As the foreclosure process drags on for more than a year, the home falls deeper and deeper into disrepair. A gang pulls the plywood off the first floor windows and uses the home as a base for selling drugs. Vandals enter through the open window and steal copper piping and other appliances. An inspector from the bank comes to visit the home and realizes that it now is worth less than the bank could hope to recover on the open market. As a result, the bank never completes the foreclosure process, leaving the home in limbo.


This pattern is not uncommon in the Chicago region. A Woodstock Institute report estimated that the phenomenon of servicers walking away from homes in foreclosure costs the City of Chicago alone $36 million in maintenance, demolition, and legal costs. We identified nearly 2,000 “red flag” vacant properties where a servicer initiated foreclosure but did not complete it, leaving the home without someone actively maintaining it.


Two of our Community Investment Awardees, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Adam Gross of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), decided that they wouldn’t let this phenomenon continue to harm communities in the Chicago region. Gross spearheaded a campaign in the City of Chicago to educate lawmakers on the perils of red flag homes and, with Alderman Pat Dowell, helped draft an ordinance  that would put responsibilities on mortgagees to maintain vacant homes in the foreclosure process, even before they take title to the property. Thanks in large part to Adam Gross’ hard work, the first-of-its-kind ordinance passed City Council unanimously.


Gross wasn’t content to stop at the boundaries of the City of Chicago. Commissioner Gainer was interested in enacting similar legislation at the Cook County level, and Gross helped turn that into a reality as well. The county ordinance contains other important measures as well. Commissioner Gainer’s ordinance enacts a county-wide vacant property registry, which is crucial for understanding the scope of the vacant building problem so we can design solutions that make sense on the ground. It also streamlines the process for handling vacant building violations, saving time and money for municipalities.


Both Commissioner Gainer and Adam Gross have worked hard to make the Chicago region a national leader in reducing the negative impact of the foreclosure crisis on communities. They are not resting on their laurels, either; both are campaigning to enact a Cook County land bank that would make it easier to put vacant homes back to productive use.


Help us celebrate the accomplishments of Commissioner Gainer and Adam Gross by joining us at our annual Community Investment Awards on May 10. The event will bring together community investment leaders from across the region to reflect on the work we’ve done so far and look ahead to the future. We will also honor the work of the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Ellen Podmolik and screen David Sington’s financial crisis documentary, The Flaw.