Today, the Chicago City Council will hear an ordinance that would make banks that own vacant buildings secure their properties and pay up on their delinquent registration fees. That ordinance, supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is a direct result of a Chicago Reporter investigation.
Reporter Angela Caputo uncovered the situation in our May issue, showing that the city lost out on at least $2.2 million as a result of building owners skirting regulations that they register vacant properties with the city and pay for their upkeep. Today's ordinance wouldn't allow banks to get around securing the property because it's in foreclosure.
Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell is introducing the ordinance with the mayor's support, a scaled-down version of a previous ordinance that would have increased the fees associated with registering a vacant building by five times for owners who own more than five properties. After the Reporter released its investigation on how much the city was losing, and neighborhoods were suffering, from unsecured, unregistered vacant buildings, the city took notice. Alderman Dowell told Caputo that the article had gotten the Emanuel administration to support her measure.
But will the ordinance help? Right now, it's unclear that a city measure, without state backing, has the legal power to get banks to pay up.
Until the state adopts the stricter policy of holding all entities with a financial stake in the vacant properties accountable, Dowell says city officials' hands are tied.
"The city does not have the (legal) authority," Dowell says. "We're waiting to see if the state will give us that authority."
The state bill, SB16, died at the 11th hour in the general assembly. The Illinois Bankers Association opposed the bill. Without the backing of state law, the Chicago ordinance could be challenged in court.
But time is of the essence, say advocates. Because the longer a vacant building sits empty, the greater the chance that it'll never be occupied again. Whole neighborhoods are at risk, said Geoff Smith, senior vice president at the Woodstock Institute.
“You’ve got places that are so devastated by the foreclosure crisis that you don’t know what to do next,” Smith said.
Photo credit: Nate Robert
© Community Renewal Society 2011