9 Notable wins in 2019

Each year, the Housing Action Illinois team works on a broad range of issues aligned with our core mission of creating an Illinois where everyone has a good, affordable place to call home. With 2020 just around the corner, we’re taking a moment to reflect on nine of the accomplishments we’re most proud of from the past year.

1. Capital Budget

Securing a $200 million investment in affordable housing.

We worked to build support for investment in affordable housing—and successfully secured $200 million in the first capital budget in a decade. A capital budget provides funding for long-term infrastructure projects, spanning multiple years. In comparison, an annual operating budget provides day-to-day funding for state operations.

What’s the Impact?

The capital budget funding could help create an estimated 2,000 affordable rental homes and open opportunities to leverage other funding for affordable housing. In 2009, capital dollars that Housing Action helped secure were used to create 694 affordable rental homes. Funds were also used to promote affordable homeownership, helping 6,817 mostly first-time homebuyers: 862 bought previously vacant houses in communities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, and 1,902 were veterans.

During Housing Action’s advocacy efforts to secure funding for affordable housing in the capital budget, key allies included Representative Delia Ramirez (at podium), Senator Mattie Hunter (far right), Senator Omar Aquino, and Representative Will Guzzardi.

2. HUD Housing Counseling Intermediary Network

Supporting hardworking housing counselors.

We have been a HUD Housing Counseling Intermediary since 2014, which means we distribute funding from HUD to housing counseling agencies—or affiliates—within our network. This year, we were awarded $1.2 million by HUD—the 7th largest award in the nation.

What’s the Impact?

We will distribute the award to 33 housing counseling agencies that serve communities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri. We also assist our affiliates with administrative functions and capacity building, helping them become more effective, expand programs, and meet the needs of their communities. In 2018, our HUD Intermediary network helped 15,982 households understand their housing options.

Newly certified housing counselors at LUCHA—one of Housing Action’s HUD Housing Counseling Intermediary affiliate agencies.

3. Homeless Prevention Program

Helping prevent homelessness for 6,500 households.

The Homeless Prevention Program helps people avoid experiencing homelessness by providing them with rental and utility assistance, as well as supportive services. We secured a $4 million—more than 80%—increase in funding for the program, resulting in a total of $9 million in available funding—the highest amount in years after significant cuts dating back to the Great Recession. We also successfully advocated to increase the total amount of assistance each individual can receive.

What’s the Impact?

The increased funding will help prevent homelessness for an estimated 6,500 households. A 2016 University of Notre Dame study found that recipients were 88% less likely to become homeless after three months.

The Homeless Prevention Program, which Housing Action advocated to create, has helped more than 115,000 households since its inception in 2000.

4. Countdown to Certification

Helping housing counselors get certified.

All housing counselors working for HUD-approved housing counseling agencies must pass a new national individual certification exam by August 1, 2020—so we’re helping housing counselors get ready to take the test. In addition to developing an online study group, our Capacity Building Specialist, Wanda Collins, shares study tips, practice test questions, and other resources in a Countdown to Certification email series to keep housing counselors on track.

What’s the Impact?

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies without at least one certified counselor on staff after the deadline will have to suspend counseling services. By helping housing counselors gain the knowledge, test-taking skills, and confidence to pass the certification exam, we’re ensuring that housing counseling agencies can continue to serve their communities. The online study group, now open to counselors from across the nation, has helped more than 420 attendees prepare for the exam this year

Certified housing counselors at the 2019 Housing Matters! Conference.

5. Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Helping protect 6,000 children from lead poisoning.

Illinois has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. Lead can cause numerous health issues—particularly in children, who absorb lead more easily than adults. We successfully advocated for new rules to implement the state law we advocated for in 2018. The law required that Illinois update its definition of an elevated blood lead level in accordance with CDC standards. In addition, penalties for violating lead prevention laws were increased in the new rules. We also worked to secure $6 million in new funding to implement the rules, bringing the total state funding for the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to more than $12 million.

What’s the Impact?

6,000 children who had elevated blood lead levels based on the CDC standard—but not the old Illinois law—will receive mandated nurse care management and environmental inspections to identify lead hazards. Under the previous rules, only about 1,000 children would be eligible for both services.

At the time the bill passed, only six other states had adopted the CDC standards—positioning Illinois as a leader in the fight to prevent childhood lead poisoning.

6. publications & media spotlights

Publishing data, research, and resources to equip housing professionals & raising awareness of housing and homelessness.

We work to educate and organize around a broad range of issues—to that end, we share resources, research, and analysis related to affordable housing.

2019 Publications
  • Black and White Disparities in Homelessness found that Black Illinoisans are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than White Illinoisans. We offer multiple ways to address this racial disparity and end homelessness for all Illinoisans.
  • Eviction in Illinois—a follow-up to our 2018 report, Prejudged—examined data from nearly 57,000 eviction cases against Illinois tenants. It finds that 54% of households facing eviction did not have a negative determination but still ended up with an eviction filing on public record, a serious obstacle to finding a future home.
  • Our CMS Guide helps housing counseling agencies assess different client management systems, offering an at-a-glance comparison chart in addition to detailed system profiles.
  • Our Acronym Guide makes it easy to keep track of all the acronyms commonly used in housing and homelessness discussions.

We also leveraged a significant increase in media coverage of Housing Action Illinois and our issues. We spoke up about the urgent need to protect fair housing with WBEZ’s Natalie Moore, on Marketplace, and in the Chicago Sun-Times. We spoke up about the racial disparities in who experiences homelessness, shared data showing that nowhere in Illinois can a low-wage worker afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment, and pushed for critical investments in homeless prevention and lead poisoning prevention. WGLT featured our 2019 Housing Matters! Conference in a five-story series and an episode of Sound Ideas.

What’s the Impact?

By sharing information and real-life stories with policymakers, nonprofit service providers, and the media, we build awareness and activate change. Our research briefs—Black and White Disparities in Homelessness and Eviction in Illinois—offer policy recommendations. Our CMS Guide helps housing counseling agencies navigate the complicated process of acquiring new software. By making issues easier to understand, changing narratives, and explaining solutions, we build momentum for legislative wins and support housing organizations helping people and families find and keep good homes.

Housing Action’s Policy Director, Bob Palmer (left), and Director of Capacity Building, David Young (right), on ABC Newsviews.

7. Storytelling for Change

Helping supportive housing residents share their stories.

To help residents of permanent supportive housing explore how they can tell their stories to make a difference, we facilitated a series of workshops in Mt. Vernon, Peoria, Rockford, Hillside, and Chicago in partnership with the Supportive Housing Providers Association. We also created a guide for supportive housing practitioners who are interested in helping facilitate storytelling workshops with their residents.

What’s the Impact?

The stories of people who live in supportive housing can shed light on important issues, such as what it is like to experience homelessness or live with mental illness or a disability. Stories are an effective tool for change, helping people connect, understand different perspectives—and take action. A publication featuring stories by the workshop participants will launch in January 2020.

We’re proud that some of our workshop participants are already speaking up about their experiences in a variety of ways, from testifying before legislators and presenting at conferences to speaking with the media!

Participant stories were featured in The ‘Hidden’ Crisis of Rural Housing by The Nation‘s Jake Bittle and Struggling for Housing by WSIU’s Steph Whiteside.

Participants at the Chicago Storytelling for Change workshop. The workshop explores how telling stories can make a difference—helping people connect, understand different perspectives, and take action.

8. The Just Housing Amendment

Helping to protect over 1 million people from housing discrimination.

One in three Americans has an arrest record before they turn 23. Blanket housing bans against people with records disproportionately impacts Black and Brown families, as well as people with disabilities; they are often an avenue for race- and disability-based discrimination. The Just Housing Amendment—a measure that will ensure housing providers in Cook County do not discriminate against applicants with records—passed this year, after more than four years of work by Housing Action and more than 100 other organizations supporting the initiative.

What’s the Impact?

The Just Housing Amendment will ensure that housing providers and authorities do not consider arrests, juvenile records, and sealed and expunged records when evaluating someone’s application for rental housing. It will protect potential tenants and homeowners from being denied housing based on convictions greater than three years old, and it requires housing providers to conduct an individualized assessment for applicants with a conviction on their record—considering factors such as the nature of the offense and how much time has passed since it happened. The amendment will protect more than one million residents of Cook County and their families by giving people with arrest and conviction records a fair chance at finding housing.

Gianna Baker, Housing Action’s Outreach Manger, advocates for the Just Housing Amendment.

9. Americorps VISTA

Expanding impact with AmeriCorps VISTA.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to fight poverty. Housing Action Illinois manages a network of VISTA members who serve for a full year or a ten-week summer term at our member organizations throughout the state, working on projects to help their host sites build capacity. VISTAs serve in a wide variety of roles: grant writing, community organizing, resource development, volunteer recruitment and management, and more.

What’s the Impact?

Our VISTA Members continually impress us with their tenacity and dedication. Last year, thirty full-year VISTA Members and thirty-one VISTA Summer Associates recruited and managed more than 3,700 volunteers and raised more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations for their host sites.

Housing Action’s AmeriCorps VISTA members help their host organizations build capacity and fight poverty.

It’s been a busy year, and we’re grateful for our successes. We couldn’t have done it without your support—and we can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish together next year.

Contribute to our mission to create an Illinois where everyone has a good, affordable place to call home.