COVID-19 has deepened Chicago’s affordable housing crisis, and federal government must step in

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COVID-19 has rocked the city’s housing market. The loss of jobs is driving many of our friends and neighbors to miss rent, making the buildings they call home vulnerable to foreclosure when landlords are unable to pay their own expenses.

The figures are austere. Chicago affordable housing providers recently surveyed by the Department of Housing reported rent collection declines of up to 61% in recent weeks. It’s the same sad story across the country. The National Multifamily Housing Council, a group in the multi-family apartment construction industry, surveyed its members and found a 60% increase in non-payments through April 12 compared to the same time ago. a year.

Even before the crisis, 63% of African American renters and 56% of Latino renters in Chicago were overcharged, compared to 42% of white renters. Let’s face it: long before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed, Chicago was a city with deep racial and economic segregation and insufficient affordable housing.

COVID-19 does not create inequities, it simply reflects the inequities we already had.

The road to recovery must involve supporting each other like never before. If you are one of the lucky ones who did not lose income during this time, one of the best ways to support those who do is to pay your rent.

Homeowners have a better chance of being flexible with those who can’t pay if those who can. A wave of evictions or foreclosures is not in anyone’s best interests.

The city is doing all it can to deal with the crisis. By the end of March, the housing department made 2,000 housing assistance grants available and received 83,000 applications in just five days. (Donate next round to https://givetogethernow.org/; under Location preference, select Chicago.)

Last week, we introduced new grants to our affordable homeowners to fill rental deficits and remove the red tape to refinance city loans in weeks instead of months. The grants are expected to go a long way in stabilizing more than 3,400 affordable housing units, ensuring the safety of thousands of men, women and children in their homes.

As the mayor says, we are all in the same boat. But the “whole” must also include the federal government.

The federal CARES law gave many problems a good start, but only a small part was devoted to housing. To cope with the scale of the crisis, we simply need more federal resources to house low- and moderate-income Chicagoans. We’re talking about $ 100 billion nationwide for direct rent assistance alone, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Here’s what else Chicago tenants and landlords need from Washington’s upcoming COVID-19 relief program:

  • Emergency rent assistance and long-term sustained support for programs that produce and maintain affordable housing. Direct short-term rental assistance would meet the needs of tenants who do not already have a subsidy such as a Home Choice Voucher and can help landlords stay afloat.
  • Funding for local governments that can make up for lost revenue. This will allow us to better fund response efforts such as our housing assistance fund and our affordable multi-family home emergency assistance program.
  • Relief for affordable housing developments supported by the city. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is by far the city’s most important program for creating and preserving new affordable rental housing. It is crucial during this unprecedented crisis that planned LIHTC buildings receive extensions on time to ensure this program continues to serve Chicago’s low-income tenants.

These are just some of the many things we need from the federal government. These precious resources, however, must be dispersed in a manner that takes into account the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black and brown communities.

History tells us to expect an inequitable impact: During the housing crisis that began in 2008, black and Latino households were almost 50% more likely to face foreclosure than white households, and the racial wealth gap has widened. Just as we have seen with disproportionate levels of COVID-19 infection and death among black people, we are concerned and are working to address the housing impacts of the virus on communities of color.

Our housing solutions must and will meet the needs of tenants and landlords. We are committed to avoiding both large-scale evictions and seizures. We know that by providing or maintaining stable and affordable housing, we are investing in the people who live there, who, by having an affordable and quality home, can be free to focus on other aspects of their lives. that matter: Family, work, school and, of course, health.

Marisa Novara is Chicago’s Housing Commissioner.



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