Making Rent Affordable

Across the nation, a greater share of the population is renting than at any point in the last 50 years. For the past 15 years, in Illinois, the percentage of renters compared to owners has increased, and the rental vacancy rate has declined. People with the lowest incomes have always had a hard time affording the rent and more people renting has raised public awareness about the issue.

An accepted standard is that a home is considered “affordable” if it costs 30% or less of your total income, but many are spending much more than this. Nearly three quarters of extremely low-income renter households spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities, meaning they can be just one financial setback—a change in work hours or a broken-down car—away from an eviction notice.

Housing Action Illinois works to make sure that everyone has an affordable home, so that people can focus on thriving, rather than struggling to keep a roof over their head. For example, young children in families who are in unstable housing situations are 20% more likely to be hospitalized than those who do not worry about frequent moves or have anxiety over affording the rent.

We focus on advocating for greater investment in public programs and policies that expand affordable rental options, particularly for people with the most severe housing needs.

Who Can Rent A Home In Illinois?

Only 36 of every 100 extremely low-income renters looking to rent a home in Illinois will find one they can afford.

451,737 extremely low-income renter households live in Illinois, but only 162,318 affordable rental homes are available to them, resulting in a shortage of 289,419 affordable rental homes for those with the lowest incomes.

Of these low-income renter households, 74% are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing, with little left over for other basic necessities.

What Does It Cost To Rent In Illinois?

In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Illinois, renters need to earn $28.81 per hour. This is Illinois’ 2024 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report co-released in Illinois by Housing Action Illinois, called Out of Reach.

For a minimum-wage worker to avoid paying more than 30% of their income for a decent two-bedroom apartment, they must must have 2.1 full-time job(s) or work 82 hours per week. For someone who has a limited fixed income, such as Social Security, and lives alone, paying the rent can take just about their entire income for a one-bedroom or studio apartment.

Report image saying in Illinois, the Housing Wage is $22.11 per hour

Why Racial Justice Matters

Increasing the amount of affordable rental housing promotes racial equity by offsetting historic policies in housing, education, and other essential areas that promoted systemic racial discrimination and segregation. According to U.S. Census data for 2016 in Illinois, regardless of income, 42.6% of White, non-Hispanic renter households spent 30% or more of their income on housing. By contrast, 58.4% of African American renter households, and 48.4% of Hispanic renter households, did so.

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What Have We Been Doing?

  • We worked with partners to advocate for improvements to the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act (AHPAA). This will strengthen the requirements for plans to increase their supply of affordable housing stock, such as identifying zoning restrictions and other local policies that do not affirmatively further fair housing and/or constrain the supply of affordable housing, as well as a first-time requirement for plans to include timelines for action steps and reporting on implementation.
  • We are currently a member of the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing, a group leading the campaign advocating for statewide source-of-income protection through an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act. This would require that all legal sources of income—including employment, retirement income, public benefits, and rental subsidies—be treated the same in residential real estate transactions. Denials based on source of income disproportionately limit the housing choices of African Americans, Latinos, persons with disabilities, and female heads of household.
  • In 2021, Housing Action Illinois successfully worked with allies to pass the Cook County Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance, which ensures basic renter rights to $245,000+ suburban households.
  • In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, we advocated successfully for the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act, which includes a variety of key provisions to help prevent eviction and expand access to sealing eviction records. Read our breakdown of the legislation here. In 2022, we are advocating for the act’s sealing policies to be extended.
  • In 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Housing Action successfully advocated for significant federal housing-related relief—and for Illinois to prioritize this funding for people and communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The final FY2021 Illinois state budget included $310 million in COVID-19–related rent and mortgage assistance—the largest commitment of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars from the CARES Act for housing assistance by any state. We also subgranted $485,000 to 30 homeless service providers across Illinois, who provided emergency shelter and meals as well as supported 300 households with short-term rent and mortgage assistance.
  • We publish research and data. Each year, we co-release reports with the National Low Income Housing Coalition to share data on the lack of available, affordable housing and the high cost of rental housing in Illinois. In 2018, we also co-released a report exploring the impact of eviction filings on future housing for renters. In 2019, we published a policy brief on the prevalence of eviction throughout
  • In 2018, we advocated for state laws on security deposits and public housing wait lists. Our work made processes more transparent and fair.
  • We created a new training for housing counselors to help renters in 2017.
Screengrab of commissioners during virtual Cook County Board meeting on January 28, 2021

Cook County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance in January 2021

Looking Back

Our earlier work on this issue included collaborating with groups around the county to create the National Housing Trust Fund, which creates rental housing for people with the lowest income (between 2016-2018 alone, this fund brought $21.7 million to Illinois) and co-leading the effort to create Illinois’ Rental Housing Support Program, established in 2005, which helps about 2,500 households pay their rent each year.