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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Coalition Joins Forces To Tackle Housing Assistance Needs In McLean County

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David Zalubowski
A McLean County coalition unveiled a plan Friday to streamline the way people seek help for paying their rent, mortgage, or utilities.

McLean County residents struggling financially because of COVID-19 could need up to $2.7 million in housing assistance in just the next three months—and a new community coalition says it’s got a plan to meet that challenge.

The coalition unveiled a plan Friday to streamline the way people seek help for paying their rent, mortgage, or utilities. They will fill out a single form that multiple agencies will be able to pass between each other to find the right funding source to help. The form is already available on the Normal Township website and will roll out elsewhere online over the next two weeks. Printed copies will also be available.

Until now, someone seeking assistance from multiple agencies might have to provide the same information over and over again.

“(A uniform application) reduces the stress, the frustration, on families and individuals who are seeking services, who are already stressed about how they’re going to pay their rent or mortgage or utilities,” said Deb Skillrud, City of Bloomington Township supervisor. “We knew early on this was a really important piece to streamline this for the applicant and for the service providers.”

PDF: Read the Housing Assistance Coalition Proposal

Low-wage workers were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus and the stay-at-home order, as restaurants, hotels, and retail stores abruptly closed. Over 10,000 people in McLean County filed for jobless benefits for the first time in March and April. The Bloomington-Normal jobless rate soared to 12.4% in April.

The estimated need for housing assistance is between $1.6 million and $2.7 million over the next three months, said Lauren Gibson, community planner at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. Between 500 and 2,000 families could need help, she said.

The timing of that need is fluid. The state’s eviction moratorium was just extended Friday through Phase 3 of the reopening plan, around the end of June, Gibson said. And Congress has yet to decide whether to extend the $600-a-week supplemental jobless benefits past their scheduled July expiration.

“It may be that the bulk of the need may not come until later in the summer,” Gibson said.

The United Way of McLean County, which helped convene the coalition, is planning a bilingual marketing blitz to tell people who need it that help is available. “Call 2-1-1” will be a core message, pointing people to PATH’s 211 service as a starting point.

The coalition is not starting from zero. Township governments and other groups, such as Mid Central Community Action, already offer housing or utility assistance.

This effort would expand that, using that shared application to match someone with housing assistance options from the City of Bloomington Township, Normal Township, Mid Central Community Action, PATH, The Salvation Army of McLean County, and The Immigration Project, and expected assistance from the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal.

With existing and expected incoming funding, the coalition estimates that it’s short between 30% and 35% of the expected need, said Adrian Barr, managing attorney with Prairie State Legal Services in Bloomington. Based on the need estimates, that’s at least hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“A significant further public/private partnership is needed to bridge the gap to the required funding to meet this emergency,” the coalition said in a statement Friday.

The housing assistance initiative is the “second wave” of need in McLean County, said United Way President and CEO David Taylor. The first wave was food insecurity, something the United Way and school districts have tackled head-on with tens of thousands of distributed meals.

“And while the governor has paused evictions for a period of time, there’s still this uncertainty of what’s going to happen to those people once that moratorium is lifted,” Taylor said.

Other coalition partners include the St. Vincent De Paul Society, St. John’s Lutheran Church, B/N Welcoming, Eastview Christian Church, and Illinois Prairie Community Foundation.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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