Small landlords frustrated at delay in federal aid


Illustration by Emily Lichty

Evanston devoted a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to small landlords, but these landlords are still awaiting the fulfillment of that promise.

Nadia Bidarian, Reporter

City Council approved a plan last March to give financial support to small and medium-sized landlords using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

But landlords haven’t yet received any aid, leaving some frustrated.

Evanston received approximately $43 million in ARPA funding to address the city’s economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, the Housing & Community Development Committee created a proposal to set aside $500,000 of those funds to the Small Landlord Program. 

The committee decided at the November meeting that landlords owning 25 units or less would qualify for the program and receive aid, a threshold they decided to increase to 35 units at Tuesday’s meeting. Applicants can receive a maximum of $15,000.

Carlis Sutton, a local landlord who owns four units in the 5th Ward, said he struggled to collect rent during the pandemic. Now, he’s tired of waiting for city assistance.

“What do you want me to do? Burn my clothes, walk around in a sack, throw dust on my head and bow down and scrape and beg you for money?” Sutton said. “When I see others gain those kinds of funds, it just made me livid.”

Tina Paden, who owns 27 units and manages the family-owned Paden Properties, qualifies for the assistance under the committee’s modified requirements. She said she needs assistance to deal with unexpected repairs and lost income from the pandemic.

But to her, the $15,000 maximum is a “slap in the face.” 

“Somehow, you think that $15,000 is okay for a landlord who has been dedicated to providing affordable housing for over 50 years?” Paden said. 

A large part of Paden’s frustration stems from the city’s inaction. After approving the Small Landlord Program on Nov. 15, the committee said it would appear on City Council’s agenda for approval at the Dec. 12 meeting — but it didn’t appear at that meeting or the subsequent one.

Even after Tuesday’s committee meeting, Paden and Sutton wondered when the program would reach City Council for a vote. 

“The committee persons said, ‘We’re going to have the money right away, we’re going to get it voted on on Dec. 12, and by January you should have a check,’” Paden said. “Well, now it’s January, and no check. There’s no vote. There’s nothing.” 

Sutton and Paden said the slow assistance for small landlords is antithetical to the city’s promised commitment to affordable housing. 

The majority of affordable housing manifests in small, existing housing, not in new, larger developments, according to the DePaul Institute for Housing Studies.

“The city has never helped us do anything,” Paden said. “They just stand up there and say, ‘Oh, we’re so concerned about affordable housing.’” 

Illinois’ eviction moratorium, which expired in October 2021, protected tenants from eviction if they were unable to pay rent. But Paden and Sutton said it caused them to lose income they’re still trying to recoup.

Because of this, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) has been advocating for landlords to get city support — especially those who accept affordable housing vouchers from programs like Illinois’ Section 8. 

“We talk about wanting to support and promote affordability, but yet we’re not giving any assistance to these landlords. It doesn’t make any sense,” Kelly said. “They are some of the only property owners and landlords who provide Section 8 housing, and they’re not getting the support.” 

Paden said her company has rented to 75 low-income families in four of her properties over the past 20 years.

Many of these families were on Section 8 or received support from Connections for the Homeless, Center of Concern and other organizations for housing instability, she said.

To keep her units affordable, Paden said the city should provide more support.

“People think that landlords are rich and that we don’t deserve any money,” Paden said. “But one must remember that we’re a business too. I think a lot of people forget that.” 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @nadia_bidarian 

Related Stories: 

A history of initiatives and attempts to increase affordable housing in Evanston  

City Council approves purchase of vacant 5th Ward properties to develop into affordable housing 

City leaders remain divided over ARPA-allocation process