After Losing Rental Income When Tenants Lose Their Jobs, Chicago Man Gets Stuck With Long Wait From State Aid Program

CHICAGO (CBS) — Rental income was part of a Chicago man’s retirement plan, but that ran into a problem when his tenants lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The landlord and his tenants turned to a state rental assistance program for help, but have been waiting for a decision since before Christmas. CBS 2’s Lauren Victory got answers about why the Illinois state process is taking months to complete.

Every day, retired Willie Chatman sits at his computer checking the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s rental income, or IDHA

“I seriously considered, ‘Hey, maybe I should start thinking about working another two or three years to dig myself out of this hole,'” Chatman said, referring to the tenant’s $16,000 hole upstairs and again. $10,000 in unpaid rent by the woman downstairs. “I still have to pay the mortgage and the taxes and the water.”

So Chatman used money in reserves that he would normally have used for repairs to pay the incoming bills. Some tasks, such as painting the walls or replacing an old door, had to be postponed. He also made a patchwork of lifestyle changes.

“For example, bowling – that has to go. No movies – that has to go,” Chatman said.

Hiring help might ease Chatman’s burdens, but when he contacted CBS 2 in June, he was almost out—waiting for a decision on his December application.

Correspondence from IDHA told him to expect a wait of 90 days or more. He hoped that was an exaggeration.

“Knowing, not knowing. Will it go away? Won’t it go away?” said Chatman, describing what it was like to be in limbo.

He had started the eviction process but filed it before learning and applying for hire help.

“You don’t know which direction to go in because you don’t know where that process will take you,” he said.

So why did it take six whole months to get to this point? CBS 2 has had multiple viewers complain about the lengthy process.

We asked, and IDHA agreed to do an interview to explain.

“I understand the frustration. I don’t want to admit that,” said Rodrigo Carillo, director of IDHA’s Strategic Response Unit.

The SRU team manages all the COVID relief money going out of IDHA for both rent and mortgage relief.

Carillo tells us that 76,000 applications came in for this round of rent help (the first round was distributed to 63,964 tenants in 2021).

The applications had to be sorted first to prioritize lower-income households under federal guidelines. It wasn’t first-come, first-served, he said.

What also took time was checking for any double-dipping in other rental programs.

“We had to contact Cook County. We had to contact other counties that were receiving money and exploiting those funds,” Carrillo said, “so it wasn’t so succinct.”

He added that quality control also caused some delay for about 5 percent of the applications — selected at random.

“We did our best,” Carrillo said.

Chatman’s approval came just days after CBS 2 contacted IDHA about his case. It turned out that he was missing some documentation which he quickly sent.

While it’s unclear why that wasn’t communicated to him earlier, Chatman can breathe a little easier.

“A great weight has been lifted,” he said when he heard of the approval.

To date, the IDHA team has issued more than 24,000 approvals and awarded more than $178 million for this round of rental aid. We were told that they are currently completing tenant applications without their landlords.

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