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Illinois Emergency Housing Assistance and Latinos: Shortcomings, Challenges and New Opportunities

Recent distributions of housing-assistance funds in Illinois fail to reach those hardest hit. New partnerships and culturally appropriate efforts could go a long way towards rectifying that.

By Sarah Cartagena, Immigration Analyst, and Noreen Sugrue, Director or Research

The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) has disbursed roughly $324M in rental and mortgage assistance, allocated from the federal CARES Act, to landlords and mortgage companies for missed payments by households hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA) provided each household $5,000, paid directly to the landlord, and the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (EMA) provided up to $25,000 directly to the homeowner's mortgage provider.

Given that these dollars were to redress some of COVID’s impact, Latinos in Illinois were disproportionately underserved. Illinois’ Latino community, which is about 17 percent of the state’s population, is one of the most severely impacted by COVID-19. They are the group that has suffered the greatest rate of COVID-related job loss or wage reductions. They have the highest overall rate of cases and highest rate of deaths to those aged 20-59. Yet only 12 percent of the Emergency Rental Assistance and 17 percent of the Emergency Mortgage Assistance went to Latino households

One possible reason for this shortcoming might be that a written lease needed to be demonstrated in order to receive assistance (even though Illinois allow verbal leases). It also might have been a product of widespread fear of sharing personal information within the Latino and immigrant communities, or of a lack of knowledge that assistance was even available, regardless of legal status. Another possible reason for this inequitable distribution is that many organizations lack capacity to conduct both outreach and intake services in Spanish.

There has long been a glaring lack of emergency housing assistance for Latinos living outside of the City of Chicago, despite the fact that 63 percent of Illinois Latinos live outside Chicago. For example, Latinos are very highly represented in Aurora’s and Waukegan’s populations, and those cities are experiencing some of the state’s highest rates of morbidity and mortality due to COVID. Yet Latinos living in those communities did not receive a fair, or even population-proportionate level of housing assistance.

Furthermore, of the 62 organizations entrusted to conduct outreach and intake of the rental and mortgage assistance applications, the 10 that intentionally serve members of the Latino community are all located in Chicago. 

IHDA has a chance to remedy this situation as they plan their second distribution of rental assistance, funded through the December COVID-19 relief package. According to the most recent U.S Census Bureau Pulse Survey, because of COVID, approximately 30 percent of Latino renters in Illinois have little to no confidence of being able to make their next rental payment.

In order to distribute a fair proportion of desperately needed rental assistance to the Latino community, IDHA needs to design and implement more creative and effective outreach efforts. These efforts must be culturally and linguistically appropriate as well.

Specifically, IHDA should partner with more Latino and immigrant-serving community-based organizations, especially outside of the City of Chicago. Although many such groups may not specialize in housing, they are experts in community outreach, and especially outreach to those in precarious circumstances.

In addition, these organizations have already gained the trust of their communities and possess the language skills required to ensure that households receive secure, fair assistance. Two potentially impactful partnerships would be with the IDHS Welcoming Centers and Immigrant Family Resource Program organizations.

Finally, IHDA must focus on making special outreach to landlords. This communication must focus on the mutual benefits that this program offers to both tenants and landlords.