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MITCHELL: Too many at risk for losing homes for being late on taxes

Saturday, December 09, 2017
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mary Mitchell

It has become a sad ritual in Cook County.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas puts together a list of residential properties at risk of being sold for delinquent taxes. And aldermen warn residents that their properties are in jeopardy.

Despite outreach efforts, a benevolent fund established by the Willie Wilson Foundation and a partnership with the not-for-profit Westside Justice Center, which provides legal services for low-income people, too many taxpayers are still prey for tax buyers.

For fiscal year 2016, there were 18,132 delinquent residential properties in Chicago whose owners owed more than $1,000, with 4,706 of those tax bills returned as undeliverable.


Worse, the total number of properties at risk to be included in the May 4, 2018, tax sale for an amount under $1,000 is 7,679. Of that number, 1,981 tax bills were returned by the post office.

The ward with the most delinquent residential properties under $1,000? Ald. Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward, with 763. Of that, 182 tax bills were returned.

Austin did not return calls.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer’s Sixth Ward ranks fifth for unpaid residential properties owing $1,000 or less, with 380 properties; 105 of those tax bills were returned.

“Most of these people aren’t aware the taxes aren’t paid,” said Sawyer, who chairs the City Council’s African American Caucus. “I went through the list and called them myself. And most said they didn’t know. We also gave the information to community groups so they could get the word out.”

On Monday, Pappas plans to meet with Sawyer, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chair of the Latino Caucus, and other aldermen on this issue.

For her part, Pappas plans to hire up to 15 high school seniors as interns to knock on doors in wards with the most delinquent properties.

“When this 80-year-old lady shows up at my front counter who has come down on a bus, or on a walker, or on crutches, and she comes in with the tax bill and sets the bill down and says: ‘Here are my prescription pills. Here’s my electric bill. Here is my Social Security, this is how much I have for food, and I can’t pay this,’ it is a human tragedy,” Pappas said.

Last year, Wilson pledged $150,000 to help distressed homeowners keep their properties out of the tax sale.

But there’s no Willie Wilson this time around, Ald. Pat Dowell, whose Third Ward is No. 8 on the list, points out.

“I think it is atrocious that some of these tax delinquencies are so low,” Dowell said. “I have seen them under $200. No way should people lose their property for such a minuscule amount. It just seems immoral.

“But I don’t think you should notify aldermen or work on it twice a year. There should be a local agency familiar with the community that can go and knock on your door and let you know your property is showing up delinquent.”

Ald. David Moore, whose 17th Ward is sixth on the list, noted that in the African-American community a lot of the delinquent tax properties are vacant.

“The properties haven’t been totally foreclosed,” Moore said. “The bank doesn’t want to take ownership. The taxes are not being paid, and that person’s name is still on it.

“In order to help the homeowners who may be impacted, you almost have to go door to door,” Moore said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) had the second-highest number of residences in his South Side ward for delinquencies under $1,000, with 482 homes; 107 tax bills were returned. He attributes the high delinquency rate to a large senior population aging in place.

“They complain about inflation, and the way the taxes have gone up — the bag tax, the water tax, the sugar tax was the tipping point,” Beale said.

“A lot of seniors are paying their own taxes, and a lot of times they are slow to pay because it is a balancing act: Can I afford my medication, or do I pay for groceries,” he said.

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