County rental as­sis­tance pro­gram to help house­holds hit hard by virus

Sub­ur­ban res­i­dents will be able to ap­ply for re­lief Mon­day that could cover up to 3 months of rent

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY ELVIA MALAGÓN, STAFF RE­PORTER emalagon@sun­times.com | @Elvi­aMalagon Elvia Malagón’s re­port­ing on so­cial jus­tice and in­come in­equal­ity is made pos­si­ble by a grant from the Chicago Com­mu­nity Trust.

Start­ing next week, Cook County res­i­dents be­hind on rent can ap­ply for as­sis­tance through a new pro­gram that is ex­pected to pro­vide house­holds im­pacted by the COVID-19 pan­demic with up to $4,500 each, Cook County of­fi­cials an­nounced Fri­day.

The $20 mil­lion pro­gram will take ap­pli­ca­tions start­ing Mon­day through Aug. 18. It’s ex­pected to pro­vide fi­nan­cial re­lief of up to three months of rent — or up to $4,500 — to as many as 7,000 sub­ur­ban house­holds, said Richard Monoc­chio, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hous­ing Author­ity of Cook County.

The as­sis­tance is part of fed­eral funds pro­vided to the county from the fed­eral Coro­n­avirus Aid, Re­lief, and Eco­nomic Se­cu­rity Act.

Re­cip­i­ents will be picked through a lottery sys­tem, though 25% of the par­tic­i­pants will be specif­i­cally cho­sen be­cause they live in ar­eas in the county that were hard­est hit by COVID-19 cases, of­fi­cials said. The county will give the money di­rectly to land­lords.

“It’s a very ter­ri­fy­ing time for many fam­i­lies in Cook County and through­out this coun­try,” said

Com­mis­sioner Bran­don John­son, D-Chicago, stand­ing out­side of the Oak Park Re­gional Hous­ing Cen­ter with other of­fi­cials. “As our [Cook County] pres­i­dent has al­ready in­di­cated, the so­cial in­equal­i­ties and the gross in­equities that have ex­isted for a very long time in many of our com­mu­ni­ties have been ex­ac­er­bated by this pan­demic and this cri­sis.”

John­son pointed to sub­ur­ban May­wood, where about 25% of the vil­lage is un­em­ployed, as an ex­am­ple of a com­mu­nity that has been hit hard by a pan­demic caus­ing fi­nan­cial dev­as­ta­tion across the coun­try.

Athena Wil­liams, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Oak Park Re­gional Hous­ing Cen­ter, said that in July alone, the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived 800 calls from in­di­vid­u­als who needed help mak­ing rent and mort­gage pay­ments.

Wil­liams, like other hous­ing ad­vo­cates, an­tic­i­pates a rise in evic­tions in the com­ing months. She said news of the as­sis­tance pro­gram made her happy.

“If I was in church, I would say ‘Amen, clap your hands,’” Wil­liams said, as the small crowd obliged.

Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle de­scribed the pan­demic as “rav­aging” the county, say­ing many work­ing fam­i­lies have suf­fered the brunt of the eco­nomic im­pact. A mora­to­rium on evic­tions in Cook County is set to end Aug. 22.

“It’s ev­i­dent that the need re­mains crit­i­cal and ur­gent,” Preck­win­kle said.

To qual­ify, renters have to show a fi­nan­cial hard­ship tied to the pan­demic such as be­ing fur­loughed, hav­ing work hours re­duced or hav­ing to quit a job be­cause of COVID-19. An in­di­vid­ual house­hold must have had an in­come less than $51,000 be­fore March 27 to qual­ify. A house­hold of five must have an in­come less than $78,650 to ap­ply.

Ap­pli­cants do not have to be U.S. cit­i­zens or res­i­dents. Res­i­dents who have a hous­ing choice voucher aren’t el­i­gi­ble for the as­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to the county’s web­site.

Res­i­dents can re­view their el­i­gi­bil­ity at cook­coun­tyil.gov/re­cov­ery.

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