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Emergency rent relief bypasses deserving landlords, Illinois group says

Nearly $1.02 billion in emergency rental assistance was given out in Round 2 of the Illinois Rental Payment Program for COVID-19 relief. But many landlords were left without much recourse or help.

“The goals of the program were worthy,” said Paul Arena, director of legislative affairs for the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association. “There was an unprecedented crisis.”

The problem for IRPOA is that thousands of landlords wound up getting no rent relief.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority announced that of more than 64,000 applications, about 27,000 were approved for the second round of the federally funded program. The average level of assistance was nearly $7,500. For applicants who did not have a responding landlord, about 3,100 were approved for direct payments for a total of $25 million, an increase of $15 million from the first round of the program for tenants without a responding landlord.

At the same time, for more than a year, Illinois prevented landlords from evicting non-paying tenants.

“The dollar amount of the rental assistance that was given out is huge, but it did not cover all the losses to housing providers,” Arena told The Center Square. “That shows the magnitude of the damage that was done by these policies.” 

He said landlords should have had the ability to go to court and get a judge to decide whether a tenant was experiencing a COVID-related hardship. Instead, landlords were left with no recourse.

During 2020 and 2021, thousands of Illinois households experienced severe health impacts, including deaths of breadwinners, and devastating economic losses when businesses shut down due to government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state used federal tax funds to provide rental assistance.

After the applications were screened to ensure that the assistance would go only to people who were suffering from COVID-related hardships, IHDA approved 27,279 applications.

Therein lies the problem, Arena said. He asks what happened to the landlords of the 37,163 tenants whose applications were rejected by the government relief program. Arena believes that many of them wound up stuck with non-paying tenants who they were prohibited by law from evicting.

“There are still significant losses out there from tenants who did not cooperate with the program to get approved for rent payments,” Arena said.

Because the eviction moratorium went on for 15 months, many landlords experienced thousands of dollars in losses. Arena believes that hundreds – maybe even thousands – were unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.

“Those landlords need to be made whole,” Arena said.

Arena owns 62 units of rental housing in Rockford. He prides himself on the diversity of his tenant population. He also takes pride in the careful credit screening he does before he gives a new tenant a lease. During COVID, five of his tenants applied for and received several months of rental assistance. One tenant had her rent paid by IHDA throughout both phases of Illinois’ COVID emergency assistance rent relief time period, he said.

Other members of the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association did not fare as well. Some of their tenants failed to file the necessary paperwork and provide the required documentation to qualify for assistance. Some applied for relief and were not able to prove to IHDA screeners that they had experienced COVID hardships that met government criteria.

Most Illinois landlords do not belong to advocacy groups like the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, Arena said. There are a lot of mom-and-pop landlords in Illinois who own fewer than five properties, he said, and it’s unclear how they made out during the eviction moratorium. The Illinois ban on evictions went into effect in the spring of 2020. It ended in October 2021.

Arena argued that policymakers in Springfield treat landlords like bad actors.

“Most people who provide housing are not greedy people who lack compassion and take advantage of people,” Arena said. “They legislate based on isolated incidents and apply constraints broadly to the whole market. That causes damage.”

Everyone in Illinois would benefit if the state could figure out how to fix the shortage of rental housing, Arena said.

“One of the things that would encourage people to provide more housing is for the government to not be so heavy-handed in the treatment of housing providers.” 

This article originally appeared on The Center Square.

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