Eye On Illinois: Chasing the moving target of affordable housing shortage


Numbers tell a story, but rarely without help.

On Monday, state Reps. Dagmara Avelar, D-Barrington, and Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, published a guest column titled “State tax credit a bipartisan approach to easing Illinois’ affordable housing deficit.” The lawmakers advocated for passage of the Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit. When I first wrote about that proposal in April 2021, the bipartisan backers were state Reps. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, who now sits in Congress, and Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, out of the General Assembly after a failed bid to become treasurer.

No matter the advocates, the hearts seem in the right place. The federal Low-Income Housing Tax credit has indeed been a successful means of encouraging private development of lower-cost housing options and House Bill 2044 would add a state credit, following nearly half of other states trying to solve similar problems.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

“The Build Illinois Homes State Tax Credit calls for creating an estimated 3,500 homes or apartments each year, generating nearly $1 billion in economic activity and $300 million in state and local taxes paid over the next decade, and more than 17,000 jobs supported during that time,” Avelar and Spain wrote. “Each annual round of tax credits will cost the state $350 million spread over 10 years, but the economic returns generated from the program will more than offset the cost.”

A 2022 Illinois Housing Council report the lawmakers cited said the state’s housing deficit grew almost 64% in a decade; now there are 120,000 fewer units than needed. At 3,500 new units per year, the plan could close the gap in 35 years. But the same report notes Illinois “lost 13% of its low-rent units since 2011,” so we’re chasing a moving target.

The IHC also said the state’s share of households behind on rent is 16.7% and in 2020 44.1% of renters were paying at least 30% of income toward housing with almost 25% paying more than half. The average fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit is $1,186 per month, or $14,232 per year. To have that account for only 30% of gross income, a family would need to make about $48,000 per year, roughly $23 per hour for a single worker. Before taxes, that’d leave $2,814 per month to cover every other expense.

If this somehow isn’t enough numerical information, nationwide data is at nlihc.org/oor. This discussion hasn’t even approached zoning rules, minimum wage laws, unemployment rates and people living with disabilities who rely on Supplemental Social Security, which tops out at $914 monthly for eligible individuals.

The numbers aren’t spin, but they require context and an understanding the housing shortage demands multiple solutions. Avelar and Spain are pushing one direction, which should help, but much heavy lifting remains.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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May 17, 2023 at 05:03AM

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