Martwick champions home equity assurance reform to uplift homeowners

SPRINGFIELD — Chicago homeowners who pay into home equity assurance programs could soon see their tax dollars put to better use through increased access to home repair, thanks to a measure presented by State Senator Robert Martwick.

“This bill allows home equity programs to serve their communities — communities that need aid after the unprecedented flooding we’ve experienced in the past few years,” said Martwick (D-Chicago). “Members pay into their programs for years, and it’s time we ensure they benefit.”

Illinois first allowed the creation of home equity assurance programs — or HEAPs — in 1987 with the goal of preserving the value of a resident’s property. The programs are funded through property taxes collected from homeowners in the HEAP district, who can enroll in the program by paying for an appraisal of their home. In return, they receive the guarantee that if they own the home for five years, they will not lose money when they sell their homes if the market value has dropped.

Passed  after the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, many believe the true intent of the HEAPs was to ensure that white homeowners would not sell their houses and leave the city – a phenomenon known at the time as “white flight.”

To move beyond the outdated goals of the program and put the HEAP revenue collected from homeowners to better use, Martwick passed a law in 2015 to allow the governing commissions of HEAPs to provide low-interest home repair loans to members of the program. Previously, commissions could only repurpose funds for low-interest loans under a public referendum, and only one of the three HEAPs in Chicago had done so. As of Jan. 1, 2022, the loans can also be used to pay delinquent property taxes.

House Bill 4921 would further address the limitations of home equity assurance programs by allowing the loan funds to go toward grants or rebates for repairing or preventing damage from natural disasters, including flooding. Homeowners could then use the funds to make repairs and maintain, remodel, alter and improve homes, basements or landscaping.

“We returned this money back to its rightful owners in 2015 by ensuring that home equity associations can’t sit on the revenue they collect,” Martwick said. “Our next step is to help homeowners improve the value of their property by giving people relief from damaging floods.”

House Bill 4921 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. It now goes to the full Senate for further deliberation.