Quick Hit Brandon Campbell Wednesday February 15th, 2012, 10:33am

Aldermen Continue Push For Child Safety Near Vacant Homes

On Sunday, Aldermen Deborah Graham (29th), Robert Fioretti (2nd), and Toni Foulkes (15th) joined members of the Chicago Teachers Union, Action Now, and a group of parents and community safety advocates for a press conference urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make the Vacant Property Safe Passages Ordinance a priority.

If approved, the ordinance, which has sat in legislative limbo since it was introduced by Graham on October 5, 2011, would require daylight watchmen to guard schoolchildren as they pass by vacant properties near public schools.

"Recently, the mayor said he cares so much about student safety on the way to school that he's installing speed cameras," said Aileen Kelleher, Action Now communications director, during a phone interview Tuesday. "We're saying if you care so much about safety this ordinance should be your number one priority."

At the conference, which took place in front of O'Toole Elementary on Chicago's South Side, the aldermen, who all co-sponsored the ordinance, joined members of the press in a walking tour of three foreclosed homes mear the school, according to a press release from Action Nw.

Those three homes are just a small sampling of the over 19,000 reported vacant buildings in Chicago. Community members say many vacant buildings have become havens for illegal activity and are now crying out for the city to help protect their children from potential dangers.

"People are breaking into those buildings, and who knows what goes on inside them, but I'm sure it's not housecleaning," said Mark Ochoa, a physical education teacher who lives nearby and works at O'Toole Elementary. "It's too late once something happens to a child and someone's been harmed. That's just what we're trying to prevent. "

This most recent push for the Vacant Property Safe Passages Ordinance comes just three months after the city passed a law requiring vacant property owners, whether an individual or a bank, to pay to register and maintain their abandoned buildings. Similarly, last week Gov. Pat Quinn introduced a new program aimed at rehabilitating foreclosed homes in Cook County.

With November's ordinance in mind, those in support of the Safe Passages law say vacant property owners should also foot the bill for hiring the proposed watchmen.

"We want the guards to be hired from within the communities where the vacant buildings are so that it's also a job-creation program, because along with the housing crisis there's also an employment crisis," said Kelleher.

Additionally, the ordinance would levy fines of up to $500 if the building's mortgage holder fails to provide a watchman between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

While it looks unlikely that the ordinance will be discussed when the council meets this morning, Graham and the other sponsoring aldermen said they will hold committee meetings to discuss the ordinance in the coming weeks. They did not, however, give specific dates for the hearings.

Check back with Progress Illinois for more on Wednesday's city council meeting.

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