By Kelsey Duckett

December 30, 2010

The statistics are alarming: Nearly one in every six Cook County foreclosures last year was an apartment building, putting thousands of renters in danger of losing their homes.

The hardest-hit areas? The West and South Sides.

Englewood had 279 foreclosed apartment buildings with two more or units. On the city’s West Side, that number was 253.

And the population most affected? African-American residents, says a spokesman for The National Training and Information Center.

Earlier this month, journalist and filmmaker David Schechter joined the Woodstock Institute and Terry Finnegan of the Westside Health Authority for the premier of Schechter’s “Plunder: The Crime of Our Time” held at Columbia College Chicago’s Film Row.

The movie – which argues that the financial crisis was built on a foundation of criminal activity in the housing market, not just poor underwriting or unsustainable mortgage products – was shown before a panel discussed the crisis that’s affecting residents across the United States as well as Chicago.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who attended the event, said the film is more evidence of  the devastation foreclosure has caused.

“Whether you are a homeowner or not, we are all suffering — and it’s movies like these that open the eyes of citizens and force change,” she said.

Finnegan agreed with Madigan, noting that some Chicago communities are being hit harder than others.

The median number of foreclosures per capita in black communities across Cook County was 20 times higher than in white communities and three times higher than in Latino communities, according to The National Training and Information Center.

“The biggest question that needs to be addressed by Americans alike is who owns the country,” he said. “Look at the facts: 70 percent of America’s wealth is held by the richest 1 percent. The gap between upper and middle class is growing, and the gap between middle class and lower class, or the poor, is getting closer . . . this is a serious problem.”

Schechter’s film addresses all these issues. He said he believes the wrongdoing committed by a few individuals distracts the media from telling the whole story. Schechter wants a “full investigation and structural reforms of financial institutions to ensure accountability by the white-collar perpetrators who profited from the misery of their victims.”

Finnegan said the problem in America, which is becoming more and more prevalent in Chicago, is the separation between the “haves and have nots.”

“This is a serious problem, and is creating the largest gap between the rich and the poor that we have seen in quite some time,” he said. “And if you don’t think this leads to other problems – robberies, shootings, assaults and trouble of all forms – you do not fully understand the magnitude of the problem — we need to bridge the gap.”

National People’s Action in conjunction with the South Austin Coalition released a report in July that focused on Bank of America foreclosures; it showed there have been more than 8,000 foreclosure filings in Cook County since 2008, and Bank of America is on track to file 3,000 foreclosures by the end of 2010.

In Austin alone, there were 151 Bank of America foreclosure filings in 2009, and since January 2009, there have been 50 completed residential foreclosure auctions by the bank.

US Bank has been involved in 366 foreclosures on Chicago’s West Side and neighboring suburb of Oak Park in the last 12 months. And in 2009 alone, US Bank filed 1,927 foreclosures citywide, the third highest of any financial institution.

A study by the Chicago Rehab Network found that in March 2010 alone, there were 1,763 newly filed foreclosures and 1,896 completed foreclosures in Chicago. In Austin’s three wards – the 28th, 29th and 37th – there were 102 newly filed foreclosures and 128 completed foreclosures.

According to the same Chicago Rehab Network study, JP Morgan Chase Bank leads all banks in Chicago with 235 forecloses, followed by Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. with 171, US Bank with 167, Wells Fargo Bank with 110 and CitiMortgage Inc. with 109.

Finnegan and Schechter hold  the government accountable, saying change must start at the top, though Finnegan noted the importance of community action.

“We have been working with US Bank for months on a partnership that would benefit the West Side communities,” he said. “It’s this type of action and these types of partnerships that are stepping stones to rebuilding communities. But we need citizens to be aware and get involved in the fight for our neighborhoods.”

Madigan noted that her office has ongoing litigation against Wells Fargo and Countrywide, which is now owned by Bank of America.

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