In the wake of World War II (WWII), many housing authorities formed to house the families of soldiers returning from war or relocating to military bases. Northern Illinois Regional Affordable Community Housing (NI ReACH) is one such authority, and the organization is now celebrating its 82nd year administering supportive services to communities in Illinois.
Northern Illinois Regional Affordable Community Housing, formerly known as Winnebago County Housing Authority, originally only offered services to those in Winnebago County. However, they have since expanded to manage the Boone County Housing Authority, and housing programs in Stephenson, Ogle, DeKalb, and Jo Daviess Counties. Serving so many counties is essential to upholding NI ReACH’s value of mobility—no one is kept from accessing the housing authority’s services due to the zip code they occupy while also making it possible for families to move to employment, education and supportive servies. Through administering housing vouchers, property rehabilitation initiatives, and other programming, NI ReACH is working to create an Illinois program where people not only have access to housing, but these opportunities that eventually lead to self-sufficiency.
More recently, NI ReACH has launched the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s Rental Housing Support Program (RHSP) and expanded it with the state’s new RHSP Graduated Re-Entry demonstration program to help impact against recidivism. For the past few years, Housing Action Illinois has advocated for the Rental Housing Support Program and other programs of its kind. We’ve continuously advocated for more funding to be directed at various subsidized housing programs that make it easier for mid- to low-income people to access affordable housing. At NI ReACH , the Rental Housing Support Program is largely operated by staff member Jilly Graciana, the program is funded by the state and operates similarly to project-based Housing Choice Vouchers. Similar to project-based voucher programs, NI ReACH creates contracts with landlords to house voucher recipients in approved units and supports recipients through transitional programs as they move into a new, subsidized unit. A critical focus for the program is finding quality apartments for recipients—without units to rent, housing vouchers are ineffective.
“Jilly’s been very valuable to me because it’s not bureaucratic, they’re [landlords] not calling the office and dealing with a different person every day,” says Alan Zais, Executive Director of NI ReACH. “They work with Jilly and their relationship is so valuable.”
This more personal, trusted and individualized approach is a large part of what encourages landlords to participate—they see how involved and dedicated NI ReACH staff members are, and trust the organization to deliver quality support to residents, while also maintaining good communication. Though the program is currently being administered on a smaller scale—with around 150 vouchers and 30 of the new RHSP Re-Entry vouchers distributed to date—it has been very successful so far.
“It’s [the program] is going to be defined by its stories of success… And for the most part, it has been very successful,” says Zais.
Housing Action Illinois is glad to see a member organization implementing the Rental Housing Support Program with such positive results, and we’re thankful for our relationship with the organization these past years. For a year, Housing Action placed an AmeriCorps VISTA from our network with NI ReACH. During their term of service, the VISTA curated eviction prevention resources, creating a resource manual that tenants could use to discover rental and utility assistance programs, clinics, and educational programs for children and adults alike. We look forward to continuing our partnership with NI ReACH through our AmeriCorps program; we expect the next VISTA to be placed with NI ReACH to continue building partnerships with local businesses, supporting residents, and assisting in bringing more services to the local housing program participants.
Housing Action Illinois also welcomed their engagement with our recent advocacy campaign to pass statewide source of income (SOI) protections. These protections make it illegal for landlords or housing providers to reject an applicant because they will pay rent with a lawful, non-wage form of income such as a housing voucher. The passage of SOI protections was a huge win for Housing Action Illinois, the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing, NI ReACH, and voucher recipients. Zais also believes it is a win for landlords, who he hopes will come to better understand the value of initiatives such as the Rental Housing Support Program for everyone involved.
“This [Rental Housing Support Program] is a program that you want to be a part of,” says Zais. Zais goes on to say that they have crafted this program to be easy to understand and participate in, and that WCHA is working to create a friendly, personal environment that cares about placements and all people involved in the program, both tenants and landlords alike. With the support of NI ReACH, Zais believes voucher programs of this nature to be mutually beneficial for all parties. The organization understands landlord concerns that the program may be impersonal, and the staff at NI ReACH goes out of their way to break that stigma on all accounts. At NI ReACH, they are working to provide support to everyone involved in the program.
For NI ReACH, trust is key to creating long-term, successful partnerships with tenants and landlords. Through transparency, communication, and active outreach, the NI RaeCH hopes to continue successfully administering their Rental Housing Support Program and cultivating strong relationships with program participants and housing providers.