Senate to vote on bill to help pay house rent

Marissa Conrad

The Illinois Senate votes this week on an affordable housing bill that could help many low-income Evanston residents — but local landlords say they need more information before accepting the state aid.

The bill — which was passed Tuesday by the Illinois House — would create a $30 million rental assistance fund through a 36- to 44-percent increase in the amount a citizen must pay to record a real estate document.

The money would be distributed to participating landlords to subsidize the rent of low-income families, defined as those who pay 30 percent or more of their income toward rent.

In Evanston, that typically translates to an annual income of less than $20,000, said Illinois state Rep. Julie Hamos (D-17th).

Some Evanston property owners, however, don’t know if they would participate in the voluntary program.

“To be totally honest, I haven’t tracked that particular legislation,” said Robert Heiberger, treasurer of Evanston Bond and Mortgage Company, 1732 Orrington Ave.

Heiberger said his company, which “has buildings all over town,” does support the federal Section 8 housing voucher program, which covers the gap between a tenant’s income and rent.

“If we thought what we saw in (the new legislation) was fair and just, then we’d probably like to take part in it,” he said. “It’s just one of those things we’d have to read and see.”

But at least one property owner said he could make his decision without reading anything.

Wilmette Real Estate, which manages eight or nine buildings in Evanston, accepts Section 8 vouchers but is not interested in the new program, said President Cameel Halim.

“We never work with any (state) governments,” Halim said. “Usually the condition attached to this is just too cumbersome for us.”

Hamos said the bill, modeled after a “very successful” Chicago program, is designed to create mixed-income buildings open to people on fixed incomes, earning minimum wage or limited by other factors.

“We hear a lot from the families of adult disabled children who have no place to live, if they want to or are able to live somewhere independently,” she said.

The bill also would create a grant program, under which developers could apply for funds to build affordable housing units. At least 10 percent of the $30 million fund will be allotted for the grant program.

The $11 real estate fee increase to raise that $30 million, however, is drawing some complaints.

The charge in Cook County to record a mortgage now ranges from $25 to $30, said Prince Williams, a manager at Axiom Mortgage Corporation, 531 Davis St.

“If (the $11) is being charged as part of the recording fee, I think it is excessive,” Williams said.

Williams said a customer must pay this fee to take out an equity loan, or to refinance his or her home.

But, Hamos said, this is something people will pay “just a few times in their lifetime.”

“It’s not a recurring thing at all,” she said. “I’m just excited about this bill. We haven’t been able to do much for the people who aren’t ready for home ownership. And that’s who this program is aimed at.”

Reach Marissa Conrad at [email protected]