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Report says McLean County coalition has distributed $5.1M in COVID housing relief

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WGLT
United Way of McLean County led a coalition that has helped distribute more than $5.1 million to residents facing eviction during the coronavirus pandemic.

A coalition of social services, churches, educators and local government has distributed $5.1 million in COVID relief to help renters and homeowners stay in their homes, according to a new report.

The United Way of McLean County Housing Coalition is assessing how much it helped and where gaps in housing security remain.

Kathleen Lorenz is community investment director with United Way of McLean County and a Normal Town Council member. Lorenz said the coalition still has work to do.

“The housing issue is still going on in what I call the long tail of COVID,” said Lorenz, adding the rise in eviction filings after the state’s moratorium was lifted strained the agency’s rapid rehousing and homeless prevention efforts.

Lorenz said the coalition did all it could to make sure the public knew about the financial help — from billboards and social media to grassroots efforts. “We fanned out and put all sorts of the materials in various locations, from laundromats to agencies to wherever people might gather,” Lorenz said. “It was not for lack of trying if some folks did not (take) advantage of it.”

Erin Duncan is an attorney with Prairie State Legal Services (PSLS), a nonprofit law firm that has helped people stay in their homes through a court-managed eviction diversion program in McLean County. Duncan, who also serves as coalition co-chair, said said some tenants couldn't get rental help because of uncooperative landlords and others had financial problems unrelated to COVID. She added that many struggling with housing insecurity often are dealing with stress and trauma that can make seeking financial assistance difficult.

"People facing housing instability have a lot on their plates," Duncan said.

Evictions in McLean County rose noticeably after the state’s eviction moratorium was lifted, but it never became a tidal wave of evictions advocates feared. Still, advocates are concerned housing insecurity remains a problem for many.

According to PSLS, a number of agencies in McLean County still have funding available:

  • Court-based rental assistance: must be in eviction court and have a COVID-related hardship. The Immigration Project can help with court-based rental assistance applications.
  • Bloomington Township: must have an eviction or utility disconnect notice and meet income guidelines.
  • Children’s Home and Aid: must have an eviction or utility disconnect notice and have a child age 0-6 residing in home, and have COVID-related hardship.
  • Immigration Project: must be undocumented person with a showing of acute emergency.
  • LIFE CIL: must have household member with a disability and COVID-related hardship.
  • Mid-Central Community Action: must meet income guidelines and show the assistance will meet a one-time need.
  • Normal Township: must have an eviction or utility disconnect notice, meet income guidelines, and have minor children in the household.
  • Regional Office of Education: must have child residing in home age 3-21 and COVID-related hardship.
  • Tazwood Community Services: provides gas, electric, and water bill assistance.
  • Churches also may provide assistance. An online database of area resources is available at https://www.navigateresources.net/path/.

Eviction records no longer sealed

A COVID relief law that automatically seals eviction records has lapsed. Duncan said she's concerned that could make it harder for the recently evicted to relocate.

“How do we get folks into stable housing at the next place when we’ve got a market with higher rents, a lack of affordable housing in general and any kind of barrier like that where if a landlord is doing a screening and sees there is an eviction,” she said.

Duncan encouraged anyone who may be on the verge of eviction to seek legal advice so they can potentially avoid an eviction that may hurt their ability to find a new home or job.

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