CHICAGO — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rent.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Illinois:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
The state plans to end its own moratorium on evictions by August, sixteen months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued it.
Pritzker extended the order several times. After landlords of small properties complained that it was hurting them financially, the Democrat modified his order in November to require tenants to vouch that they met certain conditions.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
The state expects to provide $1.1 billion in rent relief payments to renters and landlords, plus $400 million that will be available in some cities. Pritzker's office estimated that the money could help more than 120,000 people.
Individuals can apply for up to $25,000 that would be paid directly to landlords. A separate $280 million program focuses on utility costs.
A new state law also seals records of any evictions between March 2020 and March 2022, aiming to prevent pandemic-related financial woes from deepening a renter's ability to get future housing.
Teri Ross, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online, also encouraged people who are behind in their rent payments to contact community groups that have received money from federal relief packages to offer aid or legal services.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
It varies, based on the renter's location. Ross said counties in the Chicago metropolitan area are not allowing landlords to file lawsuits seeking to boot tenants for being late on their rent.
Elsewhere, counties that have accepted eviction filings largely are not acting on them. Eviction orders entered before the pandemic began and those based on health and safety concerns have been allowed to proceed in the state.
But advocates expect that court hearings and eviction enforcement will resume once the federal and state moratoriums end.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority is providing training on rent relief and other assistance to judges around the state. The agency's director, Kristin Faust, said the goal is to encourage landlords and tenants to enter mediation rather than move toward eviction. Housing advocates said some counties already have embraced that approach and hope it will help some renters stay in their homes while giving their landlords financial relief.
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
As of May, the median monthly rent for studio and one or two-bedroom apartments in the Chicago area had dropped by 1.9% over the past year, to $1,650, according to a report released June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment increased by 5.6%, to $1,900.
Those prices are far out of reach for many renters in the city and surrounding suburbs, said Karla Chrobak, a supervising attorney with CARPLS Legal Aid, an organization that provides free legal help in Cook County.
Chrobak said clients seeking the group’s help already struggled to find affordable housing before the pandemic, making the prospect of being evicted now “terrifying.”
The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, a Chicago nonprofit that helps low-income renters, found that evictions in the city declined from 2010 through 2019. But the organization also highlighted an apparent link between the similarly sinking unemployment rate and the eviction trend.
In a December report, the organization worried that higher unemployment rates during the pandemic portended a looming surge in evictions this year.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
Ross said community organizations around the state “are in fear of seeing mass evictions.”
“I hope that we see communities working together, landlords and tenants,” she said. “Keeping communities stable is largely dependent on keeping people housed consistently — not precariously.”
One indication of the scope of the problem is recent census data showing that 100,578 Illinois residents were concerned that they could be evicted within the next two months.
Faust, director of the state agency managing rent relief, hopes shared efforts to keep tenants in their homes will help Illinois avoid mass evictions.
“We’re going through a shared trauma here and we’re going to deal with it together and we’re going to address it together,” she said.