Millions of Illinoisans are experiencing poverty, with almost one-third of the state’s residents being poor or low income, according to a new report by Heartland Alliance’s Social Impact Research Center.

Racism’s Toll: Report on Illinois Poverty examines the state’s poverty rates with an emphasis on institutional racism. Findings show that children, women, and people of color have the highest poverty rates in the state and that poverty rates remain at levels far higher than before the Great Recession.

For people of color in the state, poverty rates are two to three times higher than for white residents. In distressed housing neighborhoods, 51% of residents are of color. In neighborhoods that are not distressed, only 33% of residents are of color. Homelessness also is found to be a greater threat for people of color. In Cook County, where Chicago is located, individuals of color comprise over 85% of those experiencing homelessness.

According to the report, housing problems such as cost burdens, discrimination, evictions, foreclosures, and dilapidated or unsafe conditions can trigger poverty and homelessness. And many of these issues stem from the legacy of denying mortgage loans to families of color in the mid-20th century and the more recent subprime loans, neglect of public housing, ongoing housing discrimination, and fewer resources for households of color to pay for quality housing.

To eradicate these problems, the report calls for the support and expansion of subsidized housing programs that help households experiencing poverty afford housing and the investment in the creation of diverse and inclusive communities that have access to jobs, education, transportation, and health care.

Although the report is focused on Illinois, these trends also are being seen across the United States.

The findings “coalesce around the national conversation of where and how do we want to target affordable housing investments,” says Nadia Underhill, director of real estate for Heartland Housing, one of five Heartland Alliance subsidiaries. “The increase in population that is rent-burdened is a national issue. It speaks to the importance of building affordable housing and the advocacy work to increase funding commitments and sources to do that.”

Heartland Housing's Rethke Terrace in Madison, Wis., will provide 60 permanent supportive housing units for the city's chronically homeless.
Heartland Housing's Rethke Terrace in Madison, Wis., will provide 60 permanent supportive housing units for the city's chronically homeless.

As a supportive housing developer working primarily in Illinois and Wisconsin, Heartland Housing has been striving to position its projects to meet residents’ needs holistically.

“We’ve tried to articulate the importance of providing housing that has connection to services that residents may need to increase their access to health care or earning potential,” says Underhill.

One example of how Heartland Housing is working to help vulnerable households is its new permanent supportive housing development in Madison, Wis., that is scheduled to open in June.

The 60-unit Rethke Terrace will have robust services with on-site case management and connections to outside programs. Amenities include access to transit, community spaces, and a gardening program. “This will encourage folks to build community as they stabilize,” says Underhill.

She adds that Heartland Housing also is hoping to build a supportive housing development for families on a city-owned site in a neighborhood with strong schools as well as access to jobs and commercial businesses in Madison. This development will get the green light if it’s awarded low-income housing tax credits.

Another example of Heartland Housing’s recent work is in Lincoln Park, one of Chicago’s well-known and robust neighborhoods, where it is rehabbing an older property in its portfolio. “We are committed to the importance of having affordable housing in that neighborhood so we made a decision to reinvest in that building to maintain the affordability for decades to come.”