A group of state and city legislators that includes State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) has proposed legislation to extend more protections to tenants and homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Currently, the state is covered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s April 30 executive order, which prohibits almost all new eviction actions in the state through May 29. (Two housing lawyers have told the Herald that the order means landlords can’t file new evictions.) 

But the executive order also means that tenants will still be on the hook for rent payments, including late rental payments, after the crisis is over. A proposed bill from State Rep. Delia C. Ramirez, which Peters is endorsing, would change that. To begin with, it would cancel rent for anyone with a “COVID-19 related hardship” — that includes loss of income or hours, but also “increased household, childcare, health care or other expenses.” 

Ramirez cannot officially file the bill yet, since the state legislature isn’t in session, though senators and representatives have convened working groups in the interim. 

In a statement, Peters outlined his support for the bill. “What is clear is this double crisis of a pandemic and economic crises is on its way to being worse than the Great Recession. We must act to not only flatten the curve health wise but flatten the economic inequality that exists,” he said. “This is especially important for working class Black and Brown families. We must reframe public safety in our communities and one important way to provide that safety to people is a roof over their head.” 

The law would rewrite significant portions of the state’s existing eviction laws while the pandemic is happening. There is a moratorium on residential and small business evictions (except in cases where a tenant presents a violent threat to others). The bill also provides for more protections after the pandemic, outlining a path for landlords and tenants to enter into a payment plan. Those payment plans allow the tenant at least a year to pay back rent, and do not allow the landlord to charge late fees. (It also can’t be more than a third of the tenant’s household income — the number is a common benchmark for housing affordability.) 

The proposed legislation includes protections for homeowners, too: it would cancel mortgage payments for everyone and establish a Residential Housing Relief Fund to pay back both landlords and lenders. The fund also would be used to assist renters and mortgage-holders after the end of the pandemic. The bill also includes a foreclosure moratorium, as well as an added grace period for homeowners to make mortgage payments.

The legislators behind the law are part of the Right to Recovery Coalition, a group of lawmakers, unions and community groups that have outlined a package of measures aimed at mitigating the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black communities. Apart from Peters, the group includes Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th). 

Thursday afternoon the coalition conducted a car caravan protest, converging in front of the Thompson Center after meeting at different locations around the city. Apart from showing support for Ramirez’s bill, coalition members called on Pritzker to commute the sentences of some people in prison. The group also wants City Council to meet more regularly, and for the city to create a mortgage relief fund for small landlords. 

On Tuesday, Capitol News Illinois reported that some Illinois House staffers were beginning to return to work at the Capitol, but Pritzker has not yet said when the legislature will be allowed to reconvene.

Reporter

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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