Fair housing legislation, the fight to preserve the American dream of homeownership and the challenge of finding affordable housing amid a sky-high market were among the issues explored by area leaders Thursday, April 28. Attendees at the Fair Housing Legislative Breakfast Forum in Rock Island also celebrated Quad Cities successes and outlined challenges. More than […]
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Fair housing legislation, the fight to preserve the American dream of homeownership and the challenge of finding affordable housing amid a sky-high market were among the issues explored by area leaders Thursday, April 28. Attendees at the Fair Housing Legislative Breakfast Forum in Rock Island also celebrated Quad Cities successes and outlined challenges. More than 100 area leaders, real estate agents, and housing and social service agency leaders gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for the event, which was making its return after a pandemic-forced hiatus. Sharon Smith, CEO of the Quad City Area Realtor Association, said she was “overwhelmed by the turnout” for “our fourth annual, except we missed two years.” Ms. Smith’s organization, the Illinois Realtor Association and others around the nation were holding such forums in April to celebrate National Fair Housing Month, which each year marks the passage of the Fair Housing Act in April 1968. At this year’s event Illinois state Reps. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, and Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, fielded questions from the audience about what the state can do to combat unfair housing practices and create more affordable housing. U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, and Illinois state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, who had been invited to appear said they were unable to attend due to conflicts. In his remarks, Mr. Halpin pointed to the recent passage of Illinois House Bill 2775, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on the source of your income. That means that no renter can be rejected because they receive Social Security or public assistance. “No matter where it comes from,” Mr. Halpin said of the money used for the rent check, “you still have the right to the American dream.” The measure also was celebrated by advocacy groups. AARP Illinois State Director Philippe Largent, for example, called the bill “a triumphant end to housing discrimination that has persisted for years. This bill ensures that renters can no longer be turned away for using Social Security, veteran’s housing benefits or other sources of income if they are otherwise qualified.” Landlords who continue to engage in such discriminatory practices could face litigation in state court, AARP Illinois said in a previous statement. According to the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing, which weighed in on the topic earlier, “Renters in Illinois have been turned away for decades because housing providers refuse the household’s legal source of income. The decision can be arbitrary and often serve as a proxy for other forms of discrimination, such as race or disability discrimination.” That “discrimination leads to homelessness, further exacerbating the problem,” the coalition said in support of the bill. HB2775, which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, is awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritkzer’s signature, and Mr. Halpin said, “I believe he intends to sign it.” It nearly didn’t get there, however. “If it wasn’t for Realtors’ willingness to work with the sponsor it wouldn’t have happened,” Mr. Halpin told the crowd. Ms. McCombie was among the lawmakers voting against the bill which also was opposed by the Illinois Rental Property Association. According to earlier news reports, Paul Arena, the association’s director of legislative affairs, called the bill a “blank check” that allows the government to control rental properties. But the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, called it the “right thing to do” and said none of the 19 states that had enacted it have repealed it. Ms. McCombie, a Realtor with Mel Foster Co. in Savanna, Illinois, also addressed the shortage of housing in the current bull market. “Affordable housing is not very affordable for some,” Ms. McCombie said, adding that fair housing also means fair-priced housing. “What goes up, must come down,” she predicted, but until it does, challenges will remain. And not just in metropolitan areas. Rural communities in her district, where housing stock already is low and homes rarely change hands, are especially hard hit by skyrocketing housing costs which is reducing the affordable housing market. Thursday’s event also was headlined by guest speaker Zeke Morris, president of the Illinois Realtors Association and the first Black man to hold that post. Mr. Morris, a Realtor from Willowbrook, Illinois, was visibly moved by a video screening of a short film about the American dream of home ownership. “I lived that dream that you saw on that screen,” Mr. Morris told the crowd, and he and the Illinois Realtors Association are committed to helping more people in Illinois and the Quad Cities to attain that dream. He praised local efforts to provide affordable housing from the podium at the King Center, which is surrounded by a host of new housing opportunities. “The work that you guys are doing is outstanding,” he told local fair housing leaders. And he pledged that his organization of 50,000 real estate agents remains committed to ensuring that all Ilinoisans from “all income levels, races and genders get to experience the dream of home ownership.” Among the ways the organization does that, Mr. Morris said, is through ensuring that agents throughout the state endorse the Fair Housing Declaration and by taking steps to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). In addition, he said, the organization created the Discriminatory Appraisals Task Force in December 2022 to end the practice of racial bias in home appraisals. During the forum’s Q&A, attendees also quizzed the panel about issues including the impact of rising cost of food, gas and utilities on the ability of many to own or rent affordable housing as well as access to funding to allow aging and handicapped people to stay in their own homes. Another concern was how to improve the public image of Illinois, which one Iowa Realtor said, makes properties there such “a hard sell” for real estate agents. Such challenges are more common than Quad Citians might think. “I hear the same questions in the area I serve, which is Chicago,” Mr. Morris said.