Chicago City Council committee approves tool to recover distressed properties concentrated in communities of color

Top aides to the mayor have been granted a new tool to reclaim some derelict and distressed properties concentrated in communities of color, under an order advanced Tuesday amid renewed concern over the prerogative of aldermen.

The City Council’s Housing and Lands Committee voted to empower Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox and Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara to enter into “land banking agreements” with the Cook County Land Bank Authority.

These two commissioners or their successors would be specifically authorized to purchase delinquent or forfeited Cook County property taxes to assemble properties for development. They would also be allowed to pay or reimburse to the land bank “costs related to acquisition, holding and maintenance costs and land bank fees”.

Maggie Cassidy, director of programs for the planning department, said abandoned and distressed properties in Chicago are “concentrated in communities of color” for obvious reasons.

“This is a pernicious legacy of segregation, residential redlining and the foreclosure crisis of 2008,” Cassidy told committee members.

The Land Banking Ordinance would “open up new avenues to address this entrenched problem and return property to productive use”, she said.

Established in 2013, Cook County Land Bank was created to “disrupt the vicious cycle of tax defaulting properties that fail to find buyers and deteriorate further,” Cassidy said.

“By working together, the city and county can more effectively return the property to productive use than either entity working alone,” she said.

“The land bank will own and manage the city’s property until a suitable end use can be found. For example, issuing a joint [request for proposals] which would aggregate city and county assets or other qualifying end use.

While the ordinance “provides certainty and clarity” to the city, county and potential development partners, Cassidy stressed that any acquisition or disposition of property by the city would still require council approval – even if the two commissioners would be allowed to enter cashless offers during semi-annual salvage sales.

These assurances were not enough to satisfy some members of the committee. No more than two other eleventh-hour guarantees: requiring semi-annual reports to the housing committee on all land bank agreements and establishing a three-year deadline to do something productive on each acquired property.

Aldus. Ray Lopez (15th) asked what happens if a vacant or tax-delinquent property project conflicts with the local alderman’s vision.

“I want to make sure there are mechanisms in place to make sure that – not just this alderman, but one of my colleagues who is having trouble with what’s going on – doesn’t get shaved,” did he declare.

Lopez worked with the Chicago Police Department and Buildings Department to do something about problematic or tax-delinquent properties “only for the land bank and other groups to step in at the last minute and eliminate years of work,” he said.

“They want to preserve the buildings, but then became horrible property owners in my neighborhood,” Lopez added.

“It was not until our briefing that I saw my first properties due by the Cook County Land Bank sign. And if I showed you pictures of what these properties look like, they are absolutely disgusting.

Eleanor Gorski, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank, agreed to send each alderman “a list of land bank lots” in their wards and offered to work closely with them.

A longtime city planner who served as first deputy and acting commissioner of planning and development, Gorski told Lopez, “I agree with you, councilman. There’s no point in us signing agreements if the community and the alderman have a problem with it.

Budget committee chairman Pat Dowell encouraged Gorski to provide the local alderman with real-time information on not only major projects, but also what Dowell called “small one-off projects” that only affect one or two batches.

“We may have more information on [buyer]. It could be a buyer, for example, from out of state who we know might have property in our neighborhoods, [and] who do not maintain them well. Or someone we know is a freak and is just looking to buy a property and do nothing with it, then six months later sell it for a higher price, which contributes to gentrification,” Dowell said. .

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