Eye On Illinois: Statewide affordable housing data trending in wrong direction

Does Illinois have enough affordable housing?

The answer, as it is nationwide, is no.

But what constitutes affordable housing? That answer isn’t so simple.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the starting point – as of 1981 – is for housing costs to not reach 30% of income. But calculating who gets assistance and how much is a factor of median income, which varies greatly based on geography. That correlates to a wide range of quality and availability of public services and private enterprise.

So when discussing the issue from a statistical standpoint, it must be done with understanding the macro data is intended to guide broad policy, not accurately target micro challenges.

Last April, with numbers predating COVID-19′s effects, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said for every 100 renters considered “extremely low income” – earning less than half their region’s median – only 39 rental units are available.

The most recent report, out last week and using 2020 numbers, put the current Illinois rate at 36 per 100. Illinois went from needing an additional 268,089 affordable rental units to meet demand to being short by 288,917.

Though those numbers are getting worse, Housing Action Illinois is expressing optimism. An April 13 release praised passage of House Bill 2775, an attempt to eliminate discrimination in rental applications against people who derive income from sources such as Social Security, retirement funds or public aid. Housing Action Illinois also saluted the allocation of $150 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act share to the Illinois Housing Development Authority and another $15 million from the general fund to eradicate homelessness.

Simply building more housing isn’t a comprehensive fix, and not just because of resistance to “affordable” developments. Even if governments could construct enough public rental units wherever they wanted, that alone wouldn’t address the myriad reasons why people and families end up in the “extremely low income” category.

Those big-picture numbers illuminate, but don’t shed light on, people serving on county housing authority boards or supporting locally operated shelters for people needing a temporary place to stay. Though the work of lifting neighbors from poverty never ends, the dedication of those committed to housing security is inspirational.


In conjunction with a new state campaign, I’ve invited readers to share their favorite Illinois tourist attractions.

Ray and Mary Cooper: “We love Weldon Springs State Park. It has great hiking, fishing and birding. (Last year saw ospreys, eagles, titmice, blue-winged teal, yellow-dumped warblers, kingfisher, blue jays, among others.) Clinton is a great little town with Kate’s Diner on the Square for lunch and Two Doors Down Brewery for craft beer.”

Please email your favorites. Responses printed as space allows.

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

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