Anti-Poverty Referendum Background
September 1, 2020
Dear Urbana voters,
The Cunningham Township Board unanimously voted on August 10 to place an Anti-Poverty Referendum on the ballot. On November 3, 2020, you will be asked to vote on whether to “increase the Township levy specifically for the purpose of providing Assistance for Low-Income Households in need in Urbana (including, but not limited to, rental assistance, job transportation, and other life-saving assistance for those in need).” Please allow me to provide some background so that you can make an informed choice this November.
See our slideshow for details about the referendum with graphs and citations.
Facts about poverty and housing insecurity in our community:
- A person had to work 73 hours per week at minimum wage to afford the average two-bedroom apartment with utilities in our county last year.
- As a college town, local workers have to survive two unemployment periods each year where the economy contracts: winter break and summer break.
- More than a quarter of kids in Urbana live in poverty. The poverty rate in Champaign County is higher than Illinois & National rates and is rising.
- 66.4% of all Urbana renters were rent-burdened, pre-COVID.
- 392 evictions were filed in Urbana in 2018, or 7.5 every week.
- For families and children, evictions lead to displacement, job and school disruption, separation, and homelessness. For landlords, each eviction costs $1,000-1,500 in court costs and attorney fees that are hard to recover.
- There is no immediate emergency shelter option for parents with children to stay together in our county. Homeless families waited between 6 and 150 days to access shelter last year; the average wait was about 30 days.
- Urbana residents with disabilities who receive SSI ($783 per month) can’t afford any independent housing at market rates.
Cunningham Township is your local, public office supporting low-income Urbana residents facing poverty, disability, housing & food insecurity.
Our programs include:
- General Assistance
We provide monthly support of up to $300 for Urbana residents who are disabled or out of work and are not receiving any other assistance.
- Rental Assistance
We prevent eviction and homelessness for households up to 200% of the poverty level through payments to landlords of up to $600, limited to once every 2 years.
- Social Service Grants
We fund local non-profits to fill gaps Township lacks capacity or expertise to fill.
- Housing Advocacy
We help participants who are homeless or 55+ apply for housing subsidies and move into their own home.
In response to COVID-19, and thanks to private donations, your Township has launched:
- The Bucket Brigade
Food & toiletry deliveries for very low-income residents to stay safely at home. In partnership with the Channing Murray Foundation, St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, & Sola Gratia. 1323 people including 470 children received deliveries in a 6 month period.
- Solidarity Gardens CU
A community-wide collaboration to support #NeighborsFeedingNeighbors raising hundreds of pounds of donated fresh vegetables this season. In partnership with Sola Gratia, Urbana Park District, Channing Murray, Urbana Free Library, & others.
- COVID Rental Assistance
Supporting residents out of work and behind on rent due to COVID-19 through direct support or referrals.
- Other Advocacy
Assisting Township participants to access Federal Stimulus funds, free phone services, & more.
We have seen phenomenal impacts of our programs.
We have helped homeless residents move into housing, provided bridge funding while disabled residents apply for Social Security disability payments, and fed our neighbors with hundreds of pounds of fresh produce.
Last year alone we helped:
- 296 Urbana residents received General Assistance, including 133 homeless and 170 disabled residents.
- 119 households avoided eviction with $56,048 of Rental Assistance paid to local landlords. Two-thirds of households served were headed by women and over half of those served were children.
- 27 households received emergency housing, food, utilities, or other support.
- 14 local non-profits received Social Service Grants, including Crisis Nursery, Health Care Consumers, Rape Crisis, & the Refugee Center.
Township served 1000 people representing 1 in 40 Urbana residents in 2019.
We are on track to serve 2000+ Urbana residents this year during the pandemic and recession.
With the Anti-Poverty Referendum, Urbana households are being asked to give about $3 more per month to help their neighbors in need.
- 100% of monies raised are to support laid-off workers, disabled residents, families facing eviction, and homeless residents.
- The cost per year is estimated at $36 on a single-family home worth $100,000. The median value of residential property in the Township is $123,927.
- Township is a very tiny slice of the tax pie, but it has a big impact.
The Township requires this increase to sustain programs, support Urbana residents though the pandemic and recession, and make Township whole from several years of tax cuts.
- The former administration used “zero tolerance” policies to pressure residents off of General Assistance. Assistance dropped from 175 to 26 residents served, the lowest numbers served in 30 years.
- In 2016, the Town Board reduced the tax levy by $176,711 per year and did not increase it for three years.
- I became Township Supervisor in 2017 with the goal of making General Assistance accessible again. As expected, client levels returned to their historic average.
- We relaunched the Rental Assistance program in 2018. Township has helped an average of 10 households every month since.
- To sustain this level of service, Township has run a deficit for four years.
- In 2020, pandemic hit, and our General Assistance rolls grew from 92 to 155 residents – a 68% increase since March. We are supporting a number of laid-off workers who are waiting for weeks for unemployment benefits to start.
- Last year’s deficit was $173,882. This year’s budget anticipates a $643,000 deficit, partly due to the pandemic. The difference is funded through savings.
- The proposed levy increase will raise an estimated $572,545 more in assistance funds, this represents a 5% annual increase since 2016, before the levy was cut.
- The proposed rate (.3015%) is reasonable in comparison to other sister townships:
- The levy is .34% in Decatur, .35% in Waukegan, .31% in Oak Park.
- Normal Township has a population of 54,742 compared to our population of 42,046. Normal’s budget is $2.02M. If our levy is increased, along with other sources of income, our budget would be ~$1.9M.
If this anti-poverty referendum fails, the Township will need to cut funding for programs.
- Reduce or Eliminate the Rental Assistance Program
We could cap the budget on Rental Assistance, but would likely run out of support mid-year.
- Cut Social Service support
These grants to local nonprofits are used to extend Township services and are often used to leverage state and federal grants, so this move should be done carefully.
- Shrink General Assistance.
Although GA is a state-mandated program, we could control costs by keeping payments at $300 per month instead of rising with inflation.
Raising the levy to maintain programs also enables growth.
We will leverage funds and programming to obtain state and federal grants, create partnerships & expand programming. In 2021 we plan to:
- Develop an Emergency Housing Program for homeless families with children in Urbana schools.
- Grow Housing Advocacy to help homeless and disabled residents access long-term, subsidized housing.
- Launch a “Bridge to Home Rapid Rehousing Program” to help homeless residents with one year of rental assistance and intensive case management to support ongoing success.
Urbana residents are deeply generous and have time and again told us they want to support their neighbors in need.
- Urbana residents approached Township in Dec. 2018 wanting to give donations to support their neighbors. Our Angel Donor fund was created and, to date, $52,981 has been raised.
- Our volunteer and internship program Township is extremely popular with dozens serving each year.
- Hundreds of Urbana residents have called for more support for social services.
With your YES vote, the anti-poverty referendum will support our goal to end homelessness in Urbana. Thank you!
The referendum question will read:
Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for Cunningham Township within Champaign County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to .0959% above the limiting rate for the purpose of providing Assistance for Low-Income Households in Urbana (including, but not limited to, rental assistance, job transportation, and other life-saving assistance for those in need) for levy year 2019 and be equal to .3015% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy years 2020, 2021, 2022?