Fees funding rental housing support program are saved by special legislation

The Illinois Rental Housing Support Program was created in 2005 when CCH’s statewide housing campaign passed legislation creating a $10 charge on real estate recordings.  The funding is distributed throughout the state and provides subsidies to landlords who rent to extremely low-income tenants.

From $16 million $25 million a year has been collected since then, and the funds provide rent subsidies to about 2,500 households. 

In May 2011, a law firm filed a lawsuit in Lake County alleging that the fee being collected was unconstitutional on a number of counts. Advocates were most concerned about the lawsuit’s claim that diverting $1 of the $10 fee to county recorders (for administering the fee) had created an illegal “fee office.” A fee office is a part of the state constitution which says that fees collected cannot go directly to funding a local government office, which this fee appeared to be doing.

After watching the lawsuit for a period of time, a coalition of groups including CCH, the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, and Housing Action Illinois decided the program could be in jeopardy if we did not amend the statute that created it. So with help from State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), we introduced legislation that would remove the $1 fee from the Rental Housing Support Program fee. Now, a $9 fee would go directly to the state to fund the program.

We were pushing hard to get the legislation passed prior to a March 20 court hearing at which a judge was expected to rule on escrowing all fee collections, halting all funds to the rental program. We were able to get the State Senate to bypass a committee vote and bring the House version of the bill straight to the floor, passing it on March 20.

That same day, the judge ruled that the fee office was unconstitutional and that the funds should be escrowed. But it took a couple of days to draft the order which would have started the escrow, and Gov. Quinn signed the bill into law before then, rendering the escrow moot.

The court case continues as the plaintiffs seek retroactive relief from the prior law, but it seems unlikely they will prevail. The main vulnerability in the law is now gone. It was a truly amazing effort to stop some serious harm to families living in subsidized housing throughout the state.

– Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy