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Impact of COVID-19 on Housing Needs & Advocacy Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting and exacerbating so many of the problems our community faces. Housing is no exception:
  • Connections for the Homeless is currently providing hotel rooms, food, clothing, and other basic necessities to about 200 people who have nowhere else to shelter in place.
  • The number of calls we are receiving from people who need help paying their rent is increasing steadily.

Besides providing direct services now, including shelter, financial assistance, and housing, Connections is looking to the future. Instead of accepting that those currently staying in hotels will move to the streets and that we will run out of Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing money as soon as the shelter-in-place order is lifted, we are looking for long-term solutions and starting to put them in place now, through advocacy and fundraising.

The following describes both the solutions we are looking for and the advocacy action we are taking.

Upcoming Housing Needs

  1. Expanded Shelter System
About 200 people just in north suburban Cook County have nowhere to shelter in place other than the hotel rooms that Connections has secured for them. Some of these people will have the income to be able to move forward quickly once the COVID crisis passes and will not need long-term shelter. However, many will not be able to find or pay for a place to live.

We need to create an expanded, 24/7 comprehensive shelter system that provides intensive case management and accommodates both those who need immediate and/or short-term shelter and those who need longer term shelter and supports in order to secure stable housing. The shelter system needs more case managers to help with finding housing and moving people in, as well as more case managers to help people stay in their housing. It also needs to be able to accommodate residents safely during stay-at-home orders in the future.
 
2. More Rental Assistance Funding
More people than ever need help paying for their housing. While we need to build more affordable housing, the immediate need is to help people pay for the housing that exists. That means rental assistance, whether through voucher programs or other types of subsidies.

We need more funding and more flexible funding to:
  • Help people who fell behind in rent or mortgage to pay off arrearages so they don’t get evicted or foreclosed.
  • Help homeless people get into and pay for housing.
  • Help poor people pay enough in rent so that their landlords can afford to stay in business.
 3. Streamlined Zoning and Housing Processes
Housing that currently exists needs to be used in a broader variety of ways than has historically been allowed. Municipalities need to allow flexible use of housing stock to accommodate people in need, and they need to incentivize property owners to make units available at deeply affordable rates.
  • We need to change restrictive zoning, including reductions to the following:
    • Limits on the number of unrelated adults who can live in a unit
    • Limits on how many units can be included on a property
    • Requirements for parking spaces equal to the number of units
    • Limits on usage of ADUs, basement units, spare rooms, etc.
  • We need to streamline processes that slow down and increase the costs of housing people in need, including:
    • Loosening eligibility restrictions to allow us to respond to new COVID-related needs
    • Minimizing inspection requirements for use of housing units
  • We need funding to support landlords who are willing to rent to people in need
 
Proposed Advocacy Response
In order to fulfill the needs described above, Joining Forces for Affordable Housing will be focusing its advocacy efforts on the following:

Federal Level:
  • We will support the work of the National Low Income Housing Coalition to include $100 billion in rental assistance, $10 billion in new vouchers, and several other important housing-related infusions of cash in the next COVID bill.
  • We will initiate and then continue ongoing advocacy with Senators Durbin and Duckworth, and with members of Congress, to support bills and budgets that will address the needs described above.
State Level:
Municipal Level:
  • We will advocate for meaningful changes to zoning laws and processes.
  • We will advocate for long-term affordable housing planning, that includes the needs described above for those who have not yet secured affordable housing.