When will Chicago take on bankers over foreclosures?

The Chicago City Council’s Buildings Committee was back in session today,
this time taking up a pretty straightforward question: who is responsible for keeping people out of the thousands of vacant, bank-owned properties left in the wake
of the foreclosure crisis? While the phrase “bank owned” seems like a pretty good clue to us, aldermen are still looking for ways to hold them accountable during the foreclosure process.

latest idea comes courtesy of Northwest Side Alderman Dick Mell who is
proposing that banks hire overnight guards to secure their properties. The measure passed out of committee today and will move to the full council for a vote next month.

But at a press conference unveiling the former proposal out in Albany Park yesterday, Mell let
us in on to another sure-fire (and taxpayer free) way to get the banks attention: threaten to pull
their city business.

It’s a strategy that city officials have used to cajole banks in the past. And that’s exactly what Mell did when U.S. Bank dragged its heels on rehabbing a prominent, vacant building in Mell’s own ward. When he took steps to pull them off the list of city repositories, “voila!” The building is now on its way back to life.

Likening the glut of vacant and foreclosed properties to “Chicago’s BP Amoco problem,” Mell said, “the
banks and the lending institutions that caused this problem have to
move faster.” Click through to watch his remarks:

City officials have made it clear that boarding up
foreclosed properties, which the Sun-Times reports cost taxpayers a cool $7 million last year, now tops their list of challenges. For a little perspective why, consider this: 3,700 vacant buildings are currently registered and another 11,000 to 12,000 vacant properties are expected to spring up this year, according to the buildings department. But as the Albany Park Neighborhood Council points out, only 24 properties are registered with the city, though there are hundreds around the community.
A group of Albany Park teens offered us a dose of on-the-ground reality yesterday, when they pinpointed the 104 vacant, boarded up buildings that neighborhood students have
to navigate just to get to school each day. “I have seen foreclosure going on right in front of my house,” 15-year-old Daisy Cruz said. “There’s drug dealing and gangbanging. When you go out and you go to school you’re like ‘What might happen to me.'”

Check out this map of foreclosed properties that sit within three blocks of Albany Park’s schools, created by Cruz and her peers (click on image to enlarge):


Mell also unveiled a proposal today to create a Peace Corps-inspired program that would bring young
attorneys and community folks together to pressure banks and clear up abandoned
properties. They’d devote their time to identifying vacant properties, their
title holders and prospects to reuse the property. The tab would be $22 million
and, citing the need to cooperate with financial institutions, Mell is proposing
that the banks and the federal government would split the

The bottom line, Mell told us is that “this could be done a lot faster if people wanted to see it happen.”  A little more oomph from aldermen — few of which even made it to today’s meeting — wouldn’t hurt. And hitting banks back in the pocketbook would be a heck of a start.

— Contributing: Kayla Bensing


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  • I drove a good chunk of this area today with Joe Askins, the managing editor of YoChicago. We also got out of the car and walked around in the area where the greatest number of points show on the map.

    The map, simply put, wildly exaggerates the number of board-ups in the area. That's a real "dose of on-the-ground reality" for you.

    I've been in many areas that are blighted by abandoned buildings. This isn't one of them.

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