Eye On Illinois: Affordable housing shortage plagued state long before COVID

When — and hopefully it is when, not if — we get on the other side of this pandemic, we’ll still have problems that long predated coronavirus.

Consider the headline from a recent Capitol News Illinois story: “COVID-19 pandemic shines new light on affordable housing issues.” As reporter Tim Kirsininkas detailed, much of Springfield’s focus has been on things like eviction moratoriums and financial assistance for tenants and landlords.

Not that such focus is misplaced: The National Council for State Housing Agencies said more than 540,000 tenants couldn’t pay rent as of September. The backlog of rental payments in January was pegged at more than $1.2 billion. Real problems, and a reason to be optimistic about House Bill 2877, which could throw $1.4 billion in federal money at the issue.

However, Housing Action Illinois’ policy director, Bob Palmer, put things in context:

“These issues don’t address the pre-existing shortage of affordable housing that happened before the pandemic,” Palmer told CNI, noting more than two-thirds of extremely low-income renters put more than half their annual income toward housing costs. “That doesn’t leave you much at the end of the month for other costs of living, and if you have that job loss or your hours are cut back, there’s a good chance you’re just not going to be able to afford the rent.”

Workers on the lower end of the earning scale are in precarious positions regardless of a global health crisis. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said for every 100 renters considered to be at extremely low income — earning less than half the median income in their region — only 39 rental units are available. Illinois needs an additional 268,089 properties to meet the current demand.

Calculated against the state median, extremely low income — about 27% of renters meet the criteria — is a maximum of $26,120 for a family of four. That works out to $12.55 an hour for someone working 40 hours per week. (The statewide minimum is $11 per hour until Jan. 1, when it increases to $12.) Affording a two-bedroom rental at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rate requires $44,310. One person would need $21.31 per hour to earn that much at a full-time job.

Some lawmakers aren’t waiting for the pandemic to subside. State Reps. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, and Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, are cosponsoring House Bill 3123, the Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit, which leverages federal money to offer incentives for affordable housing construction and could apply to up to 3,500 new units per year.

At that rate, in 76 years we’ll be all square.

Efforts addressing the problem are worthy, but even without a pandemic it’s clear these challenges have no simple solutions.

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

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

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