Making Rent Affordable

Across the nation, a greater share of the population is renting than at any point in the last 50 years. In Illinois, the percentage of renters compared to owners has increased, and the rental vacancy rate has declined since the 2008 Great Recession. People with the lowest incomes have always had a hard time affording the rent and more people renting has raised public awareness about the issue.

An accepted standard is that a home is considered “affordable” if it costs 30% or less of your total income, but many are spending much more than this. Nearly three quarters of extremely low-income renter households spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities, meaning they can be just one financial setback—a change in work hours or a broken-down car—away from an eviction notice.

Housing Action Illinois works to make sure that everyone has an affordable home, so that people can focus on thriving, rather than struggling to keep a roof over their head. For example, young children in families who are in unstable housing situations are 20% more likely to be hospitalized than those who do not worry about frequent moves or have anxiety over affording the rent.

We focus on advocating for greater investment in public programs and policies that expand affordable rental options, particularly for people with the most severe housing needs.

Who Can Rent A Home In Illinois?

Only 39 of every 100 extremely low-income renters looking to rent a home in Illinois will find one they can afford.

442,175 extremely low-income renter households live in Illinois, but only 174,086 affordable rental homes are available to them.

Of these low-income renter households, 68% are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing, with little left over for other basic necessities. 

What Does It Cost To Rent In Illinois?

In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Illinois, renters need to earn $21.30 per hour. This is Illinois’ 2020 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report co-released in Illinois by Housing Action Illinois, called Out of Reach.

For a minimum-wage worker to avoid paying more than 30% of their income for a decent two-bedroom apartment, they must work 85 hours per week (2.1 full-time jobs) at the current minimum wage. For someone who has a limited fixed income, such as Social Security, and lives alone, paying the rent can take just about their entire income for a one-bedroom or studio apartment.

Out of Reach - Illinois Housing Wage is $21.30

Why Racial Justice Matters

Increasing the amount of affordable rental housing promotes racial equity by offsetting historic policies in housing, education, and other essential areas that promoted systemic racial discrimination and segregation. According to U.S. Census data for 2016 in Illinois, regardless of income, 42.6% of White, non-Hispanic renter households spent 30% or more of their income on housing. By contrast, 58.4% of African American renter households, and 48.4% of Hispanic renter households, did so.

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What Have We Been Doing?

  • In 2021, Housing Action Illinois successfully worked with allies to pass the Cook County Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance, which ensures basic renter rights to $245,000+ suburban households. 
  • During 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Housing Action successfully advocated for significant federal COVID-19 housing-related relief—and for Illinois to prioritize this funding for people and communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The final FY2021 Illinois state budget includes $310 million in COVID-19–related rent and mortgage assistance—the largest commitment of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars from the CARES Act for housing assistance by any state. We also subgranted $485,000 to 30 homeless service providers across Illinois, who provided emergency shelter and meals as well as supported 300 households with short-term rent and mortgage assistance.
  • We publish research and data. Each year, we co-release reports with the National Low Income Housing Coalition to share data on the lack of available, affordable housing and the high cost of rental housing in Illinois. In 2018, we also co-released a report exploring the impact of eviction filings on future housing for renters. In 2019, we published a policy brief on the prevalence of eviction throughout Illinois.
  • In 2018, we advocated for state laws on security deposits and public housing wait lists. Our work made processes more transparent and fair.
  • We created a new training for housing counselors to help renters in 2017.
  • We worked with groups around the country to create the National Housing Trust Fund. This fund creates rental housing for people with the lowest incomes. Between 2016 – 2018, this fund brought $21.7 million to Illinois.
  • In 2005, we co-led the effort to create the Rental Housing Support Program. This program helps about 2,500 households pay their rent each year.
Screengrab of commissioners during virtual Cook County Board meeting on January 28, 2021

Cook County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance in January 2021