Don't let the COVID crisis become an eviction crisis

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Athena Williams, Executive Director Oak Park Regional Housing Center

COVID-19 has challenged us to reexamine all different parts of our lives. We've spent the year quarantining at home, we're wearing masks, keeping our kids focused on learning is now an extra job, assuming we've kept our real jobs.

Maybe, though, the biggest and most immediate worry is not being able to make the rent. And it's confusing sorting out the different eviction moratoriums the state and the federal government have rolled out.

While you may not think about the Oak Park Regional Housing Center as a great resource for help on rental assistance, eviction mediation, we've pivoted fast to meet what is a critical need whether you live in Oak Park, on the West Side or in Proviso.

Finding housing, keeping people in their housing is what we do and we're ready to help you.

As the Housing Center's executive director, I am intimately familiar with the struggles people are facing in making ends meet right now. And I know people don't necessarily know where to turn for help. OPRHC is a resource, as our newest rental assistance program was created to help both tenants and landlords explore a middle ground for rent payments during COVID. Renters have options, and they need to know that.

Something that people don't realize right now is how critical keeping folks in their homes is, especially right now. When people are evicted the most common recourse is to lean on others for housing support. That might work in a pandemic-free world but with COVID this creates optimum conditions for spread. Removing people from their homes now would force people to pile into small spaces or couch surf around the community, exposing more people than necessary to COVID-19. The more people evicted means more COVID cases, which leads to more people getting ill, more people not being able to work, and if the rate of infections increases too much, we may be looking into shutting down again. Whether living alone, with roommates, or with your family, it's a matter of public health safety to keep people in the space they're in.

OPRHC's Eviction Assistance Program is designed to help both tenants and landlords, as our efforts help facilitate conversations to temporarily lower monthly rental costs for tenants facing financial hardship. Unemployment and job loss are plaguing our community, so it's understandable that people need help navigating their finances right now, but that extends to our community's landlords, too. They have mortgages that need paying. We're finding that both parties are usually open to creating a solution that works for everyone.

The eviction moratorium, effective Sept. 4 to Dec. 31, 2020, will prevent landlords from evicting non-paying tenants for up to six to eight months, when under normal circumstances landlords can evict in just 60 to 120 days. This time extension puts Mom-and-Pop landlords — building owners who use rent payments to cover the cost of their own housing — in incredibly difficult situations. OPRHC's intention is to make sure landlords are still receiving at least some rent money during the six to eight months tenants are at risk of eviction.

We have always helped our community with rental housing assistance, whether it be credit debt management sessions or lease amendments, but our current focus on rent status mediation is a pivot to help answer the problems COVID has created. So if you and yours are fighting to make it, reach out and we'll do everything we can to find a solution. Our phone is 708-848-7150.


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