Housing Matters 2021 

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 2021 Housing Matters Conference!

After last year’s success, we are holding our annual Housing Matters conference virtually again—and rejoining partners to bring it as part of Resilient Communities: The National Forum.

Join us for national, collaborative sessions on October 4 & 5, followed by Illinois-specific workshops on local topics with our state’s experts and decision makers on October 6 & 7.

Our collective response to the pandemic brings a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance prosperity for low-income communities. Housing and community development professionals are working in overdrive to make sure the recovery will benefit the communities that need it most. At this pivotal moment, Housing Action is joining with 8 other housing and community development associations to collaborate on a virtual event. We’re braiding together our state and national conferences to raise up what’s working in our states and communities.


All participants will be able to join workshops from our partner associations based in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington D.C. 

Calendar showing conference dates

Housing Matters 2021 Schedule

Subject to change. Keep checking this page for the most up-to-date information!


Monday, October 4: National Collaborative Sessions

Tuesday, October 5: National Collaborative Sessions


Wednesday, October 6

Housing Matters 2021 Opening (10:00–10:30 am CT)

Join us as we begin the Illinois programming for our second virtual conference, engaging with peers from across the state and nation. We’ll cover what to expect during these two full days, including ways you can network with peers as we come together virtually. We’ll also hear from Jim Cunningham, Deputy Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Midwest Regional Office.

30 minute break

Concurrent Sessions (11:00 am–12:00 pm CT)

Updates for Housing Counselors from HUD and IHDA

Speakers: Melissa Noe, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nicki Pecori Fioretti, Illinois Housing Development Authority

Join representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) for an update on their programs and expected funding, and a discussion about what changes may be coming in the field of housing counseling. We’ll talk about how the newly established HUD Housing Counseling Certification process affects current and would-be housing counselors and agencies eager to hire fresh talent, and we’ll share the new 9902 form and upcoming changes in the HUD Handbook for housing counselors. We’ll also get updates and reflections from IHDA about their statewide emergency rental assistance program, their homeowner’s assistance fund program, and other recent and upcoming initiatives.

Helping Children & Families Experiencing Housing Insecurity: Pediatric Care

Speakers: Dr. Barbara Bayldon, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Anjali Rao, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Do you work with children experiencing housing insecurity? How can pediatricians help children experiencing housing insecurity and why does it matter? Do you want to learn how to better connect families to pediatric primary care and other critical resources? Join us to learn more about the practice of pediatrics. Equip yourself to more effectively share information on healthcare options and understand how pediatricians connect families with early childhood resources that improve long term health outcomes for people experiencing housing instability. Pediatricians will also share their experiences on the positive impact that stable, affordable housing has made on the health care outcomes for the children and families they serve.

30 minute break

Concurrent Sessions (12:30–1:30 pm CT)

Louder Together: Multi-Sector Partnerships and the HoUSed Campaign

Speakers: Dr. Nancy Heil, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; John S. Herring Sr., Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living; Chantelle Wilkinson, Opportunity Starts at Home; David Zverow, Refugee Action Network

To truly change our affordable housing ecosystem for the better, we need to bring together not just housing advocates but also people and interest groups from beyond the housing field. This is what we’re doing in the HoUSed campaign, whose goal is getting the federal government to enact bold, long-term solutions, including anti-racist policies, that will ensure housing that is universal, stable, and affordable. Our priorities include expanding rental assistance to every eligible household; expanding and preserving the supply of affordable, accessible rental homes for people with the lowest incomes; providing emergency rental assistance to households in crisis; and strengthening and enforcing renter protections. Hear from advocates working in pediatric health care, refugee resettlement, and the disability rights sector about why these priorities matter to them and the people they serve. Staff from the National Low Income Housing Coalition will also share the latest campaign updates and advocacy opportunities.

Do More and Do It Better: Building Your Organization's Capacity with AmeriCorps

Speakers: Derek Adkisson, South Suburban Housing Center; Brandon Grigsby, Housing Action Illinois; Willie Heineke, Housing Action Illinois; Wanda Lopez, Access Living; Mare Ralph, Housing Action Illinois; Carl Wolf, Respond Now

As part of our work to expand the capacity of our member organizations, Housing Action manages a network of nearly 30 full-year and 30 summer-long AmeriCorps VISTA positions placed with our member organizations throughout the state. AmeriCorps VISTAs can help research and solve problems on the local level, build your capacity, and help you identify new talent. In just this past year, our VISTAs recruited and managed nearly 650 volunteers and raised more than $715,000 in cash and in-kind donations. They also work on projects that can’t be easily captured by numbers, such as activities that help an organization enhance its strategy, skills, and infrastructure to fulfill its mission. Join us to learn more. If the program is a good fit for your organization, you could be hosting an AmeriCorps VISTA position by June 2022. Housing counseling agencies in particular are encouraged to attend.

30 minute break

Concurrent Sessions (2:00 pm–3:00 pm CT) 

New Property Tax Incentives to Create and Preserve Affordable Rental Housing

Speakers: Emily Bloom-Carlin, The Preservation Compact; David Morrison, Cook County Assessor’s Office; Bob Palmer, Housing Action Illinois

A key component of the affordable housing omnibus legislation recently signed into law by Governor Pritzker is a new property-tax-based tool to create and preserve affordable rental housing throughout Illinois. Owners of multi-family buildings with 7 or more units who meet certain requirements can apply for a reduction in the assessed value to their property if they keep rents affordable for households earning up to 60% of area median income. Both market rate and subsidized owners can participate. The tool will keep rents affordable in higher-cost markets and encourage investment in lower-cost markets. At this session, you’ll learn how this program builds and improves on an existing Cook County program. We’ll share program details and provide resources to help you make use of the program in your community.

Thanks to our workshop session sponsor, Ameren Illinois.

Beyond Buzzwords: Creating Truly Accessible, Inclusive Programs and Services

Speakers: Rickielee Benecke, LIFE CIL; Eric Brown, RAMP CIL; John S. Herring Sr., INCIL; Mare Ralph, Housing Action Illinois; Shelly Richardson, SILC

What does it mean to be accessible and inclusive? Who is benefiting from your programs and services—and who is missing? Affordable housing and homeless service providers need to ensure that their programs and services are available and welcoming to a broad range of community members, including those who are Deaf and/or living with a range of other physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, speak different languages, claim different gender identities, or have other needs. Join us as we explore a broad definition of accessibility and inclusion and share best practices that you can adopt in your organizations and programs. We plan to provide both ASL interpretation and CART for this session.

30 minute break

Housing Matters Keynote (3:30–4:30 pm CT)

Join us to hear keynote remarks from Governor JB Pritzker and Grace B. Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, followed by a Q&A with Secretary Hou. 

Thursday, October 7

Concurrent Sessions (11:00 am–12:00 pm CT)

Confronting a New Normal: Shifts That Housing Counseling Agencies Need to Make in 2022 and Beyond

Speaker: Laura Royer, The Royer Consultancy

With technology changing rapidly and a post-pandemic “new normal” emerging, it’s a critical time for housing counseling agencies to reevaluate their business operations, funding opportunities, technology needs, and how they market their services. In this workshop, you’ll learn why housing counseling agencies struggle to achieve sustainability, explore ways agencies can stop being the “best kept secret,” and discover shifts your agency can make to stay relevant amid so many changes. Participants will come away with fresh ideas and a plan of action for catching up with important trends and changes they can make to grow their organizations and serve clients successfully–changes that many others have already made.

Using Federal Recovery Funds to Create Affordable Housing and End Homelessness

Speakers: Allison Clements, Illinois Housing Council; Niya Kelly, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Merredith Montgomery, Supportive Housing Providers Association; Heather O’Donnell, Thresholds

In its Fiscal Year 2022 budget, Illinois has committed significant federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for efforts to create affordable housing and end homelessness. The $114 million that’s been committed includes $75 million to implement the newly established COVID-19 Affordable Housing Grant Program, which will provide “gap financing” for eligible Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects; $28.1 million for permanent supportive housing; $10 million for the Housing Is Recovery Pilot Program, which will provide a bridge rental subsidy paired with services as a path to stability for eligible individuals with a serious mental illness; and $1 million for programs serving homeless youth. Join us for a panel discussion with experts about these funding streams, the opportunities they present, and the challenges to their successful implementation. We’ll also talk about advocacy efforts to secure additional money, as significant federal fiscal recovery funds have not yet been appropriated.

30 minute break

Concurrent Sessions (12:30–1:30 pm CT)

Planning to Use HOME-ARP Funds to Address Homelessness

Speakers: Kimberly Danna, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Donald Kathan, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) included $5 billion for the HOME-ARP program to support efforts throughout the country to produce and preserve affordable housing; provide tenant-based rental assistance; offer supportive services, homelessness prevention services, and housing counseling; and purchase and develop non-congregate shelter. In Illinois, state government and local governments will receive almost $204 million in HOME-ARP funds. We know that among the first steps for communities using the funds will be identifying needs and gaps in currently available resources, incorporating a racial equity perspective, and demonstrating how proposals fit into a plan to meet the needs of people experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness. Attend this session if you are interested in engaging in this process in your community.

Life After AmeriCorps

Speakers: Tonya Burgess, PhD Candidate at Arizona State University; Tori Collins, U.S. Department of Transportation; AnaPatricia Marquez, U.S. Department of Defense

While you’re serving in AmeriCorps, the question of what comes next can seem intimidating and abstract. What do AmeriCorps alumni go on to do after their year of service? Some gain traditional employment in the field or are hired by their hosting organization, some attend graduate school, some sign on for another term of national service, and others take an entirely different path forward. Attend this panel-style presentation to hear alumni from the Housing Action AmeriCorps Network explain their career trajectories after their service, share helpful tips and lessons learned, and answer questions. AmeriCorps members currently serving are encouraged to attend.

30 minute break

Concurrent Sessions (2:00 pm–3:00 pm CT) 

Plain Language 101

Speaker: Melanie Sampson, Literacy Works

Using plain language rather than professional terminology can make information about housing and homelessness—and your nonprofit’s programs and services—easier to find, understand, and use. Join us to learn key concepts for communicating more clearly, especially when trying to reach people who are strapped for time, have varied educational backgrounds, or are English-language learners. We’ll examine text samples from the housing and homelessness fields and review strategies for meeting audience needs and improving the organization, layout, and wording of information–strategies that you can use to improve everyday or formal communications.

Opportunity Zones: Great Tool or Great Hype?

Speakers: Robin Schabes, Chicagoland Opportunities Zone Consortium; Julia Shin, Enterprise Community Partners; David Neumark, University of California, Irvine

Created by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones were a new community tool intended to direct investment to low-income communities in Illinois and across the United States. Today, nearly four years after the program’s launch, join us to reflect on how Opportunity Zone legislation has played out in Illinois and across the nation. Join panelists Robin Schabes, Director of the Chicagoland Opportunity Zone Consortium, Julia Shin of Enterprise Community Partners, and David Neumark, Economics Professor with University of California, Irvine to discuss where Opportunity Zone investments were made, how they benefited low-income communities, and how the program could be improved.

Thanks to our workshop session sponsor, Midland States Bank.

30 minute break

Lift Your Spirits: Cocktail Demonstration & Social (3:30–4:30 pm CT)

After a busy week of conference sessions, we hope you’ll join us to unwind with your peers. Anne Clark Skuse, General Manager of Seven Saints in Champaign, will demonstrate how to make a pair of rum-based cocktails, with mocktail options included. We’ll share an ingredient list in advance so you can make your drink at home following Anne’s instructions—but everyone is welcome to join the party with a beer, a soda, or whatever else is handy in the fridge. After the demonstration, we’ll head into small-group breakout sessions to give you the opportunity to meet or catch up with other participants in a less crowded, more personal environment.

Friday, October 8: State Partner Sessions

Join the Conversation

Take a break at our virtual water cooler!

To help you connect with fellow attendees throughout the nation, we’ve built a “virtual water cooler” through Slack, an online platform that allows users to post messages and share resources. To join, visit https://bit.ly/ResilientCommunities2021 and enter your email address or sign in with Google.

Tip: If you already use Slack, it will make you create a new password for the new workspace.

You can view Slack in your browser, but we recommend downloading the app. Launch the app from the browser workspace by clicking the workspace name (2021 Resilient Communities Forum) at the top of the left-hand sidebar.

We’ll also be gathering on social media around the hashtags #HousingMatters2021 and #ResilientCommunities2021.

Thank You to Our Conference Sponsors


Interested in supporting the conference? Learn more about sponsorship opportunities and contact Kristin Ginger with inquiries.


Platinum Sponsor

Gold Sponsors

Silver Sponsors

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois

Bronze Sponsors

Illinois Session Sponsors

Partner Sponsors

Cinnaire logo with tagline "advancing communities"
Peoples Gas Community Fund

Access & Equity Sponsor

Illinois Housing Council Logo

About the Housing Matters Conference

Each year, Housing Action Illinois brings together more than 250 housing professionals who care about expanding and protecting affordable housing and ending homelessness in Illinois. Together, we build expertise, experience, and the capacity to make our communities better. During our in-person conference, we typically offer workshops in four different tracks:

  • Public Policy Advocacy
  • Ending Homelessness
  • Housing Counseling
  • Affordable Housing Development

We also bring participants together for opening and closing sessions, our annual membership meeting, and an evening networking reception.

Although we had originally planned to meet up again in person in Bloomington in 2020, concern for everyone’s health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic led us to shift plans. We brought our conference virtually in partnership with a national forum. We will be bringing it virtually as part of a national forum again in 2021, which means our programming will be slightly different than our usual in-person gathering (we’ll be holding our member meeting separately, for example).

We hope to meet up in person in 2022!