Race, poverty and politics: Chicagoland foreclosures spike; public grumbing over River Point TIF; Quinn says pension costs could surpass state's education spending

Chicago-area foreclosures in July were 37 per cent higher than they were a year ago. Citing RealtyTrac data released Thursday, The Chicago Tribune reported that 11,885 homes in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties were in some stage of foreclosure last month: 5,374 entered the foreclosure process; 3,274 were scheduled for a court-ordered sale; and another 3,237 were repossessed and taken over by banks. While higher than last July, it was lower than the 13,092 mark in June 2012.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration announced this week it will offer Chicago homeowners and landlords perks, like free energy audits and low-interest loans, if they cut energy costs by weatherizing buildings and homes. The "go green" initiative is the final phase of Retrofit Chicago, the first official project of Emanuel's infrastructure trust.

The River Point TIF subsidy isn't going down well, or quietly, with a group of Chicagoans who came out to protest the $29.5 million slated to go towards building the West Loop tower. Rita Pope, a resident of Evanston who was born in North Lawndale, told Progress Illinois the money could be better spent helping an ailing community like North Lawndale. TIFs were intended to spur development in blighted communities. But in recent years, already wealthy neighborhoods have received large amounts of the money collected from property taxes and diverted from general city revenue into special projects.

As Illinois' supermax prison Tamms Correctional Center nears its expected closing date at the end of August, there's been a flurry of activity by anti-prison advocates, on one side, and the prison guards union on the other. AFSCME, the union representing prison guards, has filed a lawsuit to stop the closure of the prison, which they say will cause a loss of jobs and make the prison system more unsafe. In response, the state called for the lawsuit to be dismissed on the grounds that Gov. Pat Quinn has already decided to cut funding for the prison. The Illinois State Police are investigating guards at Tamms for having contraband, a move that is expected to delay the closure of the prison. Prison closure advocates allege that Tamms has kept people in solitary confinement for so long that it constitutes torture, and say that closing it is the only humane thing to do. Tamms Year Ten, the group that has been advocating to close the prison, held a protest at AFSCME headquarters in Chicago this week against the union’s stance. Meanwhile, Chicago public radio station WBEZ 91.5 FM is running into flak in its attempts to gain access to two minimum-security facilities to report on conditions former inmates have said border on inhumane. More broadly, it's trying to look into what the public gets for the billions of taxpayer dollars that go into the state's prison system.

Changes in how the census bureau categorizes race shows our changing understandings of the language we use to describe race. The new questionnaires will no longer have the word "negro"--people will instead be able to choose from "black" or "African-American." Hispanic would also be its own racial category, and the new census will expand the use of write-in categories, which will be inclusive towards people of Arab and Middle Eastern descent.

This week, Gov. Quinn's administration released a doomsday report warning lawmakers that ballooning pension costs could exceed what the state spends on education within four years.  The report comes a week before lawmakers head back to Springfield on Aug. 17 for a one-day special session Quinn called to reportedly pass pension reform--something that is widely viewed as an unlikely outcome. Republicans worry that a Democratic-backed plan to shift pension costs to local school districts would raise property taxes. And Democrats don't want to anger unions--which contribute large campaign contributions--during an election year. Currently, the state's pensions are underfunded by $83 billion.

Chicago police gave out 11 tickets during the first weekend of the city's new marijuana ordinance, which went into effect Aug. 4. The tickets were issued in eight different police districts, according to Melissa Stratton, spokesperson for Supt. Garry McCarthy. Five of the districts are predominantly African American, one is largely Latino, and two have mostly white residents. The department did not provide a breakdown of the number of arrests in each district. Before the ordinance passed in June, 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett said he didn't want officers issuing tickets disproportionately to minorities. Also, the Lollapalooza music festival was held last weekend. While there were no citations issued around the festival, the department said there were two cannabis-related arrests and six arrests for felony possession of a controlled substance.

A shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee by a veteran who identified as a white supremacist has been called domestic terrorism and raised discussions about racism and xenophobia. The Sikh community is little understood but was also the target of racial profiling and harassment after September 11th. Six people were killed in the shooting, including the gunman. Check out our coverage, including a photo slide show, of a candlelight vigil held Monday night at the Palatine Sikh Gurdwara for the victims in Wisconsin and the wider Sikh community.

--Yana Kunichoff contributed to this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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