Illinois Likely Faces Surge Of Evictions If Moratorium Is Not Extended

Housing advocates fear a massive number of evictions in Illinois after the state’s moratorium expires on July 26. 

“We have an impending housing crisis in our region,” said Jenny Connelly-Bowen, executive director of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis.

The moratorium by Gov. J.B. Pritzker bars landlords from filing eviction suits in court and the police from enforcing suits. It doesn’t mean that tenants are off the hook for rent, they just won’t be evicted if they cannot pay. 

“The moratorium doesn’t not affect your obligation to pay rent,” said Paul Matalonis, a staff attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. “You still owe the money, you just can’t file the eviction and eviction orders cannot be enforced while the moratorium is going.”

For many Illinoisans, it’s the only protection they have from being forced out of their homes in the middle of a global pandemic.

Illinois’ moratorium is set to expire at a particularly bad time, too, Connelly-Bowen said. Federal unemployment checks of $600 a week, which many Americans have been using to cover costs like rent, will also run out at the end of the month if Congress does not allocate more funding. 

“We need to flatten the housing crisis curve with more rental and mortgage assistance in the immediate term,” Connelly-Bowen said. “This looks like keeping more families in their homes in the short term using quick-response solutions just to ward off this giant wave of homelessness that we expect is coming.”

On the Missouri side of the St. Louis region, some eviction moratoriums have already expired, leading to an increase in people losing their homes.

The potential surge of evictions is particularly worrying to housing advocates since more people on average are testing positive for the coronavirus in the country and the region each day. 

“At a time when we have a pandemic rampant out in the community, forcing people out of their homes and into the streets is a direct connection to more exposure to the virus,” Connelly-Bowen said.

Illinois has done well to contain the coronavirus since March, but allowing evictions to resume would run counter to those public health efforts, said Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois.

“To take away someone’s home at this point seems in contradiction to that idea of what we should not be going out as much as possible and social distancing,” he said.

The state has set aside about $300 million in grants to help renters and homeowners avoid eviction. Those relief programs have not been entirely set up yet and won’t be ready for several more weeks, Palmer said.

“Gov. Pritzker should extend the moratorium on filing cases for a while longer until we have a better sense of whether the available resources for rent assistance are going to be sufficient,” he said.

Palmer said he expects more applicants than there is funding for rent and mortgage relief.

“Based on other smaller programs, we expect there will be many more applications for assistance than even that significant amount of money will be able to fund,” he said.

Illinois’ housing problem persists

Pritzker first filed the moratorium on evictions in an executive order in April, while the state was still under a stay-at-home order. The governor has extended the moratorium in 30-day increments since he first issued it nearly three months ago. 

It’s a move he could make again at the end of this week, Matalonis said. But the moratorium on evictions will eventually lift, and with it will likely come a surge in eviction cases.

“We’re worried we’re going to have more housing cases than we’ve ever had before and we won’t be able to handle them all by any means,” Matalonis said. “We weren’t handling all the housing cases before" the coronavirus pandemic.

The Land of Lincoln serves low-income residents in southern Illinois, the demographic that Palmer expects to be most affected when evictions resume.

“It would largely be minimum wage workers, people who are working part time and people who lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The impending crisis also highlights long-standing issues with housing affordability in the state and region, especially among communities of color, Connelly-Bowen said. 

“COVID has exposed a lot of fault lines that already existed in our society.” she said.

Connelly-Bowen said she expects people of color in the Metro East will be disproportionately affected by eviction cases, when they eventually resume. She added the real goal is reforming region-wide housing policy so that people don’t face evictions in the future.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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July 19, 2020 at 07:26AM

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