Out of Reach: Illinois' Affordable Housing Crisis

April 2019

During listening sessions our team hosted across the state, many community leaders noted the need for better public understanding of the barriers to affordable housing and the negative effects on individuals and families.

School superintendents told us children in unstable housing had trouble at school, mental health providers said patients in unstable housing advanced less in their treatments, community groups said people reentering society after prison struggled to find housing, homeless shelter directors said hospitals and criminal justice systems, and in turn, the taxpayers, were stretching their resources to care for individuals without housing options.

WSIU and the Illinois Newsroom explore the issues in this special report.

Ways to Connect

Affordable housing issues often get media attention when property prices soar due to spiking economic development or when property prices tumble due to dramatic industry decline, but that narrative is incomplete.

Struggling for Housing

Mar 29, 2019
Steph Whiteside/WSIU

In the course of reporting my previous story on the gap between wages and the cost of housing, I spent time following a case manager with the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless.

During that time, I met several people who shared their stories of how they struggled to find housing and how the coalition has helped them.

Every person who is homeless has their own story. But the two below are examples of common reasons for homelessness -- living on a fixed income and finding housing after being released from prison.

Donna: Living on Disability

In Illinois, there are only 35 affordable housing units for every 100 families considered extremely low-income, according to Housing Action Illinois, a housing advocacy organization.

Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8, is a federal program designed to make market-rate apartments accessible to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. The voucher program covers part of the rent for around 97,000 families in Illinois.

In response to a call for questions on affordable housing, one Illinois Newsroom listener asked: “How does Section 8 work? It seems like a great program in theory that also seems really hard for families to access in practice.”

For Low Wage Workers Housing is Out of Reach

Mar 19, 2019

An estimated 10,643 people in Illinois are homeless according to federal data. Many of those are working - but still can’t make ends meet.

For the Stephens family, it all began with a landlord who refused to make repairs to their rental home.

“Our roof was a joke,” Jenny Stephens said. “Our roof had a big old huge hole in it, gaping hole. And when it snowed, we had snow in our kitchen.”

Many communities in Illinois have rules that say renters can lose their housing if someone in the home is connected to a crime. City leaders who back the policies say the rules make neighborhoods safer. But fair housing advocates question the tactics.

 

The Quad Cities are divided by the Mississippi River along the Illinois-Iowa border. They all took a big hit during the 1980’s farm crisis, and were left with abandoned warehouses and other buildings.

Last summer, Chantil was forced to leave the townhome she shared with her two daughters and her mother in Des Plaines. (We’re withholding Chantil’s last name to protect her family’s privacy.) Her landlord wanted to sell the building, and Chantil had only about a month to find a new home. Landlords, however, kept turning her down because of her credit, and her income. Chantil makes $12 an hour at a department store.