Ups and Downs: Fall 2021

 

Steve Cain
Fall, 2021

 

Rent relief sounded great when I first heard about it. Billions of dollars provided by the federal government to keep tenants in their apartments and help housing providers withstand the impact of large revenue losses and an inability to evict tenants for a period of months that, in Illinois, lasted more than a year and a half.

But the Devil, as they say, is in the details. In my direct experience, it was more like a comedy of errors that would have been funny had the stakes not been so high.

Let’s start with the fact that no rent relief would be considered for tenants who owed money but had moved out of their apartments, or worse, tenants who were gaming the system, refusing to pay, and would absolutely not cooperate in the rent relief application process. Most of our company losses were in both of those two categories.

But I did have (and still have) one tenant who, through no fault of his own, ran into financial difficulties after the pandemic started, had a roommate move out, and then simply could not keep up with the rent.

He’s a great guy and very well-meaning. He has always been honest and upfront with me and has made every effort to pay what he could or look for assistance elsewhere.

So, when I told him IHDA and the City of Chicago were both opening up rent relief programs, we both assumed that our white knight had arrived. After all, the program allocated $800 million in direct federal assistance to the state of Illinois to help tenants, like him, who had fallen on hard time. That’s a lot of money. We figured our chances were good.

Then we started the application process – a story in itself. After (finally) succeeding in getting the Application through the IHDA site (we could never get the City site to work at all), we waited to hear back.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

According to my email records, I made the application on June 1, and received confirmation that the application was complete, including the tenant portion, on June 15. My tenant, ever diligent, provided everything he was asked to provide, following up on my initial application on his behalf.

It was not until September 22, three and a half months after we made our initial application, that we finally heard back from IHDA. Shockingly, it was not confirmation that our application had been approved, but a rejection of the application because, as the email stated: “it could not be confirmed that [the tenant] met federal eligibility requirements based on the information provided in the application.”

There was no ability to contest the denial. The “missing information” was not identified. I responded anyway, requesting a review of the decision and offering to provide any missing information or documentation. My query was never answered.

I understand that IHDA was overwhelmed with tens of thousands of applications. I’m sure they tried to process the many applications as best they could. I know that it is inevitable that bad applications will sometimes be approved and deserving ones denied.

But my experience, and the stories I heard from other housing providers, tells me that the relief program was more aspirational than real for too many people, myself certainly included.

My tenant remains in my building. I told him we would keep trying and that I had no intension of starting an eviction when I know full well he is doing the best he can. Plus he’s just a nice guy. I don’t want to put money over his housing security. It’ll either work itself out, or I’ll just take my losses and move on.

But it is more than frustrating to see something with such promise turn out to be such a disappointment – even more so when I know we should have qualified and been approved.

So now there is a round three. We are going to try again. What else can we do? I’m owed several thousand dollars that he can’t pay. Maybe this time IHDA will get it right – or at least give us a chance to prove the legitimacy of the request, instead on a months-long wait and denial with no second chances. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.