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Rental aid, legal services still available for renters facing eviction
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
The state’s eviction moratorium will expire Sunday, and what comes next for renters will likely depend on their county of residence, as county courts and sheriffs will all have different approaches to executing evictions.
The original eviction moratorium was issued in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down the state and national economy, and it has been amended several times in the months following. The most recent iteration prevented law enforcement officials from carrying out evictions on “covered persons,” while a coinciding state Supreme Court order prevented certain trials and final judgements on eviction cases. Both will expire Sunday.
Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois, said during a phone call that he’s hopeful there won’t be a crush of evictions to happen on the day the moratorium expires, because the Supreme Court’s order has slowed the process of eviction cases moving through the courts.
Susan Simone, director of litigation and advocacy at Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, said during a phone call her organization has “already started to see a huge upswing in cases being filed.”
Land of Lincoln Legal Aid provides services such as legal advice and court representation free of charge to low-income individuals in central and southern Illinois. More information is available at lincolnlegal.org or by calling 877-342-7891.
“I ran some numbers earlier in September and we saw a 40 percent increase in housing calls from pre-COVID to 2021,” Simone said. “In August, we had 45 to 60 calls per week which was up from 25 to 35 in the weeks before.”
Simone said the organization had 405 open cases at the beginning of September, and that had increased to 480 open cases as of Friday.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen come Monday, but I do know that some landlords are waiting, or some landlords’ attorneys are waiting until Monday and have cases stacked up,” she said. “Some have already started filing. In Sangamon County, one attorney, we understand, filed over 55 cases just last week.”
Landlord groups have said the stay on eviction processes has stressed landlords, particularly those with smaller footprints. The Chicago-based Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, an alliance of several smaller neighborhood building owners associations in the area, said in a news release eviction proceedings are a necessary tool for landlords, even if they don’t always lead to an eviction.
“Just because we can begin the eviction process doesn’t mean that we want to,” Michael Glasser, president of NBOA, said in a statement. “Our housing providers don’t want to go through the long and painful legal process of eviction, especially when they have the opportunity to receive rental assistance.”
Gov. JB Pritzker’s office said it has released $443 million in legal aid Illinois has received from the federal government. There’s $61 million still to be distributed, and another $60 million is available through a court-based rental assistance program which is meant to serve as a “safety net” for those who may be eligible for rent assistance but otherwise have not applied. Landlords must include information on the program in court filings, and more information can be found at https://ilrpp.ihda.org.
The state has received more than 99,000 applications for rental aid and approved about 49,100 of them, according to the governor’s office. IHDA is reaching out to applicants who had incomplete or incorrectly filed applications, and applicants can check their status at https://ilrpp.ihda.org/status.
The NBOA noted that in Cook County, the eviction process can take months, and it offers many opportunities to settle. It’s the same in virtually every county, Palmer said.
In the Chicago area, renters seeking assistance can visit https://chicookilrenthelp.org. Assistance may also still be available in certain areas through the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the two state agencies overseeing disbursement of federal funding, at https://www.illinoisrentalassistance.org/providers. The IHDA call center can be reached at 866-454-3571.
Free legal assistance, such as that offered by Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, may be accessed through Eviction Help Illinois by visiting https://evictionhelpillinois.org or calling 855-631-0811.
Simone said there are also several rights that renters should be aware of if they are facing eviction.
“I think people really need to understand that if they get a summons for eviction, they have to go to court,” she said. “They have to get there on time, because orders are entered into if they’re not there.”
Renters can always request a trial, especially if they believe their landlord is refusing to apply for rental aid, and they should not agree to anything they don’t understand or that is not very specific.
“If the landlord’s attorney says, you know, ‘do you agree to be out?’ and they are agreeable to being out, make sure they know what the date’s going to be, that they understand they have to be gone by that date. If they need more time, they should ask for more time,” Simone said.
Simone said those who fear they are facing eviction should call their county sheriff to see if there’s anything scheduled in terms of an eviction date. If there is an eviction order entered, if it’s more than 120 days old, she said, the sheriff should not be enforcing it, and the landlord is required to get an extension order from the court.
Despite all of the efforts to prevent homelessness, Simone said, she’s seen an uptick anecdotally in homelessness in the Land of Lincoln territory.
“I travel around our service territory a fair amount and everywhere I go I see homeless people now that I didn’t see before,” she said.
Palmer said Housing Action Illinois maintains a database of homelessness prevention services, including local Continuum of Care networks. It can be viewed at https://housingactionil.org/get-help/resources-homeless/. Housing Action Illinois can be reached by phone at 312-939-6074.