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Action Now seeks non-profit trust for vacancies

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

Action Now has focused on the South and the West Sides in its campaign against 20,000 vacant properties over the past 2 years.

Michelle Young hasn’t forgotten the young man found dead in an abandoned building three doors from her Austin home.

“That young man was some man and woman’s child, and the City needs to be accountable,” she said in telephone interview. “These are eyesores and not a safe haven for our children and our neighbors. Gangs can occupy them and God forbid what else can go on. At the same time, you’re being taxed and these buildings are going without tax income coming in.”

Young is president of Action Now and on October 25 gave the same message at a meeting in North Lawndale to mobilize community residents around its “Rebuild Chicago” campaign, which would rehab as many as 6,000 vacant buildings through a housing trust established by City Council ordinance. An earlier meeting was in West Englewood.

Dan Kleinman, Action Now policy director, said the grassroots community organizing group had reviewed 311 data and found that over 20,000 vacant properties had been reported over the past two years in Chicago. “We can’t rehab every single one of them – not all are rehab-able – but close to 30 percent is within the scope of the Rebuild Chicago housing trust.”

The trust would not require money, Kleinman said. Rather, it would take donated properties from banks that are trying to unload them. Developers, in turn, would pay just the lesser costs of rehabbing.

A secondary feature of the housing trust would be the jobs rehabbing buildings for young people in the community.

“Several [developers] called me today since last night’s meeting,” Kleinman said October 26. Banks across the U.S. are creating similar “land banks,” and although contractual agreements prevented him from naming Chicago banks, “There are lending institutions that hold lots of properties that we are talking with.”

While the economy as a whole may be getting better, “I don’t think the improvements are as equal as we would hope,” Kleinman said.

The West and South Sides, for example, have been disproportionately impacted by the foreclosure crisis, he said. Five ZIP codes – in Englewood, West Garfield Park, Chatham, Bronzeville and West Englewood – represent nearly 10 percent of the vacancies.

“These ZIP codes get hit by five more vacant properties every day on average, by our math,” he said.

Young said that one of the abandoned buildings on her block dates back 10 years and the other possibly five years, to a reverse mortgage. “I feel when homeowners are held accountable, banks need to be held accountable. I have gone to neighborhoods where there is one house on one side of the street and it looks like farmland, although I give them credit. They keep it clean.”

A second component of Rebuild Chicago is the jobs it would provide young people in the community, she said.

“Perhaps we can take some of these young men out here on the streets selling drugs and train them,” Young said. “I don’t believe in my heart a lot of them want to be out there, but if you are a felon, you have an X on your back.”

Written by Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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