As Congressional negotiators point fingers and try to get something done, community activists in Evanston say the failure to extend supplemental unemployment benefits will lead to more hunger, more evictions and more homelessness.
The $600 weekly benefit, passed earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic led to record unemployment, expired Friday. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has passed an extension of the $600 weekly payment. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, head of the Republican-controlled Senate, wants only a $200 benefit.
Connections for the Homeless is an Evanston social service agency which helps those needing food or shelter. Associate Director Jen Kouba says they “anticipate an increase in need for services and an influx of individuals facing homelessness” because unemployment benefits have not been extended. Without that money, people may not be able to pay the rent and could face eviction.
Connections has seen a 250 percent increase in requests for eviction prevention dollars since the pandemic began in mid-March. Kouba says the agency has provided 239 households with desperately needed assistance.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has extended the state’s moratorium on evictions until Aug. 22. He has extended it before, and might extend it again. But that can’t last forever. Kouba says “with the eviction moratorium ending, the need will continue to increase.”
The Evanston City Council is also considering a measure to buy those facing eviction some time to stay in their homes. An ordinance, now in a Council committee, would stay in effect for 60 days beyond whenever the governor’s order might expire. It allows those behind on rent because of COVID-related hardships to get extra time to work out a long-term repayment plan with the property owner, while staying in their apartments.
But if an eviction moratorium helps renters who are crushed by the financial disaster of COVID-19, a moratorium could actually hurt somebody else — the landlord. A tenant may get extra time to pay the rent, but an eviction moratorium does not mean a mortgage moratorium. The landlord still has to pay the bank or face foreclosure.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she supports an eviction moratorium, but would also like to find a way to help small landlords, people who own buildings with less than four or five units. Rue Simmons says those landlords are often senior citizens, who not only live in their building, but often provide affordable housing in a community where finding a place to live can be very expensive.
“These property owners are our partners at the City of Evanston,” she says. Rue Simmons would like to shape the eviction moratorium in a way to insure it doesn’t backfire by helping one group while at the same time hurting another.
It’s a challenge, to say the least. People in Evanston are losing their jobs, their homes, and their apartments. Owners of those apartment buildings themselves may be falling behind in payments they owe.
Homelessness is on the rise. And so is hunger. Connections for the Homeless says before the pandemic, they helped 250 people a month at the food bank. Now, that number is 450. And without a boost in unemployment payments, whatever that boost may turn out to be, more people will be hungry.