By Micah Maidenberg
December 3, 2008

Speaking amid a backdrop of recession, increased home foreclosures and
fresh off of voting for a diminished city budget, the aldermen who
represent most of the neighborhoods to the immediate south and west of
downtown warned of difficult times ahead at last week’s West Loop Town
Hall meeting.

The annual gathering was attended by 27th Ward Alderman Walter
Burnett, 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, 12th District Police
Commander Dennis Keane and representatives from the park and school
districts as well as the city planning department. The West Loop
Community Organization organized the event.

Burnett referenced the slowing economy and job losses seen in the
city during his remarks to the crowd that had gathered in the Merit
School of Music’s auditorium.

From left: Jay Lee and Donald Malone of CPS; Chip Hastings and Mary
Bonome from planning; 12th District Commander Dennis Keane; Beth
Tomlins from the park district; Eric Sedler from the West Loop
Community Organization; and 2nd Ward Alderman Fioretti in the hot seat
at last week’s meeting. JOSH HAWKINS/Staff Photographer

"This is a very hard time in the city of Chicago. Literally, you
walk out of your building this evening, people that you work closely
with are telling you they got their slip and were laid off," Burnett
said. "It’s very challenging in the city at this time."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency,
unemployment hit 6.4 percent in the Chicago region in October 2008, up
nearly 2 percent in the last year.

Job seekers probably won’t be looking to the city for new
positions, however. Both Burnett and Fioretti were fresh off of voting
in favor of the Daley administration’s 2009 budget.

To balance the budget, the city council slashed 635 people from the
payroll, eliminated 1,600 vacant positions and increased fees and taxes
on Dumpsters, live performances and satellite television. Library fines
will also double from 10 to 20 cents per day for overdue materials.

Fioretti said that there have been some 500 foreclosures in his
ward alone over the last year, and each foreclosure has a direct
economic impact on the city’s finances and the neighborhood’s quality
of life.

"Five hundred foreclosures means 500 families are no longer paying
taxes, that means 500 empty homes, 500 boarded-up homes," he said. "And
if we don’t find a way to end this financial crisis-I pray Barack Obama
and that economic team will find some way to do that-and [stop] the
home foreclosures, then you know what, we’re going to have a city that
has a lot of problems."

"We are in a tough, tough economic crisis," he said.

Citywide, according to the Woodstock Institute, a non-profit
housing advocacy and research group, 8,827 homes went into foreclosure
in the first half of 2008, up more than 42 percent over the same period
last year.

In the Near South Side, a city planning designation bound by
Roosevelt on the north, 26th Street on the south, Lake Michigan to the
east and roughly Clark on the west, 61 properties went into foreclosure
in the first half of 2008, eclipsing the 65 filed during all of 2007.

On the Near West Side, bound by Carroll on the north, the train
viaduct near 16th to the south, the Chicago River to the east and
roughly Maplewood on the west, 106 properties went into foreclosure in
the first half of this year, according to Woodstock.

"Home foreclosures, people think, happen way over there on the West
Side. No, they’re happening right here in this community," Fioretti
said. "In the condos. In the homes. On the east side of the ward."

Burnett said he’s seen constituents struggle to keep up with costs as neighbors in condominium buildings lose their units.

"I have a building where there’s one lady living in the building.
Three other people were foreclosed. She has to pay all the assessment
fees," he said. "And if there’s any building challenges … in one of
the apartments that’s not hers, she is responsible for all of that."

In spite of the grim news, both aldermen reported on some new projects in their wards, including the following:

Brown Elementary School, 54 N. Hermitage, according to Burnett,
will be converted into a magnet school with a neighborhood component
while the currently empty Spaulding School, located near Washington and
Ashland, will be occupied by Chicago Hope Academy, a charter school

 West Haven will get a major sprucing up on its western border
with a $10 million streetscape project in the works, Fioretti said;

West Loop Promenade, a multi-use residential and commercial
complex slated for construction by the developer IBT near Jackson and
Racine, will move forward with its commercial tenants, Fioretti said,
including the Robert Redford-backed Sundance Theater;

Burnett said that several long-discussed infrastructure
improvements in the West Loop area will continue to move forward,
including the new Morgan Street el station (see story, page 3) and a
new playground and dog area in Skinner Park, both of which are funded
by tax increment financing dollars.

"We’re very blessed to have the TIF," he told the audience. "I just want you to know the TIF is the only game in town."

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