Pritzker announced $ 1.5 billion in housing assistance would be made available to residents.

Illinois residents who have lost their jobs or had their paychecks cut due to the pandemic are entitled to up to $ 25,000 to cover missed rent payments. Authorities will provide $ 500 million in aid in this cycle, which is expected to help 63,000 households. Applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

“Households who are behind on their rent or at risk of eviction should not wait for help,” Illinois Housing Development Authority executive director Kristin Faust said in a statement. “IHDA staff are working to get these funds out as quickly as possible to households in need. Funding is still available, and if you’re struggling to pay your rent, I urge you to apply for your share of support before the program closes on July 18. “

But Dworkin is not convinced that there will be enough money to help all who need it.

“In Chicago, for example, in the last cycle, 26,000 households applied for rent and utility assistance. They were asking for $ 137 million, but there was only $ 80 million available, ”she said.

Bogg shares Dworkin’s concerns.

“People who live in poverty are deeply vulnerable to any kind of disruption, and now we are also seeing people who never dreamed they would need our services,” Bogg said.

Many people who would not have been eligible for aid before the pandemic due to income restrictions now need help, according to Bogg.

To ensure these people can receive help, her organization is urging donors not to add further restrictions, she said. “Our job is to prevent homelessness, and certainly some people before the pandemic had a lot more resources and a better chance of getting back on their feet sooner – even these people could have burned all those savings,” he said. she declared.

To avoid a wave of evictions, Dworkin says there are a few things the governor can do while the moratorium is lifted.

“Anyone who has a pending rent assistance application should not be kicked out as huge rent assistance programs are implemented and applications take time to process,” she said. “And any landlord who wishes to evict due to non-payment of rent should be required to attempt to access rent assistance and be refused.”

Additionally, if a landlord receives rental assistance, they should be prohibited from carrying out an eviction, according to Dworkin. “We have seen cases where (landlords) wanted to continue evicting even though they had received rental assistance, so that must also be a requirement.”

A spokesperson for Pritzker’s office could not be reached for comment, but a new state law seals the records of all evictions between March 2020 and March 2022 in a bid to prevent financial problems related to the pandemic to deepen a tenant’s ability to secure future housing. On Wednesday, the governor’s office announced that another round of rent subsidies would open in the fall.

As for Fulford, she says she has applied for every aid program she’s heard of and continues to pay rent, even though she’s still late.

“It becomes a thing where you rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “You find yourself in a constant cycle where you are always late. “

What lies ahead is frightening, she said. And not just for her.

“Once the moratorium on evictions is abolished, you will see an onslaught of homeless people because the city has nothing planned for it,” she said.

Before the pandemic, 77,000 people in Chicago were homeless, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“We know homelessness existed before this (pandemic) and it’s going to persist and it’s definitely going to get worse,” Dworkin said, “and the only solution is permanent housing resources that need continued funding.”

Additional rental assistance information is available on the Illinois Housing Development Authority website and on the Illinois Department of Social Services website.

For help with eviction and tenancy and utilities, visit the Cook County Legal Aid website, the Eviction Help Illinois website, or the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | (773) 509-5452 | [email protected]

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