Reflecting on a year of financial stress and confusion, as the eviction moratorium continues

Target 3

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– Two days after the Illinois Supreme Court’s order allowed evictions to be filed again in the state, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a new eviction ban Tuesday.

Up until this point, the state’s moratorium superseded any federal rules. The state’s moratorium still appears to be the most protective, but it’s set to expire on September 1. It appears that’s when the CDC’s new order will step into play in Illinois.

It’s all being read for the first time by lawyers, judges and all involved. Here’s the gist as we understand it so far:

  • Evictions can still be filed in Illinois courts in August.
    • In fact, 14 have been filed in Champaign County since Monday, according to Judge Brett Olmstead who handles all eviction cases in the county.
  • Illinois courts could enter eviction orders starting in September, but those orders cannot be enforced until after October 3 under the CDC order.
  • The latest order is the same in that it covers tenants who cannot afford rent because of the pandemic.
  • What’s new? The protection is limited to counties with “substantial” or “high” transmission rates.
    • Currently, that’s every county in Central Illinois except Jasper County.
    • The rate of transmission is updated by the CDC on a weekly basis.
    • If a county improves its transmission level, then covered renters in that county are protected until the transmission level is maintained for two full weeks.
  • For now, the order is in effect until October 3, but is “subject to further extension, modification, or recission based on public health circumstances.”

Target 3 investigators consulted Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Attorney John Roska to better understand how the CDC’s order will affect Illinois. Roska expects there will be court challenges.

A look at transmission levels in Illinois as of Tuesday on covid.cdc.gov. Click the map to see the latest updates.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion in June that indicated a majority of the high court would find eviction stays by the CDC invalid without legislative support.

Judge Olmstead expects the validity of the latest order will be taken to a federal court soon. He said by September 1, there will likely be an answer from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether district courts can enforce the order.

This is the latest layer of uncertainty in a year and four months of paused evictions, and as time has gone on, the confusion, need, and financial stress has worsened for so many.

As the moratorium continues, Target 3 investigators took a look back to break down a year’s worth of concerns from both sides: renters and landlords.

Renters

Giovanna DiBenedetto has a disability that keeps her out of work and on a fixed income. We met her at her temporary apartment in east Urbana.

“So in my situation, I am I have a disabled daughter, and we are currently in a beautiful two-bedroom,” she shared.”…But due to her health, we really needed a three-bedroom, and we moved here while we were on the waiting list for the voucher.”

Although DiBenedetto’s income was not directly impacted by the pandemic, she’s been living in a situation where she’s needed financial assistance for years.

“We were fortunate enough to finally find a house in the area, and that’s why we’re moving but we needed help to pay our deposit and first month’s rent,” she added.

That help did come from Cunningham Township.

“Before COVID-19, two-thirds of renters in Urbana were rent-burdened, which essentially means there may be one paycheck away from dealing with a housing crisis,” shared Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth. “Since COVID-19, that has skyrocketed.”

This is not a pandemic-era problem. However, for those living on a low income, like DiBenedetto, things changed from scraping by…to impossible to keep up.

Giovanna DiBenedetto stands just outside her Urbana apartment for an interview Tuesday.

“When you live on $1,000 a month, $500 for rent, plus extra, you know,” DiBenedetto listed. “…Two growing girls’ food, utilities, the bottom line is that we have a crisis in this country.”

Bailee VanAntwerp is the Emergency Assistance Case Manager for the City of Champaign Township. She said she talks to dozens of renters every day about assistance.

“They’re experiencing a lot of harassment from property managers and from landlords because they haven’t been able to give anything,” she said referring to past-due rent.

VanAntwerp said the township office has helped about 400 households.

“But that’s a very, very small look at who has been affected,” she explained.

“And I would say it’s very concentrated towards, you know, those who are living in very large complexes…those who have children and are single parents..”

DiBenedetto says although the moratorium has made it tougher to find the housing needed for her family, it’s necessary.

Even with the CDC’s extension, worry remains about the eventual end of the moratorium.

Bottom line is, we’re gonna have families homeless,” DiBenedetto said.

“When you are truly in this situation because you don’t have the income, we should not…we should not be throwing these families out on the street,” she added. “And not to mention, what is this going to do to our kids?”

“It’s going to affect their education,” shared Cunningham Township Case Manager Kyle Patterson, in a separate conversation.

Patterson pointed out just how far-reaching the effect of the end of the moratorium could be: “Schools are obligated by law to provide transportation, so if somebody is at a hotel or couch surfing, you know, the school district has to spend money,” he began.

“The court system is going to be completely clogged up. We have a sheriff’s department, that’s, you know, understaffed, and they’re going to have to physically enforce these evictions and these notices.”

Landlords

The same effort meant to give temporary relief to renters has caused lasting harm to another group: property owners. That’s according to those close to the issue.

So, how much the eviction moratorium is costing landlords?

$26.6 billion dollars is the figure a nationwide group of landlords is suing the federal government over. The National Apartment Association claimed the CDC’s pause on evictions was “unlawful”. The lawsuit was filed exactly a week before the latest moratorium was released by the CDC.

The non-profit trade association’s members have control over about 10 million rental units in the country.

News release on the National Apartment Association’s website on July 27. Click on the picture to access the full text.

The CDC’s moratorium didn’t apply in Illinois until Tuesday, because the state had its own.

Critics here at home said the state’s myriad of versions over the last 16 months has been confusing at best, leaving a costly impact in its wake.

Although there is anecdotal evidence of landlords being owed thousands in back rent, no one seems to know what the total loss is. 

As the President of the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, Andrew Timms has had a birds-eye view in watching the effects of the state eviction moratorium unfold.

“There hasn’t been any other profession or industry in the United States during this period that has been required to provide services without pay,” Timms shared.

He estimated the statewide organization, IRPOA, has between 1,500 and 2,000 members, including firms, corporations and individuals who own or manage rental housing.

“We have the full spectrum, but it’s predominantly mom and pop landlords, he added, estimating the smaller-scale property owners to make up 40-50% of the group.

Andrew Timms Champaign office off of W Hill St.

Timms said contrary to popular thought, it’s not just the small-scale property owners that have been affected.

“Any property owner, investor, housing provider who has 20-30% of their income reduced, or more, that’s going to hit anybody,” he explained.

The moratorium was written to cover renters as a last resort, but Timms said that’s not exactly what’s happening in practice.

Art Mann, a long-time attorney in Urbana, represents landlords on a regular basis. He said it doesn’t help that the state’s eviction orders change from month to month.

“The governor’s orders are often not drafted as well as they ought to be,” he said. “It’s not always clear what it takes to comply.”

It seems simple enough: Renters were not evicted if they could sign a declaration form saying they had a loss in income as a direct result of the pandemic, and have made every effort to pay.

It’s the checks and balances that were left out, according to Mann.

“I had a situation where it was very clear to me and my client that the person signed this declaration, but it wasn’t true.”

Up until a few months ago, landlords couldn’t contest a declaration in Champaign County, Mann said.

“It talks about that they’re that they were affected by COVID,” he explained, referring to the declaration form. “A lot of the people weren’t.”

It’s fair to say the moratorium created a “free-for-all”, according to Timms.

“I know of instances where a family in the Metro East area that was making $100,000 between the couple continued to have their job, just stopped paying rent on their home,” he told Target 3 investigators.

“And they got away with it?” we asked.

“What else could be done?” Timms responded.

So, what’s the alternative solution, according to the IRPOA President?

“Actually, one of our members had an excellent suggestion, which would have been to have the federal government buy the debt from the landlords,” he said.

The renter would still have an obligation to pay rent each month.

So, in that case, how do you ensure tenants are not being displaced or becoming homeless?

“Well, we…I think, as an industry nationwide, not just in not just our membership, but throughout the nation, have shown that we are willing to work with those people who have a genuine need,” Timms began.

“…and that didn’t start with the pandemic.”

“Certainly there are people out there who would have just said, ‘I don’t care, you’re being evicted.’ I understand that there are hard hearts out there,” he continued. “And at the same time, I have never gotten a phone call throughout the 16 months that was from one someone who said, ‘I’ve got somebody who’s five days late, how do I evict them?’”

Mann said, at this point, many renters have overstayed leases that have expired over the course of the moratorium, and no amount of money will solve that issue. He said that’s the truth about many of the cases he began to file on August 1.

Timms said he’s heard from a number of property owners who have resorted to selling their rental properties because of a lack of income. That sale is usually at a loss, he added.

Renters, like DiBenedetto, agree that assistance should only be available for those it was meant for. She said she wishes there was a program to assist landlords as well. Currently, the Illinois Housing Development Authority does not have one.

Click here for a breakdown of where the millions in rental assistance have gone so far.

If you’ve been affected by the eviction or the moratorium, we want to hear you. Email us at target3@wcia.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.