The state has made up to $25,000 available to renters who have fallen behind on their rent in one lump sum by expanding the Illinois Rental Payment Program to a total of $1.5 billion.
Eviction records filed due to financial hardship will also be sealed through August 2022.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 2877 on May 17, also announcing that the state will plan to "phase out" its moratorium on pandemic-related evictions by August.
Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-4th) was the bill's chief sponsor; Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Reps. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Kam Buckner (D-26th) co-sponsored it.
Funding for the program, which has been made available by the federal government, will be administered through the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
In a Herald interview, Peters praised Ramirez and several advocacy organizations for helping pass the bill. "It was on the idea that, during a pandemic, housing is a health care and human rights issue," he said.
"Specifically, if we were going to ask people to stay home, we needed to provide them with the rental relief and rental security that they need, as well as small landlords who are going to struggle to keep things going as we have stay-at-home orders."
The assistance is nearly four times the amount offered under the previous assistance program, which distributed more than $280 million to more than 260,000 households across the state that were financially impacted by COVID-19, officials said.
Through the bill’s signing, eligible tenants and landlords can apply to receive a one-time grant totaling up to $25,000 to cover a maximum of 15 months of missed rent from June 2020 through August 2021, or until funds are exhausted. Funds will be distributed directly to housing providers and landlords.
Speaking Monday on the Northwest Side, Pritzker called the launch of the new support program and bill signing “momentous,” as officials aim to provide additional assistance to over 120,000 households statewide.
"The Illinois Rental Assistance Program is a testament to how good government can make a life-changing difference for people when our dollars follow our values," Pritzker said. "This program expansion will allow us to take that impact to new heights for tens of thousands of Illinoisians."
In order to receive assistance through the Illinois Rental Payment Program, tenants must be able to prove financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19, provide proof of housing instability due to missed rent, and have a household income below 80 percent of their area median income. Eligible tenants and landlords can apply to receive assistance at illinoishousinghelp.org.
"We wanted to make the form and the process easier because it was a bit more complicated," Peters said. "It was everybody's first time ever dealing with a pandemic, and I think that the governor's office did a good job dealing with the legislature to make this process easier.
"We said, 'How can we make this process easier for the renter and the landlord so that they understand what they're getting and how they're getting it.' We made it so that if you're undocumented, you have access to the program, that you have some protections."
According to information from the Illinois Department of Human Services, an estimated 60,000 Illinois households are vulnerable for eviction in 2021 as a result of the pandemic.
Pritzker has issued monthly executive orders prohibiting evictions due to pandemic-related financial hardship since March of 2020.
According to Housing Action Illinois, the bill requires the sealing of all eviction records between March 2020 and March 2022 upon filing, with limited unsealing allowed if a judgment is entered and the case is unrelated to nonpayment of rent.
The bill also requires the sealing of older eviction records if the court finds that doing so is in the interests of justice, the case is dismissed, the tenant did not breach the lease, or the parties agree to seal the record. The provision sunsets on July 31, 2022.
Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois, said in a phone call that the governor’s announcement regarding the eviction moratorium was expected as the state has met adequate criteria to do so. But he also said his organization would continue to advocate for phasing out the moratorium in a responsible manner.
Palmer added the new round of assistance would be important to continue to support renters and homeowners facing financial challenges due to the pandemic.
"We knew this was coming sooner rather than later," Palmer said. "We look forward to IHDA and the Illinois Department of Human Services getting as much of that rent assistance out as possible between now and August."
"We're going to be developing some recommendations for his office about how to responsibly (lift the moratorium)," he added. "We will ask his office continue to monitor the status of that pandemic and ask them to reevaluate that decision based on current public health needs and how well IHDA is able to get these rental assistance dollars out."
Peters said the end of the eviction moratorium and the passage of HB 2877 are two different things.
"The idea is that if you're having a massive rental relief program, it's designed so that people can stay in their home," he said. "I would always believe that, as long as there's a bit of the pandemic, we should do whatever we can to protect people, but I would at least say that we're going to have a huge influx of financial support coming in."
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.