By Micah Maidenberg

January 14, 2011

A new phrase is entering Chicago’s political and housing policy lexicon: “red flag properties.” The Woodstock Institute coined the term to describe the increasing number of vacant, deteriorating homes in the city that have gone into the foreclosure process but not emerged from it with any clear outcome. Woodstock’s “Left Behind” report (PDF), released earlier this week, calculates there are at least 1,896 such properties in the city, with African American neighborhoods bearing the brunt them. Woodstock found 176 red flag properties in West Englewood, 137 in both Englewood and Roseland, and 110 in Austin. In all, black neighborhoods are 11 times more likely to have a building in this limbo state than white communities, Woodstock vice president Geoff Smith said this morning.

“It sets up a situation where a property lacks a clear, accountable party for any problems that arise,” he said. “There is significant potential for that property to spiral into disrepair and pose a significant cost to the city and there is no accountable party to pay that cost.”

So when when these properties are allowed to fester, taxpayers — in the form of police manpower, legal proceedings, and other services — are left holding the bag and neighbors grapple with blight and decay. Last fall, West Englewood’s Gloria Warner described what it’s like living on a block with six foreclosed homes. Given the density of red flag properties in West Englewood, it is certainly possible that one of them is in a red flag state. Take a look:

Woodstock makes a series of policy reccomendations in “Left Behind.” The simplest one is perhaps to keep properties occupied. Woodstock also says mortgage servicers, the entities that start foreclosure proceedings and are responsible for disposition of foreclosed homes, must be held accountable and local governments need more power to ensure local standards are being met. Finally, policy makers simply need better information about the universe of foreclosed homes. Other local legislative proposals to deal with vacant, foreclosed homes in Chicago — like the Sweet Home ordinance and a bill Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) has introduced — are stalled out, meanwhile.

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