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$33 million in COVID help available to Chicago renters, property owners


Three months after unveiling a non-binding “Housing Solidarity Pledge” that appeased no one, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday showcased $33 million in relief for renters and property owners bankrolled by federal stimulus funds and local philanthropies.

Shortly after the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus, Lightfoot offered 2,000 Chicagoans struggling to stay in their homes grants of $1,000 apiece. The $2 million was nowhere near enough to meet the demand from 83,000 applicants.

Now, those who struck out in Round One will be “automatically transferred” to a $25 million Round 2, “more than ten times” the initial investment made by the Chicago Department of Housing There is no need to re-apply.

Together with $8 million from the Department of Family and Support Services, Chicago is dedicating $33 million to “eviction and foreclosure prevention,” officials said.

“Thanks to this investment, more Chicagoans will be able to stave off foreclosure, eviction and homelessness and the pain and insecurity that comes with it,” Lightfoot told a City Hall news conference.

“This is truly a special day for our city and our many families that will be hurting just a little bit less.”

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the city “self-funded” the $2 million first round of rental assistance grants “precisely because we did not know how long it was going to take us … to put together what we hoped was a stream of government funds that would help us to do more.”

To stave off a wave of foreclosures, the city has set aside $3.5 million to provide mortgage assistance for struggling homeowners. That program, operated by Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, will earmark up to $3,300 “directly to lenders to cover past-due payments, future payments or both.”

To qualify, one must be an “owner-occupant homeowner” enduring “COVID-19-related financial hardship” and earn no more than 120% of the average median income.

Another $500,000 will bankroll “pro-bono attorneys for COVID-impacted Chicagoans at immediate risk of eviction” through the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing.

Well aware the alphabet soup of assistance programs can be confusing, a new online city portal has been established — chi.gov/housinghelp — to help direct struggling Chicagoans to the housing resources that meet their needs best.

The Cook County eviction moratorium in place throughout the pandemic ends Aug. 22.

“In total, we anticipate that our funds will assist a minimum of 10,000 households to stay in the places that they call home,” Novara said.

On April 29, residential housing groups, landlord associations and lenders signed a non-binding “Housing Solidarity Pledge” to show “flexibility and restraint” in dealing with one another during this unprecedented time of hardship to prevent the pandemic from triggering another wave of foreclosures.

Participating landlords agreed to offer grace periods with terms that “avoid repayment at the end of the deferral period.” They also promised to waive late fees for missed payments and allow renters who miss payments to amortize those payments over time.

No one was satisfied because it was only a pledge.

But with $1.1 billion avalanche of federal stimulus funds, Chicago is now in a position to deliver more.

“What you see today is partnership with government, with non-profits across the city of Chicago to provide needed, critical resources for families to stay in their homes during the middle of a pandemic,” said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), chairman of the City Council’s Housing Committee.

“This has an impact on families. But it also has an impact on communities.”



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