DeKALB — DeKalb County low-income housing officials say recent rent hikes and increases in the cost of living are forcing bondholders to relocate.
Of the more than 450 participants in the countywide program with the DeKalb County Housing Authority, 53 experienced rent increases for one-, two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom units in 2019, averaging of $40. In 2020, there were 79 increases averaging $24 and in 2021, 130 participants said their rent had increased by an average of $69, said Housing Authority executive director Shelly Perkins. For people living on already tight monthly budgets, any unforeseen increases can be disruptive.
Perkins said his office has anecdotally noted that landlords in the area are raising their rent, including those who rent subsidized housing.
“We actually had to move tenants,” Perkins said. “Which is awful, because the landlords raise the rent enough that it no longer works for the tenant, even though they’ve been living there for two years.”
Beth Jones, 62, a DeKalb resident who receives housing voucher payments from the housing authority, said she and husband Dan, 65, live off her disability income and his pension. The couple live in a ground-floor apartment on Ridge Drive in North DeKalb, which until recently cost $625 a month. Jones said she worked in sales and didn’t often have the same monthly income, so she and her husband started a housing voucher in September.
The program requires the Joneses to register their monthly income with the housing authority each month, which in turn provides them with $50 through an income-tested plan, enough to help pay at least the grocery store.
“I thank God for the supplement right now,” Jones said. “Because otherwise we would have to go to food stamps and go to friends’ houses and stuff and get help with our food.”
Jones said her rent recently increased by $25 to $650, though her relationship with her current landlord helped them not have to move. Moving would also present its own challenges, Jones said, including finding an accessible space for her husband, who has a disability.
Either way, Jones said the couple hope to leave their current unit in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood by November.
Jones said she wants more landlords in the northern parts of the county, as well as Waterman and other surrounding areas, to open up to housing voucher tenants.
“I know they’re scared,” Jones said. “But there are people who are honest and care about their place.”
A homeowner’s perspective
Although she’s had to move tenants recently, Perkins said she doesn’t want to blame landlords, citing Illinois’ longstanding eviction moratorium due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything is going up right now,” Perkins said. “…I would certainly urge landlords and tenants to work together.”
DeKalb owner Scott Morrow, who rents eight residential properties in the city, had owned a decade in DeKalb and a decade in Cook County before that. In both counties, Morrow said his best tenants happen to be housing bond tenants — or Section 8 — and he prefers those tenants because “it’s almost guaranteed money.”
“People don’t want to fall behind on their rent when they get housing assistance or they’ll be taken out of the program,” Morrow said. “I also feel that, in my experience, housing tenants have taken good care of my property.”
However, Morrow said he only has two tenants who currently have housing vouchers.
“The hardest thing for tenants in the unit to find is that the property has to be vacant and empty when they come in for their inspection and before approval,” Morrow said. “I normally have a very minimal turnover and people line up for my apartments as soon as they are empty. So for me to have it empty means I am losing money between tenants. »
Rising prices for utilities such as gas and other factors including homeowners insurance, property taxes and material maintenance costs also factored into the increased rent, Morrow said.
“Are the owners supposed to just bear the costs? said Morrow. “Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle.”
According to the Housing Authority, there are 138 current landlords in DeKalb County offering housing voucher leases. Of those owners, 89 are “mom and pop” executives who own a handful of individual units instead of complexes. And 33 are landlords offering accommodation in larger complexes such as Barb City Manor or Suburban Estates, while 16 are a mix of small and large housing units.
Perkins said the value of a voucher the housing authority provides for standard vouchers must be between 90% and 110% of the area’s fair market rent. For DeKalb County, the fair market rent is $811 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Bureau County, the fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $561 per month, which is $12 more than in Putnam County. In McHenry, Lake, Cook, Kane and Will counties — all part of the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville Fair Market Rent Zone for HUD — monthly fair rents range from $710 to $1,680.
In Kendall County, it’s $974 per month. In Grundy County, it’s $893 per month.
In Jo Daviess County, it’s $578 a month, $8 more than in Whiteside County. In LaSalle County, it’s $605 a month, a dollar less than in Ogle County. In Lee County, it’s $556 a month.
“It has to be affordable — it has to be within the parameters of the program,” Perkins said. “Nobody gets an exorbitant amount of rent and that has to be in our calculation. So we noticed that our local rents were definitely going up.
In 2018, average DeKalb County Housing Authority voucher percentages were 97% of fair market rents, Perkins said. It increased to 103% in 2019 and 105% in 2020.
For 2021, Perkins said the vouchers were 108% of fair market rent, the highest the housing authority had recorded.
“It’s just because we recognize rising rents and the need that we wanted to give our customers every opportunity to have choice in housing,” Perkins said.
Housing Section 8 and Section 9 – what is the difference?
Perkins said Section 9 housing is physical public housing run by the housing authority. Taylor Street Plaza in DeKalb is an example, where the housing authority adjusts the rent for these units to 30% of the tenant’s household income.
“At the time, those were your Cabrini Green and Ida B. Wells homes, which they aren’t anymore,” Perkins said. “At DeKalb, I’m very happy to say that we have some of the best social housing.”
Perkins said this was different from Section 8 housing – also known as subsidized housing – which are vouchers that help pay market apartment rent. This could include vouchers for veterans, emergency housing or standard vouchers, which are most common at the housing authority, she said.
“And they can pick up and go pick a market rate unit wherever they want in the jurisdiction and rent,” Perkins said. “So rental assistance goes with them.”
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, approximately 43% of DeKalb County residents are renters. At the current Illinois hourly minimum wage of $11, a resident would have to work 68 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at the fair market price of $811 per month.
If a worker earning $11 an hour works full time, between 37 1/2 and 40 hours a week, he could pay rent at $572 a month, according to the coalition.
Perkins said the standard for determining what is an affordable amount of monthly rent for a resident is 30% of their monthly income.
“For someone living on Social Security, $238 would be affordable rent for them,” Perkins said.
Who Uses Section 8 Housing Vouchers in DeKalb County?
According to DeKalb County Housing Authority data obtained by The Daily Chronicle, approximately 74% of standard Section 8 housing voucher holders in the county are female and 26% are male of the county’s 553 total households. housing in April 2021.
Of the 553 households, 214 of them are families with children and 461 without children.
The majority of incumbents – around 65% – are not elderly, but are on average 49 years old. About 41% are not disabled and 59% are white, according to the housing authority. About 93% are not Hispanic or Latino.
There are 354 units rented with housing vouchers in DeKalb, according to the housing authority. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 40,290 residents in DeKalb as of April 2020.
In addition, there are 46 housing voucher rental units in Cortland, 45 in Sycamore, 14 in the Somonauk area, eight in Genoa, seven in Hinckley and two in Malta, according to the housing authority.
Kristen Brackmann of DeKalb said she lived in University Village in DeKalb growing up and her mother received subsidized housing benefits to live there.
She said she has witnessed the restrictions she believes can come from living in such accommodation, including management asking questions about visitors to the unit. She said that when her mother’s boyfriend, now her stepfather, came by, the property management asked her how long he had left.
“It was a really intrusive way to live,” Brackmann said.
Brackmann said her mother worked multiple jobs, despite the social stigma she said she knew about surrounding jobs and people living on housing vouchers. The living situation may be subject to change if a partner moves in whose income also pushes the household above the bond threshold.
“When you have young kids, it’s kind of a tough thing to deal with,” Brackmann said.
Brackmann said her experience led her to want to modify the Section 8 housing voucher program, including opening it up to two-parent households or enacting a strict probationary period for such living situations so families don’t not lose their benefits or their home.
“And the next thing they know, they have five days notice at their doorstep for wanting to be a family,” Brackmann said.