Realtor associations urge opposition to expanding Housing Choice Voucher Program

by Emily Mack

Having passed through the Illinois House of Representatives last April, the state Senate is expected to vote on House Bill 2775 this month — and local real estate agents are urging opposition. Last week, Illinois REALTORS® (IR) released an official statement calling for legislators to vote against the bill, and the Chicago Association of REALTORS® (CAR) followed suit. Both organizations are now calling on members to contact local senators before the vote. But what exactly are they campaigning against?

As a proposed amendment to the state’s current Homelessness Prevention Act, HB 2775 essentially functions as a “source of income” mandate. If passed, the bill would classify any discrimination based on a tenant’s “non-wage source of income” (i.e., subsidized income) as a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. In doing so, all landlords would be required to accept and comply with any rent subsidy programs for which a tenant applicant is eligible. Foremost, that means voluntary local ordinances like the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, would be greatly expanded. And this is where Illinois REALTORS® takes issue.

“Illinois REALTORS® support the HCVP and believe that the program is very advantageous for both landlords and tenants in many circumstances, but it was never designed to be mandatory,” reads the association’s official call to action. The Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ announcement echoes IR’s position; both groups detail a series of further modifications that might stem from broadening the HCVP. Among them: Landlords using HUD-dictated leases, landlords becoming subject to “at-will” inspections, the creation of new rules for rent increases and, overall, the “further erosion” of the rental housing market.

However, the core of the HB 2775 is not so novel; it has been illegal for Cook County landlords to reject applicants based solely on their Section 8 status since 2013. But, in addition to extending that that dictum across the rest of Illinois, the language of the proposed bill also broadens the understanding of which subsidy programs qualify. Under new rule, it would appear that any form of assistance could fall under “non-wage source of income,” be it local, state, federal or even private subsidies.

Reflecting on this in another official statement, IR acknowledged that the bill would not preempt home rule. But in broadening current regulations — many of which were temporary, pandemic-era fixes — it states: “Not only does that violate the basic concept of the voluntary nature of those temporary programs, but it adds yet another layer to the regulatory burden of being a housing provider in Illinois.”

The statement continues:

“Mom-and-pop housing providers must already navigate a web of regulations imposed under a banner of ‘tenant protections.’ HB 2775 will create more regulatory burdens and add more red tape for housing providers, which will ultimately cause more housing instability for Illinois renters.”

Although IR has supported affordable housing measures in the past, the organization presents this bill as an inadequate solution, targeted at symptoms of the state’s housing crisis rather than the root cause.

A total of 99,181 Illinois households used Section 8 vouchers, as of last October — a number that would likely increase should HB 2775 pass. And, since it’s being presented as a tool for “Homelessness Prevention,” the proposal has gained widespread political support; currently HB 2775 counts 24 co-sponsors in the Senate. But a more concerted push against the bill is growing, with agents relaying their opposition online. IllinoisRealtors.org offers a pre-written letter of opposition and is urging members to sign them and send them to their state senators.

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