With Governor JB Pritzker taking office, this was an extremely busy and productive General Assembly session, with final action on several key items, including the fiscal year 2020 budget and the first major capital budget since 2009, not being finalized until a brief overtime session on June 1 and 2.

Housing Action Illinois and our partners had several significant victories that will increase access to decent, affordable housing for many thousands of people throughout the state currently struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Perhaps most importantly, the General Assembly, working with Governor Pritzker, approved putting the Fair Tax referendum on the November 2020 ballot, a crucial first step towards putting Illinois’s fiscal house back in order. We have long advocated for this as an active member of the Responsible Budget Coalition.

Thanks to all our members and allies, more than forty in all, who worked with us on these issues by contacting their legislators, participating in one of our working groups, testifying at a legislative hearing, sharing the stories of their work and the people they serve and/or taking some other action to move our advocacy agenda forward.

Here’s a summary of the key issues we worked on.

$200 Million in Capital Budget Funding for Affordable Housing Secured

We estimate that $200 million in capital budget funding for the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) will result in the development of approximately 2,000 affordable homes. We worked closely with several partners, including the Illinois Housing Council and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, to build support for our request in the governor’s office and among legislators. Thanks to our key allies in the General Assembly, including, but not limited to, Senator Mattie Hunter, Senator Omar Aquino, Representative Will Guzzardi and Representative Delia Ramirez. This $200 million investment is part of a larger $45 billion capital budget for roads, mass transit, healthcare facilities, schools and other infrastructure needs—the first major capital budget for Illinois in a decade.

$6 Million in New Funding for Lead Poisoning Prevention

The fiscal year 2020 state budget includes a $6 million increase for the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program we asked for, bringing total funding for the program to $16 million. The funding increase, which was included in Governor Pritzker’s proposed budget, will allow about 6,000 additional children to receive nurse case management and environmental follow-up (e.g., home inspections to identify lead hazards) they are newly eligible for under improved rules for the program that we and others advocated for that went into effect earlier this year. We built good relationships with public health advocates to work with us on this issue.

$4 Million Funding Increase for the Homelessness Prevention Program

Working with providers and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, we secured $9 million for the Homelessness Prevention Program in next year’s budget, a $4 million increase. Based on the most recently available average grant amount, the additional funding will assist more than 3,000 additional households experiencing a temporary crisis, such as loss of a job or a health care emergency, prevent or end their homelessness. Assistance is provided grants help people pay their rent and/or utilities, as well as case management, that helps people regain financial stability.

State Fee to Support Rehabilitation of Abandoned Property and Foreclosure Prevention Counseling Extended, Generating More than $6 Million Annually

We were able to overcome opposition to extending an existing graduated foreclosure filing fee and judicial sale fee. As part of the final budget implementation legislation, both were extended for another three years, until January 1, 2023. All of the revenue from the judicial sale fee and seventy percent of the revenue from the graduated foreclosure filing fee funds IHDA’s Abandoned Property Program, which assists local governments turn abandoned properties into assets for renewing neighborhoods. Twenty-eight percent of the graduated foreclosure filing fee supports IHDA’s grants to housing counseling agencies to provide foreclosure prevention counseling. Based on current collections, the extended fees will generate more than $6 million annually for the next three years.

Resources for the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund Protected

A proposed sweep of approximately $21.5 million from Affordable Housing Trust Fund was not part of the final budget agreement. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund, administered by IHDA, is Illinois’ main dedicated resource to fund the preservation and development of affordable housing for low-income households. Since 1990, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund has helped to develop and preserve more than 70,000 affordable homes across the state, often by filling a financing “gap” on rental projects leveraging other funds that otherwise would not be feasible. Based on the anticipated revenue of $85 million for the Real Estate Transfer Tax, one half of which goes to the Housing Trust Fund, $42.5 million should be generated for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in FY 2020.

Fair Tax Referendum to be on November 2020 Election Ballot

Because our state constitution requires a flat income tax, Illinois has been unable to adequately support areas that strengthen communities, including education, healthcare and housing.

After many years of effort, and with the strong support of Governor Pritzker, state legislators voted to put the fair tax amendment on the November 2020 ballot, giving every voter in Illinois the opportunity to weigh in on whether the Fair Tax is right for Illinois. We helped lobby the issue with other member organizations of the Responsible Budget Coalition, as well did outreach to our members and allies to get them to call legislators who were publicly undecided until the time of the vote.

Legislation setting the income tax rates if the Fair Tax referendum is successful also passed this session and was signed into law on June 6. Under the proposed rates, 97% of Illinoisans will either pay the same or less in income taxes. Find out how the proposed state income tax rates will impact you and others using Governor Pritzker’s Fair Tax Calculator.

Expect to hear from the Responsible Budget Coalition and us in the coming months regarding what we need to do to make sure the vote in November 2020 is successful.

In the meantime, please contact your state legislators to thank them for their vote or encourage them to change their mind for the November 2020 vote.

Nonprofits Will Better Be Able to Work with CDFIs to Operate Resale Programs for Homeowners At Risk of Foreclosure

Senate Bill 138 will allow nonprofits working with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to more easily operate resale programs to benefit homeowners at risk of foreclosure. During the past two years we spent many hours negotiating the bill, so in the end there was no opposition to offering relief from existing arms-length affidavit requirements that keep nonprofits from negotiating short sales with lenders to help those facing foreclosure stay in their home through a new, sustainable loan. Senator Jacqueline Collins and Representative Curtis Tarver were our chief sponsors. Once the bill is signed into law, it will allow the BlueHub SUN program to expand in Illinois and allow other CDFIs to more easily replicate this model.

Made Improvements to Homelessness Prevention Program

Working with providers and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, we passed House Bill 3331, so that the Homelessness Prevention Program can better serve those most in need. The new law will increase the total assistance a recipient can receive to 6 months of total rent or mortgage payments and allow nonprofit providers to cover a portion of the case management and/or administrative costs using program funds. Representative Delia Ramirez and Senator Laura Fine were our chief sponsors.

Clarified and Improved Law Regarding Assistance Animals in Housing

House Bill 3671 was a bill we initially opposed after conferring with disability advocates. However, working with Access Living and others, including Senator Ram Villivalam, we were able to negotiate changes in the bill with the proponents, so that in the end it was something we supported. The version of HB 3671 that passed will prevent abuses by allowing housing providers to deny a request for an assistance animal if, for example, for a fee someone secured online documentation to show the need for an assistance animal without any meaningful assessment of the person’s needs. However, it does this without violating the rights of a person with a disability under federal law, or putting significantly more burdens on a person requesting a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal.

Issues We Will Keep Working On: Sealing Eviction Records and Property Tax Incentives for Affordable Rental Housing

Among the items we plan to continue working on next year is expanding access to sealing eviction records, especially for people who never had an eviction judgment against them, but still find the court record an obstacle to finding affordable housing. House Bill 2299 passed a subcommittee, but we have more work to do overcome opposition to the bill. We’ll also keep working to pass a property tax incentive to preserve and create affordable rental housing in Cook County and others parts of the state, as we proposed in House Bill 2168.

Congratulations to Our Allies on Other Housing Victories

Housing Action Illinois endorsed all the following housing-related legislation that passed due to campaigns led by our allies:

  • Protect People with Records from Discrimination when Seeking Housing: Senate Bill 1780, an initiative of the Restoring Rights & Opportunities Coalition of Illinois, amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to make it a violation to deny someone housing on the basis of an arrest without a conviction, or due to a court record that has been expunged, sealed, or impounded from public view or they are protected under the Juvenile Court Act. This bill compliments our Just Housing ordinance, which includes stronger protections for people in Cook County. Senator Omar Aquino and Representative Curtis Tarver were the chief sponsors
  • Immigrant Tenant Protection Act: Senate Bill 1290 will prohibit landlords from threatening to disclose or actually disclosing a tenant’s immigration status to harass the tenant, retaliate against the tenant, or force the tenant to move out without using proper procedures. The bill prohibits landlords from using the civil court system to harass immigrant tenants; allows tenants to defend their rights in court if landlords disclose or threaten to disclose their immigration status; and creates a defense to unlawful evictions based on immigration status and prohibit questions about tenants’ immigration status in discovery or at trial. The lead advocates were MALDEF, Latino Policy Forum and the Shriver Center. Senator Cristina Castro and Representative Theresa Mah were the chief sponsors.
  • Home Energy Affordability and Transparency (HEAT) Act: Attorney General Kwame Raoul initiated Senate Bill 651 to create transparency by equipping consumers with meaningful information so that they can understand what signing up with an alternative supplier will mean for their utility bills. The bill also protects energy assistance funds by ensuring public dollars cannot be expended on overpriced energy supplier contracts and several other provisions.
  • Early Intervention Eligibility to Fight Lead Poisoning: The Legal Council for Health Justice successfully advocated to amend the Early Intervention Services System Act to include “exposure to a toxic substance” ensuring that young children, birth to age 3, with lead poisoning have access to critical services and supports that can prevent lead-induced delay. Defining lead poisoning as a medically diagnosed condition that typically results in developmental delay, and by offering Early Intervention services, will positively alter the developmental trajectory for Illinois children who otherwise would likely not be eligible for these critical developmental services. The change was included in the budget implementation legislation, Senate Bill 1814.
  • Supportive Housing Services Funding: The Supportive Housing Providers Assoction led efforts to secure $41.2 million for Supportive Housing Services in next year’s budget. This represents an increase of $8.5 million—a 25.8% increase over current funding, the largest increase to the Supportive Housing Services budget in many years. This funding will support critical services for people living in supportive housing who are formerly homeless or at risk of homelessness and/or experiencing mental health challenges.

In the coming days, we will ask Governor Pritzker to sign all the legislation mentioned in this post that he hasn’t already acted on into law.

Thanks to all organizations and people, including elected officials and their staff, we worked with on these efforts!