Rockford and the Chicago area are experiencing some of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, with Chicago's figure being more twice that of the national average at one in 107 housing units, according to data released by Realty Trac last week.
As foreclosures continue to plague the city and surrounding areas, the vacant properties left in their wake are wreaking havoc on the safety and security of their respective neighborhoods. In April, a dead body was found in a vacant house in Humboldt Park, leaving neighbors wondering why the property wasn’t maintained -- and prompting Action Now to hold a rally in front of the building.
“No more vacant buildings,” could be heard blocks away from the sidewalk in front of boarded up buildings at 3808 and 3810 West Grand Avenue as members of Action Now and community residents chanted and marched with signs during the rally.
The body of a female drug overdose victim was in a vacant house, located at 3808 West Grand Avenue, for two days, according to Ellyson Carter, a senior staff member of Action Now, who led most of the chants from his bullhorn. Carter spoke during Action Now’s press conference to emphasize the importance of enforcing the Vacant Property Ordinance and urge the City Council to pass Ald. Deborah Graham’s (29th) Safe Passages Watchman Ordinance.
“We want the city, the banks, whoever is involved—we want them to do something about these buildings,” he said.
The Vacant Property Ordinance, sponsored by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) last year, requires mortgage holders to ensure a vacant house is secured, the grass is cut, porches are structurally sound and the yard is free of trash. Daily fines for unmaintained property could be up to $1,000 under the proposal.
The Safe Passages Watchman Ordinance would require mortgage holders to foot the bill for daytime watchmen to patrol vacant houses within 1,000 yards of a school. Since its introduction by Graham in October, the legislation has sat in limbo.
Cameron Elementary School is only two blocks away from the building where the body was found.
“This is not a priority for the city,” said Lillian Ferrer, who shares an alley with the two-story vacant properties, which have falling shingles and garbage piled around the unkempt yards. Ferrer has three grandchildren that she tries to keep off the streets of her neighborhood.
“It’s just not safe,” she said. “Our elected officials are not doing their jobs.”
The area’s alderman, Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) was unavailable for comment.
Ferrer described the victim, who would often be seen walking around the neighborhood, as a person that “would never disrespect anybody.” Ferrer said she answered to the nickname “Blue Eyes.”
“She was a human being,” she said.
Chicago is home to more than 25,500 reported vacant buildings, which can harbor illegal activities if not secured properly. A January study by the Woodstock Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization, shows that vacant, foreclosed homes contribute to declines in neighboring property values and increases in violent crime.
“I think the biggest problem is how slowly we're moving to attack this problem that’s getting out of control,” said Braden Listmann, housing policy director for Action Now, in a phone interview.
“We’ve worked to stop the foreclosures, but now the vacant buildings are becoming an even bigger problem,” he said. “No one really likes the idea of ‘let’s just tear every vacant building down,’ but if you live next door to one, it poses a huge health and safety issue.”