KANKAKEE — The physical effects of COVID-19 may be falling into the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean the side effects of the pandemic won’t continue to plague the region.
This impact, however, will have nothing to do with the Kankakee County Health Department or Riverside Medical Center or AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee. It will have everything to do with people — most notably renters — being able to have a roof over their heads.
It will be the result of nationwide federal moratoriums on residential evictions. The first was established as part of the CARES Act and ran from March 2020 to July 2020, though it remained valid until Aug. 23, 2020. On Sept. 4, 2020, a new moratorium was put into effect by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, but has been continually extended.
Now, after the Supreme Court decided to not make a change to the end date, the moratorium is set to expire on Saturday, July 31.
The eviction ban was said to be put in place to protect renters during the pandemic. It also sought to avoid overwhelming homeless shelters, which officials believed would have added to the increased spread of COVID-19.
After the multiple extensions, though, it has resulted in a massive amount of unpaid rent due to landlords across the country.
In Kankakee alone, the total unpaid rent is likely to exceed $3 million, said Barbi Brewer-Watson, Kankakee’s Economic and Community Development Agency director.
While Kankakee may be the hardest hit municipality within Kankakee County regarding lost rental income, every village and city will feel some impact.
Even the Kankakee County court system is bracing for an impact. In anticipation of the July 31 deadline, this week brought an onslaught of eviction filings, with more than 35 already on the books as of mid-afternoon Wednesday, said Sandi Cianci, Kankakee County Circuit Clerk.
While eviction filings can begin, she said, the actual removal of tenants cannot take place until Sept. 1 in Illinois.
Landlords hit hard
Brewer-Watson, who’s leading the city’s efforts to find funding to assist landlords who are experiencing deep economic pain due to the pandemic and the ban on evicting occupants for failure to pay rent, said because the city’s housing inventory is basically half rental versus half owner-occupied, the economic pain here may be significant.
“We have thousands of properties here that are rental units. We are trying to get some sense of the problem,” she said.
While rental property owners who specialize in the business may be able to weather the COVID-induced storm, the smaller rental management companies may not.
“We have many landlords who haven’t been receiving rent for 12-15 months. They are still required to pay their mortgage and their property taxes,” Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis said.
Curtis added, “And we know in so many cases that this back rent will never be found.”
Curtis is investigating if there is any way the city can use any of its nearly $15 million of federal relief funds to aid hard-hit landlords.
There is a real fear that this situation could have a greater impact than the housing market collapse of 2009-12 had on the region.
“We have so many family-based landlord businesses. Where do they get financial relief?” she asked. “We’re looking. ... This is a complex conversation, a difficult conversation.”
According to the 2019 U.S. Census estimates, of Kankakee’s 9,047 housing units, only 47.6 percent were owner-occupied. That figure means Kankakee’s rental property business is highly susceptible to significant losses of revenues due to the moratorium and the resulting unpaid rent.
By comparison, 68 percent of Kankakee County’s 45,747 housing units are owner-occupied. That means there could be a large number of renters in danger of losing their residences.
Where to go?
Curtis said if mass evictions take place, he doesn’t know where this sudden influx of homeless will find shelter.
“And to further the homeless problem we will be going into the winter season. This will be a different homeless problem than we are used to,” he said, referring to the many young people who will be impacted. “My fear is we may have a homeless situation like we have never seen before.”
Dawn Broers, executive director of Fortitude Community Outreach, is anticipating a “large number” of new homeless due to the pending eviction proceedings.
“I believe we are going to see mass evictions, and we will see many of them on the streets or seeking emergency assistance,” Broers said.
She added that she is not blaming the rental property owners, noting that these are businesses and they must be able to make money to stay in operation.
She said many tenants have gone months without paying rents and the owners simply cannot bear that revenue loss.
“Property owners have been [financially] hurt. ... Landlords need as many incentives as possible right now. This area has so many ‘mom-and-pop’ rentals,” she said. “I believe those are going to have real difficulties.”
And to make the situation even a little more difficult, Fortitude does not begin offering nightly shelters for homeless until October.
That means, if evicted residents are not able to find a new apartment or a family or friend to offer a place to sleep, they could very well be living on the street.
Kankakee is not alone in this predicament. Though Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent is not anticipating as large of a problem in his community as rental is not as significant, he said, “One family being homeless is one too many.
“This is a situation which will impact the entire county,” he said.
He said he believes it could also cause future problems for renters, as landlords could become even more selective in who they sign a lease with in an effort to avoid further evictions and loss of more rental income in the future.
“This could lead to even more homeless because they simply may not be able to find a place they can rent,” he said.
He noted the three rounds of stimulus checks received by millions of people were distributed, in part, for people to pay for housing. Many people obviously did not use it for rental assistance.
“The best intentions of government does not always equate to what people do,” Nugent said.
Nugent, who is also the president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said he is worried about what effect these evictions will have on communities with high levels of rentals.
“Some areas are going to suffer,” he said. “They are going to see more people evicted and more problems as a result.”
One person who is living the rental crisis daily is Charlotte Ramiez, manager of Kohl Apartments, the Kankakee-based company which owns 129 properties, which house some 300 rental units.
She said there is no question there is going to be an onslaught of evictions and she said she fears what it will do to the community, as well as those people left without housing.
“It’s absolutely going to be a large number of evictions. It’s disappointing this moratorium went on for so long,” she said. “There is no question this is going to have a domino effect. I believe there are property owners who are going to lose their business or simply get out. There was not a huge profit margin in this in the first place.”
She said she is hopeful landlords will use evictions as a last resort, but she said she knows the property owners — just like Kohl Apartments — need their rental income to make ends meet.
“Do we have many people behind on rent? Yes,” she said, estimating perhaps up to 25 percent of their tenants are behind on rent.
“I’m afraid of what may happen,” she said.
KANKAKEE — The volume of recent teacher resignations in Kankakee School District 111 prompted questions from the school board about the reasons they are leaving, particularly from Kankakee High School.
Resignations approved during June and July board meetings have included 17 high school teachers and one high school guidance counselor, among other teacher and staff resignations. There were 312 FTE (full-time equivalent) teachers in the district in 2020, with 96 of those at Kankakee High School, according to Illinois Report Card data. There are 13 currently open positions at the high school with interviews pending, Superintendent Genevra Walters said.
By comparison, Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School had two resignations approved at its July board meeting, neither of whom were teachers, and it had eight resignations approved in June, including two teachers. BBCHS had 118 FTE teachers in 2020, according to IRC data.
Administrators suggested reasons include better paying high school teaching jobs outside of Kankakee County, as well as some teachers having moved out of state.
Beth Anderson, president of the Kankakee Federation of Teachers, also cited the lure of high school districts that pay thousands of dollars more and are a short drive north of Kankakee. She said there have been a lot of recent resignations, but this is not atypical for the district.
“Some years we’ve had greater than that,” she said. “The same goes for administration; administrators leave Kankakee often because they have better opportunities outside of Kankakee.”
The teacher shortage on a national level is also a factor in the difficulty keeping teachers, Anderson said.
“There are so many variables to why people resign, and of course, some people resign because they don’t like working in Kankakee,” Anderson said. “It is challenging. We have a lot of high needs in our district, and that is stressful and exhausting.”
During the July 26 meeting, Kankakee School Board member Deb Johnston said she is concerned after noticing an increased number of teachers resigning, especially from the high school. She asked administrators to be more vigilant about getting exit interviews from departing teachers and forwarding their responses to the board.
Johnston said the departure of so many teachers is “disheartening.”
“We’re losing a lot of good teachers, and I want to know why,” she said. “I want to know what their reasoning is. Instead of innuendos and rumors, I want to know if they would actually just fess up and say why they are leaving. Please tell us.”
Johnston said one teacher told her that her move out of state was specifically prompted by her desire to leave the district.
“I think if some things had changed or something was different, maybe she might not have [moved]; I don’t know,” Johnston said. “I’m just speculating, but [the teacher] did say there was so much conflict that she felt she needed to get out now.”
Shameka Fountain, the assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district cannot make anyone complete an exit interview, but teachers are asked for their reasons and to complete an exit interview upon resigning.
“Out of the list we sent to you, at least 10 of those teachers have moved out of state, and we are finding that out quite a bit, that some of our teachers are moving out of the State of Illinois,” Fountain noted. “Some are moving to other districts, or some are moving closer to home, for family reasons.”
Walters said that Kankakee School District pays well compared to elementary districts, but it cannot compete financially with high school districts in the south Chicago suburbs, some as close as 30 minutes north of Kankakee.
The nationwide teacher shortage makes it more difficult to be competitive and retain teachers, she added.
“The best way to put it is, we as a community need to remember that teachers are now in demand,” Walters said.
Anderson said there were a lot of resignations in June and July this year, while typically, they are more spread out in the last few months of the school year, starting in March. The pandemic may have played a role in the timing, she suggested, as other districts may not have known their needs or budgets as early as usual.
Anderson also said that it is difficult to attract and maintain teachers with the salaries offered in Kankakee School District; while the district is competitive among Kankakee County schools, it is not so competitive compared to others of similar size, such as Crete Monee School District.
Anderson added that many teachers commute to Kankakee, so when a job opens up closer to home, they apply because they can drive less and make more money.
“We don’t have a lot of people that live in Kankakee and work in Kankakee School District,” she said. “It’s less and less every year.”
Anderson said there is a “severe shortage” of teachers across the state as well as nationally.
Someone attending a four-year university to become a teacher might take out $60,000 in student loans, and when they start working, they might take home around $28,000 after paying for their insurance and retirement benefits, she explained.
Many teachers are getting master’s degrees in order to move up the pay scale, but this causes them to take on more debt as well, and they don’t realize the pay increase until later in their careers, Anderson said.
She also noted yearly raises in Kankakee have been 2 percent to 3 percent for the last decade of negotiations because of limited state funding.
With limited options for affordable housing in Kankakee, it can be a difficult place for young people and young families, she said.
“We need teachers, not just Kankakee, in every school,” Anderson said. “Everyone needs teachers, and everyone needs substitute teachers. It’s not just us; it’s everywhere.”
KANKAKEE — A Kankakee man wounded during last week’s fatal shooting incident was charged Thursday with first-degree murder in Kankakee County court.
Lyn Love, 30, is facing 12 counts of murder and three counts of home invasion in the July 23 shooting that left Rayshun D. Williams, 35, of Kankakee, dead, according to documents filed by the Kankakee County State’s Attorney office.
Love continues to be hospitalized with serious injuries. State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said according to hospital officials, Love will remain in the hospital another five to 10 days. Love is under 24-hour guard.
Kankakee County Circuit Judge Bill Dickenson set Love’s bond at $2 million.
In arguing for the high bond, Rowe said Love had two firearms on him when he kicked down the door of a home in the 600 block of South Poplar Avenue just before 7:30 a.m. July 23. Investigators recovered 21 .40 caliber shell casings and six 9mm shell casings from inside the home.
There were four children in the home at the time of the shooting, Rowe said. Police found Williams on the second floor of the residence with several gunshot wounds to the torso and arm. He was transported to Riverside Medical Center where he later died.
Love drove himself to AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital where a person heard cries for help and found Love lying on the ground outside a vehicle, according to police.
Rowe argued that Love had served prison time for an armed robbery and currently had a case for aggravated battery from 2020.
In arguing for Judge Dickenson to set the bond at $500,000, Love’s attorney, Bart Beals, said that Williams served time in prison on a weapon’s charge.
“I don’t want to speak ill of the victim, but my client is alleged to have had two guns. How did my client get shot?” Beals said. “Williams was the aggressor. He is not a stranger to firearms. My client was defending himself.”
Officials said it is believed the shooting was a result of a domestic-related issue involving Williams, Love and a woman known to both of them. Beals said Love was at the house to drop off one of his children with their mother.