Illinois renters must earn more than $20 per hour to afford rent, and while pandemic relief funding will help, federal infrastructure investment is critical
Chicago — In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Illinois, renters working full-time need to earn $22.11 per hour. This is Illinois’ 2021 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released today. The report, Out of Reach, was jointly released in Illinois by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a nationwide research and advocacy organization, and Housing Action Illinois, a statewide coalition leading the movement to protect and expand affordable housing and end homelessness in Illinois for nearly 35 years.
This year, the release of the Out of Reach report comes 16 months into a devastating pandemic, which has created enormous suffering and economic fallout. Even prior to the pandemic, more than 7.6 million extremely low-income renters in the U.S. were already spending more than half of their limited income on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. After a year of job losses, furloughs, and limited hours, many of these households will be even worse off. For individuals and families living on a fixed income due to disabilities or other issues, the situation is especially precarious.
Members of Congress must take action to invest in affordable housing priorities by whatever means possible: an infrastructure or stimulus package, the appropriations process, or stand-alone legislation.
The highest priorities for affordable housing include expanding rental assistance to every eligible household, investing in repairing and making energy-efficient upgrades to public housing, allocating funds for the National Housing Trust Fund, and providing emergency housing assistance to help stabilize families on the brink.
In Illinois, lawmakers have worked to prioritize discretionary federal funding for affordable housing, including committing significant funding from the American Rescue Plan—more than $114 million—towards urgent housing needs. “The federal funds committed by the Illinois General Assembly will help address the emergency needs created by the pandemic,” stated Bob Palmer, Policy Director at Housing Action Illinois. “However, we need bold federal action to truly address the need for affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes.”
Unlike most other states, state and local governments in Illinois have taken action to increase the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. The increases in Illinois are helping low wage workers afford their housing and other basic human needs, although minimum wage earners still can’t afford the rent for a modest apartment.
In Illinois, someone working at the state minimum wage of $11 must have 1.7 full-time jobs or work 68 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. They must have 2 full-time jobs or work 80 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. While the minimum wage in the Chicago area is higher—$15 in Chicago and $13 in Cook County—the Housing Wage in this area is also higher, climbing to $24.98. Even in more affordable counties, the lowest the Housing Wage in Illinois goes is $13.46.
Individuals relying on Supplemental Social Security (SSI) for their income typically are among those with the greatest challenges affording a home. In 2021, the national maximum SSI allotment is $794 per month, not even enough to afford the Fair Market Rate of $972 for a one-bedroom apartment in Illinois.
For people receiving SSI, increasing the availability of federally funded Housing Choice Vouchers is particularly important for affording a home, as the voucher sets the tenant’s portion of their rent at 30% of their income.
“Many people who live with disabilities struggle to find decent affordable accessible housing, often languishing for years on waiting lists and sometimes remaining in nursing homes and other institutional settings unnecessarily,” stated Christopher Conan Calhoun, Disability Rights Advocate with LIFE Center for Independent Living.“We also see consumers not in subsidized housing who end up spending 75 percent or more of their income on rent. Expanding federal funding to cover every eligible household for rental assistance is a crucial step to safely and adequately house those who are most vulnerable.”
Congressional inaction will leave millions of families in unstable circumstances and disproportionately harm low-wage workers and communities of color. Unless legislators step up and pass bold, significant federal interventions, housing will continue to be out of reach in Illinois and across the nation.
Out of Reach provides the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area, and county in the country. Learn more and read the full report at https://reports.nlihc.org/oor.
About Housing Action Illinois
Housing Action Illinois is a statewide coalition that has been leading the movement to protect and expand the availability of quality, affordable housing in Illinois for more than 30 years. Our 150+ member organizations include housing counseling agencies, homeless service providers, developers of affordable housing, and policymakers. We bring everyone together to work toward our vision of an Illinois where everyone has a stable, good home.
Out of Reach provides the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area, and county in the country. Learn more and read the full report: https://reports.nlihc.org/oor