Race, poverty and politics: $175M settlement with Wells Fargo; Cook County seeks more humane bond court; "hot-spot" buildings demolished; deep SNAP cuts may be coming

It's been five years since The Chicago Reporter first uncovered the discriminatory lending practices that targeted Chicago's African American and Latino neighborhoods. This week, the federal Department of Justice and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan reached a $175 million settlement with one of the offending lenders, Wells Fargo. Meanwhile, African-American communities were disproportionately hurt by the subprime mortgage crisis, but a Washington Post investigation finds that their financial scars could take decades to heal. The three-digit credit scores govern the ability to access loans for a number of important things - a car, a home or a college education. And for those whose scores were damaged by the bad mortgages they were sold, any of these may become more difficult to get.

On Thursday, Cook County's Justice Advisory Council released the findings of a six-month report on ways to make the county's pre-trial and bond court more "humane" for those passing through the system. The findings advocated for technological improvements in the court system, and for increased information sharing with public defenders, so they can better prepare their cases. A new "Motion to Reconsider" court call will also allow jail detainees who can't afford a low bond to have the circumstances of their cases reviewed to see if other options are available, according to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle's office.

The city demolished vacant buildings in crime-ridden neighborhoods on the South and West sides Thursday as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's crackdown on gang violence. The vacant properties were "hot-spots" for crime and gang activity, the mayor's office said. Some housing advocates opposed the move, and called on the city to work to rebuild communities, rather than simply demolish buildings. The argument was also made that if the city actually enforced its vacant buildings ordinance, demolition wouldn't be necessary. The city contends it has monitored each and every building and demolition was a last option.
See our photos from Thursday.

A set of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program included in the most recent farm bill could hit low-income families around the country hard, pushing more than 2 million of them off food assistance. The $16 billion in cuts would come over the next five years. Democratic representatives tried to stall the provision with an amendment, but weren’t able to get it passed. SNAP is the country's main nutritional assistance program. According to 2011 numbers from the Illinois Department of Human Services, 857,282 households enrolled in SNAP in July 2011. That is a 12.7 percent spike from the year before.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Wednesday which bans the long abused legislative scholarship program. Under the program, state lawmakers could hand out a number of scholarships to students in their districts. However, reports found that a number of those scholarships were given to children with politically connected parents. In some cases, the recipients did not even live in the lawmaker's district--a violation of the program. The U.S. attorney's office is investigating outgoing 5th District state Sen. Annazette Collins, amid reports that she improperly doled out tuition waivers.

Almost a month into his disappearance from Congress, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s whereabouts are still a mystery. There have been reports of alcohol and substance-abuse treatment at an Arizona clinic, a statement from his office about mood disorders, even word of a suicide attempt. Many of those reports have been denied by Jackson's camp, but his being M.I.A. has become a national story, and even high-ranking Democrats are urging him to provide some explanation. What's more, his absence--which Politico reported could last until September--raises questions about his political future.

When covering violence on the South and West sides, Chicago Defender Managing Editor Kathy Chaney says you need to "look first at the home. 'Hey, what the hell? Who's raising you? You don't have a parent at home, a loved one at home, to pull your coattail?' We need the churches, the block clubs getting involved. It starts at home. The community can allow something to happen, and they can allow something to not happen." Chaney has gone from covering international commodity markets to doing award-winning hyper-local work. Get to know her more in our profile of the Chicago defender.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a law that would prohibit Chicago police officers from detaining undocumented immigrants--so long as they don't have a criminal warrant on them or criminal record. The goal is to encourage members of the community, regardless of immigration status, to come forward and help police combat crimes in their neighborhoods rather than fear stepping forward could ultimately get them deported. Emanuel was joined by members of the city council's Latino caucus and his new buddy, Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Check out The Chicago Reporter's piece on their interesting new dynamic.

For a guy that publicly promotes the idea of diversity, Mayor Emanuel's cabinet is anything but that, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday. According to the Sun-Times, only five of the 30 highest-ranking Emanuel appointees are black, and three are Latino. What's more, 57 percent of the staffers in the Mayor's Office are white. The paper found that there is more diversity in the offices of Cook County Board President Preckwinkle and Gov. Quinn, but both pols have few Latinos working for them.

The privatization of the probation business is landing, and keeping, more low-income people in jail. Cash-starved towns levy more fines for small offenses like speeding, found The New York Times, and when someone is unable to pay, a private company is sent to track them down and bring them to jail. They are then additionally charged for every day they are held behind bars. “With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in a large law firm in Birmingham, Alabama, who has worked on the issue. In some states, like Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies accused of not giving people with fines adequate legal representation before jailing them are embroiled in court battles on the issue.

--Yana Kunichoff contributed to this post.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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