The Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing is a group of directly impacted community members and advocates committed to making housing access in Illinois equitable and just. Coalition members include tenant leaders, housing and homelessness organizations, disability rights advocates, civil rights and antipoverty groups, and faith communities. For nearly two decades, advocates in Illinois have pushed to close a glaring gap in fair housing law: the lack of protections for low-income people with Housing Choice Vouchers and other subsidies. Thanks to the advocacy of the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing, this long-term campaign came to fruition in the 2022 legislative session with the passage of statewide source-of-income protections.

“No one should be denied housing based on their legal non-wage income. Housing is a human right, and all individuals have the right to choose the area in which they want to raise their family,” said Sharon Norwood, housing justice organizer at the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance and steering committee member for the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing. “Home is where a family should feel secure. Discrimination against individuals who use subsidies and other forms of non-traditional assistance to pay their rent has been completely surreal. The new source-of-income protections bring hope to individuals who are looking to find the perfect community for their family or for those who would like to stay in the place they already love.”

Photo courtesy of Abdi Maya, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance

“The passage of statewide source-of-income protections is part of a longstanding effort to protect millions of Illinoisans who use some sort of non-wage income to pay for housing,” said Michael Chavarria, executive director of HOPE Fair Housing Center and steering committee member of the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing. “The COVID pandemic brought mountains of proof that new protections were essential to ensure families needing emergency rental assistance could actually use it. Through decades of advocacy and new organizing efforts by the Coalition, Illinois law inches closer to realizing the promise of fair housing.”

Because the federal “Fair Housing Act” does not include source of income as a federally protected category, many renters are turned away and denied stable housing because housing providers refuse to accept their voucher as a form of payment for rent. This practice, known as source-of-income discrimination, is often a proxy for racial discrimination. Studies have consistently shown that Black voucher holders are disproportionately denied housing when compared to similarly situated white voucher holders. People with disabilities are also more likely to face discrimination.

Over the years, Illinois advocates have successfully secured local source-of-income protections in some cities and counties, but more than half the state of Illinois still lacked protections. Even in jurisdictions with local source-of-income laws in place, housing providers faced relatively minor consequences when charged with local fair housing violations. The pandemic shined a new light on the extent of source-of-income discrimination and its harms. For example, a FOIA request revealed that landlords refused to complete 40% of all applications for the Illinois state housing finance agency’s emergency rental assistance program that used “CARES Act” funds.

Advocates entered the 2022 legislative session with a renewed sense of urgency for source-of-income protections. The bill, HB 2775, received early support from the Illinois Senate and House Black and Latino caucuses. However, the bill faced strong opposition from associations of realtors, bankers, and property owners. Intense negotiations ultimately flipped one of the bill’s chief opponents, the Illinois Association of Realtors, to publicly support the bill.

Photo courtesy of Abdi Maya, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance

The Realtors’ support swayed the remaining undecided assemblymembers and secured enough votes for the bill to pass. Governor J. B. Pritzker signed HB 2775 into law on May 23, 2022, and the new protections took effect on January 1, 2023.

HB 2775 adds source of income to the Illinois Human Rights Act, making it a civil rights violation to refuse to consider an individual rental applicant because they receive a form of legal non-wage income, including vouchers. The law also protects those seeking to purchase homes using FHA or VA loans or homeownership vouchers, which will address the racial wealth gap and expand homeownership opportunities for Black and Latino households.

The Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing is intentional about empowering and centering the voices of people directly impacted by source-of-income discrimination, housing instability, and homelessness. The Coalition employed a system of weighted votes in its decision-making processes, which ensured that directly impacted leaders could hold the Coalition accountable. Directly impacted renters took the lead in the Coalition’s advocacy: they met with legislators, testified at hearings, and shared their personal stories on social media.

Although source-of-income protections are now the law of the land in Illinois, the Coalition’s work is far from finished. Coalition members are now focusing on implementation, outreach, and enforcement of the law. The Coalition is working with the Illinois Department of Human Rights to inform the agency’s rulemaking and guidance for the implementation of HB 2775. Coalition members have also secured funding to fairly compensate directly impacted leaders for their involvement in public education campaigns and peer mentorship for victims of housing discrimination.

Photo courtesy of Abdi Maya, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance

To celebrate the passage of statewide source-of-income protections, driven by the leadership of directly impacted residents, NLIHC honors the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing with the 2023 Statewide Organizing Award. The annual NLIHC Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievements in state, local, or residential organizing that further NLIHC’s mission of achieving racially and socially equitable public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes have quality homes that are accessible and affordable in communities of their choice.

The organizing awards will be presented at NLIHC’s Housing Policy Forum 2023: Onward to Housing Justice, which will take place on March 21-23. To hear directly from organizers with the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing and celebrate their victories, join us at the Forum’s “Best Practices in Organizing” session on Wednesday, March 22, at 11 am. Registration for the Forum can be found here.