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Cook County to provide $20 million in CARES Act money to rental aid for suburban households, but Preckwinkle stresses additional federal funds needed

Friday, August 07, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

Cook County government will give out $20 million in federal CARES Act funds to suburban residents struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced Friday while emphasizing the need for a slow-moving Congress to advance a second stimulus package.

Households earning under 80% of the area median income — under about $72,000 for a family of four — can apply for grants that will cover overdue or future rent, Rich Monocchio, executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County, said at a news conference in Oak Park. Up to $4,500 is available per household to pay between one to three months of rent.

“When this pandemic ravaged Cook County and so many working families experienced hardship, we knew that we had to do more,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “The need remains critical and urgent.”

Suburban residents can apply at www.cookcountyil.gov/recovery from Aug. 10 to 18.

Because officials anticipate the demand will exceed their available funds, applicants will be randomly chosen before awards go out to landlords, Monocchio said.

One-quarter of the $20 million will go to places bearing the brunt of the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic. Monocchio estimates the maximum number of households benefiting from the program will be about 7,000.

“It only stands to reason that during a period like this, the county would have a program that helps the most vulnerable renters stay in their homes and weather out this pandemic,” Monocchio said.

The program is only available to suburban Cook County residents. Last week, Chicago launched its own series of housing grants totaling $33 million. Chicago residents can apply for mortgage and rental assistance funded by the federal coronavirus relief bill at chi.gov/housinghelp, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced. Statewide, another $300 million from the aid package will be doled out through two Illinois Housing Development Authority programs for rent and mortgage help.

During the news conference, Preckwinkle expressed impatience over Congress’ drawn-out talks over the second federal stimulus package, which she has long stressed is crucial for Cook County.

“Congress seems nowhere near ready to approve continued unemployment benefits,” Preckwinkle said. “This is critical for so many folks who’ve lost their jobs.”

Experts fear that for tenants suffering the most during the pandemic’s economic downturn, the looming expiration on Illinois’ eviction moratorium as well last month’s end of extra unemployment benefits under the CARES Act could spur a groundswell of evictions across the state. In July, Gov. J.B. Pritzker postponed the moratorium deadline through Aug. 22, and this week the state announced a 20-week extension of additional jobless benefits.

“The Cook County program and the other programs are going to help a significant number of people,” Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois, said. “But they won’t come anywhere close to meeting the overall needs for people who are having a hard time affording housing, which is a long-term problem but it’s particularly bad now because of COVID-19.”

In July, 27.9% of Illinoisans missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment or did not think they could make next month’s housing payment on time, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. A report released by the Aspen Institute on Friday estimates 30 million to 40 million Americans could risk eviction in the next several months.

“The freezes are going to lift, and when that happens, we are going to see a serious wave of evictions if there isn’t any policy response,” said Michelle Layser, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law. “It’s a big problem. There’s been a real failure at the federal level.”

Xochitl Flores, Cook County bureau chief of economic development, said the rental assistance program, run by the Bureau of Economic Development and HACC, also would mobilize outreach to communities of color, families with children, veterans and disabled residents. In addition, programs for mortgage assistance and eviction prevention will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

“As the spring and the summer rode on, it became clear that the greatest challenge facing our communities, would be for residents to stay safely within their homes,” Flores said. “Our goal is to help those who are the most vulnerable and most impacted by COVID.”



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