By Safiya Merchant

July 5, 2012


In 2011 alone, 6,274 homes in the city of Chicago went through the final stage of foreclosure and were auctioned off, according to data from Woodstock Institute. A vast majority, 94 percent, ended up in the hands of banks.


Thousands are still sitting vacant. Many are in communities where the housing market is weak, to say the least, so the odds of selling them look slim.


Instead of standing abandoned, what if these properties were revamped and rented out to families in need of a home?


It’s an idea that Action Now, a community-based nonprofit, was pushing at City Hall last week.


The proposal, dubbed “Rebuild Chicago,” that was unveiled last Wednesday is modeled after a similar initiative in Cleveland. The idea is to line up private developers who would fix up vacant, bank-owned properties.


Organizers propose tapping into the city’s new Infrastructure Trust to make the repairs. Once the rehab is completed, renters would move in.


After the rental period is over, the properties would be transferred to the housing market for purchase.


Here are more details about how the proposal would work, per Action Now:


The property, now rehabilitated and no longer vacant, is deeded back from the escrow account to the original bank mortgager to be sold on the market, perhaps to the private property management to be further rented, or perhaps to the renters to now be owners.


So far, Aldermen Bob Fioretti, Toni Foulkes and Ameya Pawar have pledged support.


Few would argue that the presence of vacant properties has crippled neighborhoods hit hardest by a wave of foreclosures that began more than five years ago.


A Chicago Reporter analysis of 2011 foreclosure auction data compiled by the Woodstock Institute found that African American communities are bearing the brunt of the vacant property mess. Here’s a break out of foreclosure auctions by race:


And here are the 10 communities with the largest number of foreclosure auctions in 2011:


Aileen Kelleher, the communications director for Action Now, said the group continues to reach out to aldermen to boost support for the plan. And she said they have a meeting with the mayor, but the date is not finalized.


Charles Brown, the chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, likens the devastating effects of vacant properties to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In his eyes, it’s time for city officials to launch a campaign to rebuild.


“When the Great Chicago Fire happened, there was no question, no debate, no hesitation,” Brown said. “The city rebuilt. We must use any and every tool we have to come once again and rebuild.”




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