WBEZ | Housing http://www.wbez.org/news/housing Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Neighborhood value a challenge for housing recovery http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/buying-distressed.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s housing market has been recovering steadily in recent years. The rate of foreclosure filings has gone down across the city, and home prices have significantly increased compared to a year ago.</p><p>But some neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering nearly as fast as others. You might think you know all the reasons why, but there&rsquo;s a new wrinkle in this post-bubble housing market.</p><p>It&rsquo;s no surprise that a nicely finished four-bedroom, two-bathroom single family home in Chicago&rsquo;s North Center neighborhood can be listed on the market for $669,000. A similar home in Austin on the city&rsquo;s West Side could be listed at $179,000.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#map"><strong>Map: See how housing numbers compare in Chicago communities</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Geoff Smith with DePaul Housing Institute says in this recovery, hot neighborhoods like Lincoln Park are reaching sale prices beyond their original peak.</p><p>&ldquo;Really, the price increase you&rsquo;re seeing in these stronger markets are more a function of supply and demand dynamics and access to credit. To the extent that [credit] is available is going to be more abundant in those areas because borrowers have stronger financial conditions,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>So a nearly half a million dollar price difference from one neighborhood to the next is likely based a lot on location.</p><p>But in some cases, it could actually be more difficult for a middle class family to get a bank loan to buy the cheaper house in the distressed neighborhood.</p><p><strong>One family&rsquo;s odyssey</strong></p><p>This happened to my friend Leila Noelliste. Her middle class family wanted to put down roots in North Lawndale on the West Side of the city. Last year, 80 percent of its total residential property sales were cash transactions and nearly a quarter were considered extremely low value, like about the price of a car.</p><p>Noelliste wasn&rsquo;t making a cash purchase. She offered $182,000 for a two- flat in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;When we got it inspected, it was really sturdy. Good foundation, good roof, didn&rsquo;t need a lot of repairs,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There were two sets of tenants living in it. It was just a good building on a good block.&rdquo;</p><p>She had plans for her family to live in one unit while renting out the other. But those plans came to a halt because of the home&rsquo;s value --its appraisal.</p><p>&ldquo;It was appraised for like in the 140s. And we were shocked. I mean, I know this isn&rsquo;t a great area, but that just seemed really, really low,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>The bank would only finance a loan for the appraised amount. Noelliste and her husband Norman Baldwin didn&rsquo;t have the out of pocket money to pay the extra $40,000 on top of a down payment, so they had to move on.</p><p>That block in North Lawndale is wedged between two main thoroughfares, Cermak and Ogden. The street is mostly rental units, nicely maintained buildings. But there were a number of boarded up houses and vacant lots.</p><p>A short drive east on Ogden Avenue takes you in front of small businesses, boarded up commercial properties and some vacant lots before you get to the vast manicured greenery of Douglas Park. The rising buildings of the Medical District can be seen in the distance, and new rehabs start to pop up along the residential streets.</p><p><strong>&ldquo;Baffling, frustrating&rdquo;</strong></p><p>A less than 10-minute drive brings you to the Near West Side, where Leila ended up buying a home.</p><p>&ldquo;Upstairs we have a master bedroom with a walk-in closet, with a master bathroom. And then we have two smaller bedrooms. One of the bedrooms we use as my office-guest room. And the other room, my son is in. So it&rsquo;s a beautiful home,&rdquo; Noelliste said.</p><p>They offered $285,000 for the place, and it was accepted..</p><p>&ldquo;My credit was good, Norm&rsquo;s credit was good. We had a lot in our savings. All it was &nbsp;[the lower appraisal on the two-flat] was the value of the house. That&rsquo;s all it boiled down to. &nbsp;Which is baffling, very, very frustrating,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s a family now living in a $285,000 house, but couldn&rsquo;t get the financing for a place &nbsp;$100,000 cheaper in a less desirable neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;Our friends who were looking in the area, they too were like middle class people who wanted to move back into Lawndale and to try to help build the community and they were just essentially being shut out,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>To be clear, this applies to homebuyers looking to get a loan and not cash purchasers.</p><p>Geoff Smith with DePaul says cash investors aren&rsquo;t bad. They can even help market recovery.</p><p>&ldquo;You need those types of players to continue to have the market be active and for it to recover. If there&rsquo;s weak demand in a market and no one&rsquo;s buying anything, the properties will continue to deteriorate,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So the hope is the investors will stabilize the neighborhood to some extent.&rdquo;</p><p>But for neighborhoods like Lawndale, that recovery is slow going with the cash activity. &nbsp;The Noelliste family couldn&rsquo;t get the loan they needed because values were low in this distressed neighborhood. &nbsp;So they went to a nicer area, a neighborhood that includes the Medical District and the United Center, &nbsp;and they had no problem getting a loan to buy a house for $285,000.</p><p>A number of housing people I talked to about Noelliste&rsquo;s home buying story, including mortgage lenders, housing advocates, appraisers-- none of them were surprised. They all said, &ldquo;Yeah, that happens.&rdquo;</p><p>Michael Hobbs, president of Pahroo Appraisal and Consultancy was one of those people.</p><p>&ldquo;If distressed properties are the predominant occurrence in that market, then that is what&rsquo;s typically going to drive pricing,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><strong>Comparing neighborhood properties</strong></p><p>That means if you&rsquo;ve got an area with lots of boarded up houses and lots of extremely low value sales, then it&rsquo;s likely that even a newly rehabbed house would be appraised at a lower price. Hobbs says that&rsquo;s because most residential appraisals are determined by comparing that property with ones that have recently sold in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;In the desirable neighborhoods, there&rsquo;s an insufficient amount of inventory or supply and therefore buyers are competing even more ferociously to be in place, to be the one individual or family that is successful in buying that property,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>So in an area like Lincoln Park, that demand drives prices way up, even beyond peak prices. And appraisers and banks feel comfortable with that because they have the numbers to back it up. But when someone wants to make a traditional purchase in a marginal area like Lawndale, appraisers and lenders are more conservative, especially after what happened during the housing crisis.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re not rewarded for taking risk,&rdquo; said Rob Rose, chief operating officer of the Chicago Community Loan Fund.</p><p>He said it can be more punitive for banks to go against regulation or to make policy exceptions, like approving a mortgage loan for $182,000 when the house was appraised at $140,000.</p><p>According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, lending policy exceptions will be reviewed to determine whether the lending institution&rsquo;s decisions are adequately documented and appropriate in light of all of the relevant credit considerations. According to FDIC, a lot of exceptions may signal a weakening of a bank&rsquo;s underwriting practices.</p><p>Rose said for people in Noelliste&rsquo;s situation, it&rsquo;s just easier for banks to say no. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;For those bankers involved, then that&rsquo;s a bit of their own equity they have to put at risk for the regulators to explain why they made that exception,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Rose said in the post-bubble market, banks are putting more weight on the value of a property than they did before. He thinks using cash transactions and distressed sales as comparables doesn&rsquo;t really give a true market sense for what a house should sell for.</p><p>&ldquo;So if I&rsquo;m telling you the market is such that I can now sell this house for a higher amount, that should mean something,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Rose says banks sometimes get in their own way in this post bubble market. He says banks need to start having the courage to make policy exceptions and be willing to explain their actions.</p><p>Rose says it&rsquo;s unlikely that national institutions like Bank of America or Chase would do this because of the volume of loans they deal with. But he says community banks have the opportunity to step up and give loans at a higher value to people who are willing and have the ability to make the payments.</p><p>He says then we might eventually see values edge up in these marginal neighborhoods.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: Chicago housing statistics<a name="map"></a></span></p><p><iframe height="750px" scrolling="no" seamless="seamless" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/maps/housing/index.html" width="600px"></iframe></p><p><em>Susie An is WBEZ&rsquo;s business reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 08:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530 Housing group wants CHA to slow down Altgeld redevelopment http://www.wbez.org/news/housing-group-wants-cha-slow-down-altgeld-redevelopment-110503 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Altgeld_Gardens.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A social justice nonprofit long involved in desegregating Chicago public housing wants redevelopment on the far South Side to slow down.</p><p>Five hundred units are slated for rehab at Altgeld Gardens, a de-industrialized area with a population that&rsquo;s black and low income. Business and Professional People for Public Interest wants the Chicago Housing Authority to first put in more amenities, such as a community center and an upgraded library.</p><p>&ldquo;Improve the quality of life for the community, for the families that live there now. When you&rsquo;ve done that, make a determination whether it&rsquo;s the right thing or not to bring back 500 units. But CHA&rsquo;s doing it in the reverse order,&rdquo; said Julie Brown, a lawyer with BPI. Motions have been filed in federal court.</p><p>Brown said BPI hasn&rsquo;t asked Judge Marvin Aspen to rule on anything except for the parties to mediate. Aspen is the same judge from the Gautreaux case, a class-action lawsuit BPI filed against CHA to end the segregation of black families in public housing.</p><p>But CHA officials and current Altgeld residents are actually on the same page. Both parties say upgrades to facilities are in the works, and they want more families to move back to a rehabbed Altgeld.</p><p>Resident Cheryl Johnson said BPI is out of touch, and fixing up facilities shouldn&rsquo;t stop CHA from also fixing up apartments.</p><p>&ldquo;As a legal tenant holder I have the right to consultation of what&rsquo;s going to have an impact on my quality of my life. These folks have never lived in public housing,&rdquo; Johnson said.</p><p>CHA officials said work is being done to improve school, transportation and recreational facilities at Altgeld. The housing complex was originally built in 1945. Currently, more than 1,200 units are occupied and CHA is expected to present an implementation strategy to residents in the coming months.</p><p>&ldquo;While CHA cannot speak specifically about the motion, it has worked closely with residents and the larger Altgeld community with respect to the revitalization plan. The preferred design concept was the culmination of more than 25 meetings with residents, community members, sister agencies and organizations, including BPI,&rdquo; a statement read.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a>&nbsp;is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter.&nbsp;<a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;Follow Natalie on<a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 09:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/housing-group-wants-cha-slow-down-altgeld-redevelopment-110503 FLATS Chicago developer weighs in on housing affordability debate http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475 <p><p>The City of Chicago continues to work on an ordinance to address the phenomenon of fast-disappearing single-room and residential hotels. In recent years, many of these traditionally affordable housing options, particularly along the lakefront on the city&rsquo;s North Side, have been bought and converted into high-end rentals. Hundreds of low-income tenants have been displaced, and with the help of community organizers, have turned the attention of city policy makers to the issue.</p><p>Developers, some of whom have been accused of accelerating the loss of residential hotels, have been quieter. But Jay Michael, co-founder of Cedar Street Properties and FLATS Chicago, recently shared his take on the efforts, and responded to criticism that he&rsquo;s one of the reasons that low-income residents can no longer afford to live on the North Side.</p><p>&ldquo;This is our favorite space. This may have been what really sold us,&rdquo; he said, standing in the basement of his most significant acquisition to date: the Lawrence House. He&rsquo;s looking at a 60-foot swimming pool, covered with wooden slats, but extending 8-feet deep on one end. The floors and walls are lined with beautiful aquamarine blue tiles.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s totally destroyed, but in the back there are these hamams -- these men and women steam facilities,&rdquo; he continued. &ldquo;We were like, &lsquo;Oh my God,&rsquo; my business partner and I, this is just like out of a movie -- &nbsp;it is out of a movie - this could be a movie, right?&rdquo;</p><p>Michael&rsquo;s company, FLATS Chicago, closed on the Lawrence House last year. It&rsquo;s a 13-story residential hotel in the heart of Uptown. When it opened in the late 1920s, it was the pinnacle of glitz and glam: it had an all-glass atrium entrance, porters at the doors, and hosted fashionable visitors who came in town to catch shows at the Aragon Theater and other mainstays of the then-bustling entertainment district.</p><p>When FLATS acquired it, however, the building was under two receiverships, home to about 100 residents who endured slum-like conditions. Delinquent owners allowed the structure to fall badly into disrepair. It was ridden with bed bugs, mice and crime and the utilities would sometimes even shut off. Despite the problems, some residents still paid as much as $700 per month to live there.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FLATS 2.JPG" style="height: 240px; width: 320px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="Michael’s gut rehab of the Lawrence House Hotel will include a restoration of a 60-foot swimming pool. Ultimately, some rentals in the building could cost more than $2000. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" />Michael&rsquo;s total gut rehab and historic restoration is expected to cost around $18 million. In the end, rentals will start above $800 and go beyond $2000. While nobody believed the building&rsquo;s previous living conditions were acceptable, these prices have made him the new target of criticism.</p><p>&ldquo;The track record has shown that the units that he (Michael) has converted really has affected residents in a negative way,&rdquo; said D&rsquo;Angelo Boyland, an organizer with ONE Northside. The group holds FLATS Chicago responsible for the loss of more than 800 affordable units on Chicago&rsquo;s North Side within the last three years, contained in six FLATS-branded buildings.</p><p>Last year, ONE Northside made the fight against Michael a personal one. They rallied outside his Gold Coast home to protest the displacement of hundreds of North Side residents. Michael has refused to speak with them ever since.</p><p>Others agree that there&rsquo;s a growing housing crisis for low-income residents on the North Side. Many say single-room and residential hotels traditionally offered crucial transitional housing for people who otherwise would face homelessness. Social service agencies typically keep a list of these buildings on hand for when clients need them.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, I&rsquo;d have to update my list and say this one&rsquo;s not here anymore, and this one&rsquo;s closing, and so if anybody has any clients who live there, we&rsquo;re going to need to work with them and help them relocate,&rdquo; said Jennifer Cushman, who was a housing coordinator for Trilogy Health Services in Rogers Park.</p><p>But Cushman said she doesn&rsquo;t blame Michael -- or any other particular developer -- for the problem. She said the city needs to support more affordable housing. Michael agreed, and pointed out that he has preserved -- and improved -- some affordable housing. To prove it, he points out The Windale, an 81-unit building in Edgewater. It&rsquo;s one of two single-room occupancy hotels that Cedar St. Properties has acquired.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FLATS%203.JPG" style="height: 240px; width: 320px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Michael’s holding company, Cedar St. Properties, has bought two single-room occupancy hotels on the North Side. It is refurbishing the units in one of those, and keeping the rents below $700. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" />&ldquo;This one, we&rsquo;re planning on restoring and keeping as an SRO,&rdquo; said Michael. &ldquo;One of the things that I thought would be great, and this came from feedback from social service agencies, there&rsquo;ll be two case worker rooms at the end.&rdquo;</p><p>Michael has kept rents at the property under $700, all while renovating it to look cleaner and more pleasant. His company has pulled out the carpet, laid down wood flooring, and repainted the hallways. He said he plans to build a common kitchen on the ground floor.</p><p>Still, about half the previous tenants of the building opted to leave the building once Michael acquired it. He said they weren&rsquo;t interested in abiding by the new rules his company has set down: visitors only between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., no overnight guests, and monthly room inspections.</p><p>Michael said he, himself, would not agree to live in a building that had rules like that.</p><p>&ldquo;But I think that if I had to live in 6019 (The Windale), I would probably prefer to live in (a building) with rules that looked clean and was safe like that, than the ones that didn&rsquo;t have rules and were nasty,&rdquo; he said. He added that he&rsquo;s awaiting federal approval for his first Section 8 housing voucher tenants to live in one of the pricier, FLATS-branded properties. He said once that goes through, he looks forward to having more government-subsidized tenants living in his upscale buildings.</p><p>Michael is working with the city and other housing advocates now on the SRO preservation ordinance, which would apply both to single-room occupancy buildings, and to residential hotels. They&rsquo;re thinking about how to preserve these buildings as affordable. But he worries about restrictions on owners.</p><p>&ldquo;My opinion is, if you&rsquo;re going to take someone&rsquo;s rights away from them, that&rsquo;s in exchange for an incentive,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So if you choose to renovate your building, and if you choose to renovate it with affordability, there should be some sort of incentive offered.&rdquo;</p><p>Ultimately, Michael said the city will have to come up with a big pot of money as incentive for developers to keep affordable housing in their plans.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 14:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475 Condo de-conversions help stabilize Chicago neighborhoods http://www.wbez.org/news/condo-de-conversions-help-stabilize-chicago-neighborhoods-110472 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Capture_12.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>A construction worker tears out and puts in new drywall in a nine-unit building on 80th Street and St. Lawrence Avenue on Chicago&rsquo;s South Side. Dust blankets the hard wood floors as rehab is underway. New windows gleam in the summer sun.</p><p>This once was a condo development.</p><p>The city of Chicago de-converted the building in August 2011, and later this summer, the apartments will be ready for rent.</p><p>Dewayne Sandifer owns the building.</p><p>&ldquo;The price of the building was a good deal. The location is nice. I&rsquo;m going to be renting them for market value, around $700, $800,&rdquo; Sandifer said.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s condo market may be rebounding, but many neighborhoods still have empty buildings as a result of fraud and a tanked economy. An Illinois state law is allowing the city to de-convert condos and turn the units back to apartment rentals. It&rsquo;s the only such law in the nation. And it&rsquo;s beginning to make a difference.</p><p>Fifty buildings have been de-converted since 2010 in Chicago. And there&rsquo;s no sign of the program ebbing.</p><p>The court receiver for most of those buildings was the Community Investment Corporation, a multi-family rehab lender.</p><p>CIC President Jack Markowski said the distressed condo program deals squarely with fraud from shady developers.</p><p>&ldquo;They created the image, the impression of markets and condo development where it really didn&rsquo;t exist,&rdquo; Markowski said.</p><p>For instance, someone pretends to convert a six-flat building. Markowski explained how a developer could get away with this.</p><p>&ldquo;Managing to find financing, finding I guess straw buyers for the six units, selling them for $300,000 a piece, managing to get appraisals and financing. And walking away with $1.8 million dollars on a building where you look at it today, the building&#39;s been de-converted. nobody&rsquo;s living there, it&rsquo;s been trashed,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to CIC, that condo building on St. Lawrence Avenue sold units to elderly buyers from the South, an indication of straw buyers.</p><p>The de-conversion process is different than condo owners banding together in a vote to collectively sell their building.</p><p>This distressed condo program has criteria before the process begins: serious code violations, utility termination, 60 percent of units in foreclosure, recording of more condo units than physically exist. In most cases, the buildings have been empty, with no one paying mortgages.</p><p>Markowski estimates there are roughly 250 examples of fraudulent condo buildings in the city. That&rsquo;s more than two thousand units, he says.</p><p>&ldquo;You would think, &lsquo;Wow, look at Washington Park, look at all these condos that are being sold there. That&rsquo;s amazing. And turns out well yeah, a significant portion weren&rsquo;t real, it was phony. So it was driving the market in that sense, confusing, I think, legitimate buyers,&rdquo; Markowski said.</p><p>That&rsquo;s the other piece of the condo bust: inflated property values in the early 2000s, loose underwriting on loans and lower down payments. These factors have created instability in traditionally strong rental markets like Rogers Park, Albany Park and Grand Boulevard. Each of these areas lag in the condo market because of foreclosures and vacancies.</p><p>&ldquo;When the market collapsed, those projects, there wasn&rsquo;t the demand to really occupy those projects fully and those projects obviously became highly distressed and the demand hasn&rsquo;t recovered yet,&rdquo; said Geoff Smith, executive director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University.</p><p>Markowski sayid condo owners who owe more than what their units are worth simply have to wait for the market to reset. The distressed condo program hasn&rsquo;t actively tackled that population.</p><p>But City of Chicago officials say the second wave of cases they are getting across their desks are condo failures - too many people not paying assessments and developers not selling enough units.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a> Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/condo-de-conversions-help-stabilize-chicago-neighborhoods-110472 NEIU expansion invokes eminent domain http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/neiu-expansion-invokes-eminent-domain-110461 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 6.17.23 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>Northeastern Illinois University is taking a big gamble: that if it finally builds on-campus housing, it can reverse declining student enrollment. But the way the university&rsquo;s going about this has upset some neighbors. The university plans to acquire the properties through eminent domain, leaving owners on one block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. with little say in the matter.</p><p>Depending on who&rsquo;s speaking, the 3400 block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. could be described as &ldquo;sleepy,&rdquo; &ldquo;stagnant,&rdquo; or &ldquo;depressed.&rdquo; But nearly every storefront is occupied. On the south side sit a Chinese restaurant, dental clinic, hair salon, and hookah cafe. On the north side, a travel agency, real estate agency, bank, and 7-11.</p><p>On a recent morning, two surveyors were casing the street. They said they were there for &ldquo;the university,&rdquo; measuring the dimensions of the buildings and their properties. The information could go into an appraisal of the properties&rsquo; values.</p><p>&ldquo;My grandfather developed this building in 1954 and built it from the ground up,&rdquo; Dolly Tong said, about her family&rsquo;s property at 3411 W Bryn Mawr, which now houses a Chinese restaurant called Hunan Wok. Tong and her siblings were raised in the apartment above the restaurant space, and she still lives there with her elderly mother, whom she describes as severely disabled.</p><p>Tong said she and her siblings are only able to care for their mother with the rent they receive from leasing out the restaurant. So last winter, when they received a letter from NEIU stating that it intended to acquire the property for some compensation, she was devastated.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re already feeling now this impending doom that they&rsquo;re going to take away our family&rsquo;s legacy,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s really hard.&rdquo;</p><p>Five other property owners are facing the same prospect, including the parents of John Boudouvas. His family owns the parcels just east of Tong&rsquo;s. Boudouvas said when his family received their letter from NEIU, he accompanied his parents to speak with a university lawyer about it. They told the lawyer they didn&rsquo;t want to sell.</p><p>&ldquo;And he goes, &lsquo;well, the university wants it, and they&rsquo;re going to eventually end up getting it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Boudouvas recalled. &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s when I paused and I looked at him and I said, &lsquo;well, how can you guys use eminent domain?&rsquo; And as I said that I realized the university is owned by the state.&rdquo;</p><p>Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for its own use. It has to offer those property owners compensation. But Boudouvas, Tong, and other property owners say NEIU&rsquo;s offer was pitiful. And they all want to know the same thing: Why won&rsquo;t the university build on property it already owns?<br /><br />&ldquo;I think it is a really good question,&rdquo; said Dr. Sharon Hahs, President of NEIU. Hahs said a 2008 student housing feasibility study identified a second site for student housing, in addition to the block on Bryn Mawr Ave. It sits on Foster Ave., on the south end of the campus, by the athletic fields.</p><p>&ldquo;The answer lies somewhat in what is the most help to the community sooner,&rdquo; said Hahs.</p><p>The university is planning two large multi- use buildings -- one on each side of Bryn Mawr.&nbsp; The ground floor would feature new retail and restaurants.&nbsp; Above those, enough dorm rooms would be built to fit 500 beds. Hahs hopes the project will set off a domino effect of revitalization, extending east down Bryn Mawr.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to change the character of the neighborhood,&rdquo; Hahs said. &ldquo;It is economically depressed. And something will have to change for that to occur.&rdquo;</p><p>While the university frames its decision as a desire to inject some economic pep into the slumbering Hollywood-North Park neighborhood, it&rsquo;s also about the school&rsquo;s survival. Last fall, NEIU enrollment dipped below 11,000 for the first time since 2001. Hahs is focused on reversing that by recruiting a greater number of students from more than fifty miles away. But she said that won&rsquo;t work if the university does not offer housing for them to live in, or the amenities of a lively, young neighborhood.</p><p>The plan threatens to split the community into two camps. For Janita Tucker, who owns a home several blocks west of NEIU, this has been a long time coming.</p><p>&ldquo;My husband and I purchased the property here in part because it was so close to Northeastern and North Park University,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and we wanted that university town vibe.&rdquo;</p><p>But many other residents, who live in closer proximity to the proposed development, fear student dorms could change the character of their neighborhood for the worse.</p><p>Both sides have hired lawyers, and Tong is spearheading a coalition of business and property owners against the property takeover. Litigation could mean it will be years before anything really happens. But quietly, many property owners concede that unless NEIU voluntarily backs off the plan, they suspect this will be a losing fight.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 06:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/neiu-expansion-invokes-eminent-domain-110461 Why are we still collecting taxes to prevent white flight in Chicago? http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325 <p><p>A controversial decades-old program to prevent white flight in Chicago is flush with cash and still collecting taxes from residents of the Southwest and Northwest sides &ndash; despite racial change and housing shifts.&nbsp;</p><p>The programs&rsquo; origins can be traced to the racial panic that gripped many white ethnic communities after voters elected Harold Washington as the city&rsquo;s first black mayor in 1983. Often that fear played out in the housing market with white bungalow belt families worried that blacks would move in and decrease their property values.</p><p>The money collected in the so-called home equity districts was used as a kind of insurance program &ndash; homeowners could file a cash claim if the value dropped upon selling.</p><p>The three little-known taxing districts are the <a href="http://www.nwhomeequity.org/" target="_blank">Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program</a>, the <a href="http://swghe.org/" target="_blank">Southwest Guaranteed Home Equity Program</a> and the <a href="https://www.swhomeequity.com/" target="_blank">Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program</a>.</p><blockquote><p><strong>MAP: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#wheredistricts">Where are the home equity districts?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>In the decades since they were created, most neighborhoods have experienced a racial transition on their own; they are no longer white enclaves. And yet the three home equity programs are still there, still collecting money from thousands of homeowners and not doing much else.</p><p>Collectively, these taxing districts sit on millions of dollars and some activists want that to change.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Save our neighborhood</span></p><p>The 1980s may seem a little late for <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/147.html" target="_blank">panic peddling and blockbusting</a> by unscrupulous realtors. After all, white flight had already happened decades earlier once blacks could legally buy homes wherever they wanted.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/home%20equity3_140611_nm.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; float: right;" title="A brochure explaining the home equity program on the Northwest Side. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)" /></p><p>But segregation never really went away.</p><p>&ldquo;You had these bungalows near the stockyards, which to be blunt about it, wasn&rsquo;t exactly desirable real estate. These folks living in those bungalows &ndash; six rooms, a knotty pine basement, one bathroom and was there any racial acceptance? No!&rdquo; said Paul Green, Director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University.</p><p>Historically, African Americans weren&rsquo;t a strong presence in the bungalow belt. And Green said longtime residents didn&rsquo;t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.</p><p>&ldquo;They were all basically white ethnic neighborhoods. The reality was is that the good people living there were afraid that they were going to lose the value of their homes, the only place they knew.&rdquo;</p><p>That fear gave birth to the white <a href="http://www.lib.niu.edu/1988/ii880524.html" target="_blank">Save Our Neighborhood/Save Our City coalition</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;You literally had racial change taking place mile by mile going west on 55th, 63rd, 71st. And those people didn&rsquo;t have anyplace to go,&rdquo; Green said. &ldquo;At that time there was very little reintegration after you had segregation. In other words, you look at the South Side of Chicago, you did not have neighborhoods that went from white to black to mixed.&rdquo;</p><p>The coalition pushed for an equity program to protect them from falling property values. Mayor Harold Washington, who understood white ethnic fear, got behind it. City Council considered an ordinance to implement the program. But black aldermen found the notion that whites needed home equity insurance racist. Washington publicly withdrew his support.</p><blockquote><p><strong>MAP: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#racemap">How the racial makeup of Chicago neighborhoods has changed</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Then in 1988 Southwest Side politician Michael Madigan stepped in. The powerful speaker of the Illinois House helped pass a state law that created three home equity taxing districts &ndash;&nbsp;including two on the southwest side. Another district was created on the northwest side.</p><p>Madigan declined an interview request.</p><p>&ldquo;The premise of the program was I think much more psychological. The psychology was people fear change and when you put into place this institutional mechanism, you create a way of responding to that fear,&rdquo; said Phil Ashton, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who&rsquo;s studied home equity districts.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">How home equity districts work</span></p><p>All homeowners in a designated district pay a small tax, sometimes as little as a dollar and fifty cents a year. That money goes into a fund and homeowners voluntarily enroll in the equity program. If the appraisal is less than the original purchase price when they decide to sell, homeowners receive a cash claim for the difference.</p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that Oak Park started a similar program in the late 1970s to manage racial integration. No claims were ever paid out and the program ceased.</p><p>But liberal Oak Park is much different from blue collar Marquette Park, where angry whites jeered at and stoned Martin Luther King in 1966 when he marched for racially open housing laws.</p><p>A horrified 16 year old Jim Capraro witnessed that incident a block away from his home. And he carried it with him as a young man.</p><p>&ldquo;I remember seeing Stokely Carmichael speak in Chicago, a civil rights leader. When he was done speaking, a white kid kind of raised his hand and said &lsquo;what should white kids do to change this?&rsquo; And Stokely said &lsquo;white kids should go back to where they came from and change it there,&rsquo;&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>He returned home to the Southwest Side and led the Greater Southwest Community Development Corporation for decades in Chicago Lawn.</p><p>Capraro served on the board of the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program until 2010. He wasn&rsquo;t active in getting it started but has thought a lot about its effect.</p><p>&ldquo;Does a program like this support racism or thwart racism? Even the people who aren&rsquo;t racist might end up getting hurt because the very act of a large number of people fleeing puts more supply on the housing market than would normally be,&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>Whatever the intent, none of the 20-odd neighborhoods in the three home equity districts experienced white flight. Take Chicago Lawn for example. Decades after the ugly backlash against Dr. King, it experienced a smooth racial transition during the 1990s. Today 63rd Street is a bustling strip with mosques, a Harold&rsquo;s fried chicken, and a Belizean restaurant.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/home%20equity2_140611_nm.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; float: left;" title="A boarded up building in Chicago Lawn. Neighborhood activists say fixing vacancies should be a priority of the home equity districts. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)" />Meanwhile, farther west, union signs hang on the front porches of blondish brick homes. Here, in the Clearing neighborhood, the area is still mostly white.</p><p>Many other neighborhoods in the home equity districts are largely Latino now.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">&#39;Why should that money be sitting there?&#39;</span></p><p>At the Northwest Side Housing Center on west Addison Street, Polish signs hang inside the storefront. The office is crowded with people seeking help to keep their homes. The surrounding bungalow communities of Dunning, Portage Park and Irving Park used to house the largest concentration of Polish families in the city. Families like Ernie Luconsik&rsquo;s, a housing volunteer.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the reasons I moved to my area was because it was integrated. I found it fascinating that people got along and didn&rsquo;t look at people as any kind of color,&rdquo; Luconsik said.</p><p>These days there are nearly as many Latinos and Asians living in the neighborhoods.</p><blockquote><p><strong>CHART: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#districtchange">How the racial makeup of the home equity districts has changed</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;As a community-based organization and community residents who are supposed to be benefiting, where is the accountability about the funds and how they are being used?&rdquo; said James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center.</p><p>The Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program taxes approximately 48,000 homeowners. Fewer than 10 percent of homeowners in the Northwest Side district are enrolled in the program &ndash;&nbsp;even though all of them pay the tax.</p><p>The fund has $9.6 million.</p><p>&ldquo;Why should that money be sitting there? And if it&rsquo;s something that&rsquo;s not going to produce back, then stop it overall. Because it&rsquo;s something that&rsquo;s not being a benefit for the people or the community,&rdquo; community organizer Vanessa Valentin said. She said families could use that money for something other than claims: home repairs, small loans to prevent foreclosure.</p><p>Rudyk said they tried to organize around this issue several years ago, but got nowhere.</p><p>&ldquo;They have not returned our calls either or our request for a meeting. We were told why are we here, why are we questioning? This isn&rsquo;t our business,&rdquo; Rudyk said.</p><p>I know the feeling.</p><p>When I tried to talk to somebody from the three equity programs, no one agreed to a recorded interview. One of the programs wouldn&rsquo;t even give me their financials until the state attorney general got involved.</p><p>Judging the success or failure of the equity programs is hard. Did the psychology of having insurance keep white families from fleeing?</p><p>We may never know. While blacks never did buy many homes in the bungalow belt, today the northwest and southwest sides are no longer exclusive white enclaves.</p><p>UIC&rsquo;s Ashton said immigrants helped stabilize changing communities where the taxing districts exist.</p><p>&ldquo;Absent Latino homebuyers, white homeowners would&rsquo;ve struggled to find replacements for themselves when they were trying to move out through course of the 1990s. And they didn&rsquo;t move out because, I don&rsquo;t think, they encountered more minorities moving in,&rdquo; Ashton said. &ldquo;They moved out because they were getting old and their home was their major source of wealth and they wanted to retire or they were passing away and the family wanted to resolve the estate by selling the home.&rdquo;</p><p>Now those same immigrant families are facing a fresh set of challenges related to the housing downturn.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Residents want money invested in neighborhoods</span></p><p>Veronica Villasenor is a counselor for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which serves a low-income and working class Latino area.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m a Hispanic, I&rsquo;m a Latina. I know how my parents think. I know how my parents were victims of getting a mortgage that wasn&rsquo;t sustainable,&rdquo; Villasenor said. &ldquo;Just in general the community is not educated. I think the state should assign money to develop education programs for these families &ndash; financial literacy, for mortgages.</p><p>Where would that money come from? Villasenor has her eye on the $1 million cash reserve in the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program.</p><p>That&rsquo;s the board Capraro used to sit on the board of that program. He said he can count the number of claims that went out. Usually because of an inaccurate appraisal, not because of a drop in home values.</p><p>Realizing the program was flush with cash, Capraro says the board took action.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We appealed to the legislature and actually got permission to do this: we were lending people money at interest rates that were much less expensive than a normal home improvement loan or home equity line of credit,&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>It was a popular program until the housing market crashed. Suddenly, a roof repair wasn&rsquo;t as important as hanging on to one&rsquo;s home.</p><p>Separately, the Southwest Guaranteed Home Equity Program has more than $53 thousand dollars in the bank. Last year it collected $185,000 but it hasn&rsquo;t had any recent payouts.</p><p>The Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program last paid out a claim more than 15 years ago.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Let them explain to community residents what&rsquo;s being done with these funds and how we can work together it&rsquo;s not work against each other it&rsquo;s work together for the benefit of the community,&rdquo; Valentin said.</p><p>In 2011, the <em><a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/watchdogs/8177235-452/taxpayer-money-set-aside-to-curb-white-flight-helped-some-flee-city.html#.U5XsW1fvn_Y" target="_blank">Chicago Sun-Times</a></em> investigated how families were cashing out of the program due to the housing economic slump, which is not what the taxing districts were designed for.</p><p>Put aside, for a moment, the reason these three taxing districts exist and focus just on the dollars.</p><p>Any community area would envy a pot of money that could potentially be reinvested back in the neighborhood &ndash;&nbsp;no matter what race benefits.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: Where are the home equity districts?<a name="wheredistricts"></a></span></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;">(click on the districts for financial info)</span></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="300" scrolling="no" src="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col2%3E%3E0+from+1OVxIg4ZMZyPSe4FvVqVzWQasXgkF9WbsSNyMnsF4&amp;viz=MAP&amp;h=false&amp;lat=41.87606330248448&amp;lng=-87.73913351843261&amp;t=1&amp;z=10&amp;l=col2%3E%3E0&amp;y=2&amp;tmplt=2&amp;hml=KML" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Chart: How the racial makeup of home equity districts has changed<a name="districtchange"></a></span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/district%20change%20chart.PNG" style="height: 297px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Hagan)" /></div><p>Chicago&#39;s three home equity districts cover 18 community areas. Those neighborhoods saw major demographic shifts from 1990 to 2010. For example, in Archer Heights White residents made up 90 percent of the population in 1990 but only 21 in 2010, a drop of 69 percentage points. In the same time Latino residents increased from 9 to 76 percent.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: How the racial makeup of Chicago has changed<a name="racemap"></a></span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/maps.PNG" style="height: 381px; width: 620px;" title="Dot density map showing census numbers. (WBEZ/Chris Hagan)" /></div><blockquote><div>&nbsp;</div></blockquote><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;</em><em>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 14:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325 Chicago's red "X": Meaning, myths and limitations http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/153918243&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>While walking around her Logan Square neighborhood Chicagoan Poppy Coleman noticed something peculiar about two rundown buildings: They bore metal signs emblazoned with a large red &quot;X.&quot;</p><p>Poppy says she wanted to know more, including: &ldquo;Who they were for, maybe what department put them up, and if it was something that I should know about.&rdquo; So, she sent Curious City this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What do those red &quot;X&quot; signs mean on buildings?</em></p><p>She&rsquo;s not the only one who&rsquo;s confused. Since 2012, red &quot;X&quot; signs have popped up on nearly 2,000 properties around Chicago. It&rsquo;s not hard to find <a href="http://www.trulia.com/voices/Home_Buying/Are_the_red_X_buildings_for_sale_-613697" target="_blank">people posting in online forums</a>, wondering aloud whether the red &quot;X&quot; means a building&rsquo;s condemned, vacant or for sale.</p><p>But in the course of reporting an answer for Poppy, we encountered hard questions about the program that supports red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signage, including whether the city&rsquo;s doing enough to communicate its intentions. We also turned up some surprising news: This program, meant to save the lives of first responders and others, has <a href="#money">run out of money</a>.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The sign&rsquo;s origins: A mayday call</span></p><p>On Dec. 22, 2010, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCPw1aiQDO8" target="_blank">firefighters were searching for squatters inside a burning, long-vacant laundromat </a>on the 1700 block of East 75th Street, in Chicago&rsquo;s South Shore neighborhood. As firefighters continued their sweep of the building, a wall fell and then the roof collapsed, killing firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum. Nineteen others were injured.</p><p>&ldquo;When I first became alderman, one of the first visits that I paid was to Fire Chief Mark Neilsen,&rdquo; said 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored two city ordinances in response. The first ordinance, passed in 2011, required the department to catalogue buildings with bowstring truss construction, a <a href="http://www.firefighternation.com/article/firefighter-safety/bowstring-truss-roof-construction-hazards" target="_blank">variety that&rsquo;s prone to collapse during fires</a>.</p><p>Silverstein&rsquo;s second ordinance sought to find and mark all of Chicago&rsquo;s dangerous buildings. For that program they decided on rectangular metal signs displaying a big red &quot;X&quot;, a symbol used by fire departments in New York City and other some other cities. <a href="http://dart.arc.nasa.gov/Recon/BUILDI~1Rev1.pdf" target="_blank">That iconography comes from a federal program for marking vacant structures</a>.</p><p>Chicago doesn&rsquo;t assign red &quot;X&quot; signs to just any vacant or abandoned building; a sign is a visual cue that a structure is structurally unsound and that firefighters and other first responders should take precautions when responding to emergencies there. It&rsquo;s also an extra reminder for anyone who might wander into a vacant building &mdash; which is illegal already &mdash; that they should stay out.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Making a list</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Trip.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right; height: 700px;" title="All three vacant buildings are marked with the red X, but display varying levels of disrepair. No signage indicates dangerous, structural disrepair. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee - Kathy Chaney)" /></p><p>Since Silverstein&rsquo;s <a href="http://chicagocouncilmatic.org/legislation/1135934" target="_blank">ordinance</a> passed in June 2012, the Chicago Fire Department has placed red &quot;X&quot; signs on 1,804 buildings. That&rsquo;s less than half of the more than 5,000 vacant properties registered in the city &mdash; itself a fraction of the estimated total of <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/dataset/vacant_and_abandonedbuildingsservicerequests.html" target="_blank">vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago</a> &mdash; but CFD Spokesman Larry Langford says it&rsquo;s a start.</p><p>&ldquo;We picked 1,800 that we wanted to get marked right away,&rdquo; he says. When the program started, Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Buildings sent over a list of structurally unsound properties for CFD to add to as they saw fit. The list from the Department of Buildings included a few hundred properties deemed more than 35 percent deteriorated.</p><p>Langford says &ldquo;It&rsquo;s based on structural damage rotting in some cases, vandalism, previous fire, the overall integrity of the building, what&rsquo;s missing from the building, if there are holes in the floor, porch in bad condition, roof about to go &mdash; things that might make it difficult for a fireman to work the fire, or for the building to come down quickly during a fire.&rdquo;</p><p>That list quickly grew to 1,800. Firemen took note of vacant buildings as they did their rounds, checking out potentially unsafe structures and adding to the initial list of red &quot;X&quot; candidates.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;They&rsquo;re everywhere&rsquo;</span></p><p>Records obtained by WBEZ show the city often put up dozens of signs at a time in parts of the city with a lot of vacant and structurally unsound buildings.</p><p>Poppy Coleman joined Curious City Editor Shawn Allee and reporter Chris Bentley for a short canvas of the South Side&rsquo;s Englewood neighborhood, which has hundreds of buildings sporting the signs.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="620" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html#/?address=7000%20S%20Normal%20Ave%2C%20Chicago%2C%20IL%2C%20United%20States&amp;radius=805interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html" width="620"></iframe></p><blockquote><p><em>(Curious City canvassed portions of the Englewood neighborhood near the intersection of 70th and Normal. There are 55 red &quot;X&quot; signs posted within a half-mile of the intersection. Map: <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">See the signs across the city and search by address</a>)</em></p></blockquote><p>Most of the residents we talked to around the intersection of 70th and South Normal Avenue described waking up to find several houses on their block marked with red &quot;X&quot; signs. The signs never go unnoticed, but neighbors are often confused about what they mean.</p><p>&ldquo;For some reason the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; became something totally different than what we intended it to be,&rdquo; said Langford. &rdquo;I thought they were kidding me when they said it, but some people thought that those were the buildings that were being targeted by the drones when the next war started, and that the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; is a drone target.&rdquo;</p><p>The department has largely left it up to aldermen and their offices to publicize the signs&rsquo; purpose. Langford says people have called to ask the fire department if red &ldquo;X&rdquo; buildings are part of a program by the city to sell distressed property at a discount, or to pillory property owners whose taxes are in arrears.</p><p>&ldquo;It has nothing to do with ownership, it&rsquo;s not a part of any kind of program to do anything with the buildings. For the most part they&rsquo;re privately owned,&rdquo; Langford says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just a marking for danger. It&rsquo;s really just that simple.&rdquo;</p><p>Simple, perhaps, but there&rsquo;s a lot of confusion in areas where red &quot;X&quot;s are common. If these signs are here to save lives &mdash; both those of firefighters and anyone who might think of trespassing on potentially dangerous abandoned properties &mdash; is everyone on the same page?</p><p>There are several red &quot;X&quot; buildings on the 6900 block of S. Normal, where Maria Johnson lives. But her next door neighbor is an abandoned building that doesn&rsquo;t have a red &quot;X&quot;. She says just because a building&rsquo;s deemed vacant doesn&rsquo;t mean it&rsquo;s unoccupied.</p><p>&ldquo;Homeless people, people with nowhere to stay,&rdquo; said Johnson, who has lived on this block for three years. &ldquo;I know they went into the &nbsp;building next to me and someone set it on fire, it caught onto my crib. So I don&rsquo;t know if they were living in there, or getting high, or whatever, but I know there were some homeless people going through the back door.&rdquo;</p><p>There&rsquo;s so signage explaining the red &quot;X&quot; &mdash; just the &ldquo;X&rdquo; itself &mdash; so if you want answers, you have to find them yourself. Most of the people we asked in Englewood thought the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; marked buildings for demolition. Earl Liggins was one of the few people who knew what the signs&rsquo; real meaning, but that&rsquo;s only because he took matters into his own hands.</p><p>&ldquo;I called the alderman&rsquo;s office and I heard it from the alderman people themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I was just concerned because there are so many of them. I was just wondering what does it mean, are they going to tear this many buildings down? I just wanted to know straight from them, what the situation was.&rdquo;</p><p>Liggins lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal that he fixed up a few years ago. But he says whether they have a red &quot;X&quot; or not, most vacant buildings in his neighborhood stay that way.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-3.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Earl Liggins, right, lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal. Fifty-five red ‘X’ buildings lie within half a mile. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>&ldquo;For the most part they stay vacant forever,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The condition of the building gets worse and worse. That building across the street &mdash; I&rsquo;ve been here 10 years and that building has been vacant for about ten years.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Removing the red &lsquo;X&rsquo;</span></p><p>There is a process to rehabilitate vacant and abandoned properties, but the city requires owners to obtain special permission before performing work on red x structures. Two years after the program began, however, <a href="https://www.chicagoreporter.com/reclaiming-avenue" target="_blank">only one building has successfully been repaired and had its red &quot;X&quot; legally removed</a>.</p><p>The next red &quot;X&quot; property to move off the list might be one of the buildings that originally sparked question asker Poppy Coleman&rsquo;s curiosity: 2800 W. Logan Blvd. A fire ravaged the three-story building last summer, but owner Darko Tesanovic <a href="http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/buildingpermit/search/extendedapplicationstatus.htm?permitNumber=100480840" target="_blank">got a city permit</a> earlier this year to repair the damages and turn a ground-floor dwelling unit into retail space. If he finishes the repairs, Tesanovic could be only the second landlord in Chicago to legally remove a red &quot;X&quot; from his building. In the meantime he says the X isn&rsquo;t impeding his redevelopment efforts, but it might be adding to neighborhood anxieties about the vacant property.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not bothered by it,&rdquo; Tesanovic says. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s creating more confusion for the neighborhood than myself, because people in the neighborhood don&rsquo;t know what it means.&rdquo;</p><p>Our question asker was glad to learn what the red &quot;X&quot; means, but she still wonders about its impact. Many of the <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">neighborhoods with high concentrations of red &quot;X&quot; signs</a> are already reeling from a downward spiral of disinvestment, blight and declining property values. She&rsquo;s worried red &quot;X&quot;s are like scarlet letters &mdash; just another obstacle in a rough neighborhood&rsquo;s struggle to improve its station.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-4.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Chicagoan Poppy Coleman, left, asked Curious City about the meaning behind more than 1,800 red ‘X’ signs posted on buildings across Chicago. (WBEZ/Curious City) " /></p><p>&ldquo;My disappointment is that once the &lsquo;X&rsquo; is up, it doesn&rsquo;t sound like there&rsquo;s any support to help move that building to a next phase, either to get it sold, get it taken care of, get it torn down,&rdquo; Coleman says in the shade beside a boarded-up red &quot;X&quot; building on the 7000 block of South Eggleston Avenue. &ldquo;Putting the &lsquo;X&rsquo; on it seems to be where the program stops.&rdquo;</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &quot;X&quot; ordinance, says she&rsquo;d be open to the city forming a task force charged with helping city agencies work together to resuscitate ailing properties after the fire department marks them.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not aware of any talk about the different departments working together specifically on the red &quot;X&quot;, but I highly encourage that,&rdquo; Silverstein says. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re all better off if all the different departments work together and form a task force to solve some of these issues. That&rsquo;s really important to get things taken care of.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><a name="money"></a>Out of money</span></p><p>While in Englewood, we ask the CFD&#39;s Larry Langford whether it makes sense to let the public know more about the meaning behind the &quot;X&quot; &mdash;maybe by putting up a smaller, less permanent sign explaining it&#39;s dangerous to enter such buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;If we expand the program, that&rsquo;s a suggestion that will be made,&quot; he says. &quot;It might cut some of the confusion down. Put a permanent sign up, put an adhesive sign up &mdash; could be.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Whether they&rsquo;ll get a chance to do that is an open question, because this program that was meant to save lives has run out of money. The city received $675,000 from <a href="http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program" target="_blank">the Federal Emergency Management Agency&rsquo;s Assistance to Firefighters grant program</a> to fund the red &quot;X&quot; program. Most of that federal grant money went to two local contractors: AGAE Contractors and M-K Signs.</p><p>Data obtained by WBEZ show the city spent all of that money over thirteen months starting in June of 2012, and <a href="http://wbez.is/1uNLXMp" target="_blank">hasn&rsquo;t put up any new red &quot;X&quot; signs since July 2013</a>.</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &ldquo;X&rdquo; ordinance, says she&rsquo;s eager to find more money for the program. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We wish it would be funded for a longer period of time, but yes we think it was a success,&rdquo; says the CFD&rsquo;s Larry Langford. &ldquo;Are there more than 1,800 that could be marked? Absolutely. But we&rsquo;re not doing anything until we get more funding.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/shawnallee" target="_blank">Shawn Allee</a> is Curious City&#39;s editor. <a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan" target="_blank">Chris Hagan</a> is a WBEZ web producer and data expert, and&nbsp;</em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/kathychaney" target="_blank">Kathy Chaney</a>&nbsp;is a WBEZ producer.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315 On Chicago's West Side, mothers and children fight addiction side by side http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-west-side-mothers-and-children-fight-addiction-side-side-110281 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Womens%20Treatment%20Center%20by%20Bill%20Healy%201.JPG" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Clinical Director Florence Wright holds a child at The Women’s Treatment Center. Wright oversees day-to-day operations of the center’s daycare, crisis nursery and preschool classroom among other things. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" />Even after her drug and alcohol addictions had forced her onto the streets with an infant son in tow, Jennifer still managed to get high and drunk. She sometimes smuggled alcohol into homeless shelters by hiding it in her son&rsquo;s sippy cup.</p><p>There were many similar stories during the 18 years she abused drugs and alcohol. Until, in the pre-dawn light one morning in late July 2011, she checked herself into The Women&rsquo;s Treatment Center, a West Side drug rehabilitation facility that specializes in assisting pregnant and postpartum women dealing with addiction.</p><p>Jennifer can&rsquo;t pinpoint why she chose that day to try to change her life. She had known about the center because, as she says, she used to &ldquo;rip and run this whole block drinking and getting high.&rdquo;</p><p>Looking back, she doesn&#39;t even think that, as she wandered up to the front door, she knew she wanted to get sober.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t know alcohol was the problem,&rdquo; Jennifer said. (WBEZ is using only her first name to protect her privacy.) &ldquo;When I walked&nbsp;into the Women&rsquo;s Treatment Center, I didn&rsquo;t know I stepped into hope.&rdquo;</p><p>That morning, Jennifer joined about 2.5 million people who seek help each year for drug- and alcohol-related addictions.</p><p>The Women&rsquo;s Treatment Center, 140 North Ashland Ave., is one of nine places in Illinois that allow mothers undergoing treatment to live with their children.</p><p>The hope is that, with their children present, mothers will not only have a better chance of breaking their addictions but can also develop parenting and lifestyle skills, strengthening their families.&nbsp;</p><p>Experts say there are many benefits to treating women with their children. Allowing the children to live on-site usually prolongs the mother&rsquo;s time in treatment, said Nicola Conners-Burrow, an associate professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of Arkansas.</p><p>&ldquo;Longer lengths of stay in treatment are quite predictive of better post-treatment outcomes, including reduced substance use, increases in employment, and decreases in symptoms of mental health problems,&rdquo; Conners-Burrow said.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Womens%20Treatment%20Center%20by%20Bill%20Healy%207.JPG" style="height: 266px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="The Women’s Treatment Center, as seen from the El platform at Lake Street, looking south on Ashland Ave. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" />When the center opened in 1990, most of the women came in addicted to crack and powder cocaine.&nbsp; Now, they are more likely to abuse heroin.&nbsp;</p><p>When a mother comes to the center, the severity of her addiction determines her treatment path.</p><p>Women are placed in different units based upon their needs for parenting sessions, budgeting classes and job placement programs.</p><p>Children up to five years old are allowed to stay with their mother. Here, these children, many of whom would otherwise be bouncing from shelter to shelter or in other temporary situations, can attend daycare or preschool every day.</p><p>&ldquo;If moms can make a difference in those first three years and really be able to really bond and have that relationship, those kids tend to do really well,&rdquo; said Dr. Lisa Parks-Johnson, director of the center&rsquo;s parenting services.</p><p>Even with their children around, mothers sometimes find it difficult to focus. Relapse rates for drug addictions range from 40 percent to 60 percent of patients, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Womens%20Treatment%20Center%20by%20Bill%20Healy%202.JPG" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="A woman pushes a stroller across the street from The Women’s Treatment Center. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" />In April, another client, Brandi, was at the center for her second attempt to get clean. A mother of three, she came back to the treatment center because of her abuse of heroin and cocaine, she said. Her two oldest children were born addicted to methadone, morphine, and cocaine.</p><p>Brandi lasted only a month at the center in 2012 before returning to her former life. She was in jail on another drug charge and pregnant when the court sent her back, and she&rsquo;s been at the center for about a year.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of people judge me because I have children,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just not that easy. Now that I&rsquo;ve gotten clean, this child doesn&rsquo;t have to know the old me. I want this more than anything.&rdquo;</p><p>In Conners-Burrow&rsquo;s studies, she has found not disrupting the parent-child relationship helps reduce regression.</p><p>&ldquo;Living apart from one&rsquo;s children has been associated with higher rates of relapse,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We then see, of course, the benefits to the child of participating in programs like this, with a number of evaluations showing developmental gains for the child and improvements in parenting for the mother.&rdquo;</p><p>With their children around them, women don&rsquo;t have to worry about when the children will be fed next and who is taking care of them&mdash;that remains their job, Parks-Johnson said.</p><p>&ldquo;I know that not everyone is going to make it on my time,&rdquo; said Florence Wright, the center&rsquo;s clinical director.&nbsp; &ldquo;It&rsquo;s about their time. It&rsquo;s about planting a seed and maybe this seed is not the one that is going to make a difference, but if we keep planting and digging deep, then ultimately a flower will bloom.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Bill Healy is an independent producer in Chicago. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/chicagoan" target="_blank">@chicagoan</a>.&nbsp;Richard Steele is a WBEZ reporter and host.</em></p><p><em>This story was supported through Northwestern University&rsquo;s Social Justice News Nexus Fellowship. Will Houp and Caroline Cataldo contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Wed, 04 Jun 2014 16:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-west-side-mothers-and-children-fight-addiction-side-side-110281 Woman alleges housing voucher discrimination in pricey Chicago buildings http://www.wbez.org/news/woman-alleges-housing-voucher-discrimination-pricey-chicago-buildings-110023 <p><p>Tiara is a African-American mother of two small children who longed for a better Chicago public school for her six-year-old son.</p><p>Last year, Tiara decided to move out of Bronzeville and began searching for apartments in the pricey River North area.</p><p>But when she mentioned she had a housing choice voucher, or Section 8, landlords told Tiara they wouldn&rsquo;t take her voucher. A few places said &ldquo;yes&rdquo; over the phone. So she&rsquo;d arrive on time, with a paycheck stub and a rental deposit. But no matter -- Tiara says those places rejected her too.</p><p><a href="http://www.thecha.org/filebin/2014_Mobility_Program_Flier_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map.PNG" style="height: 521px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="CHA Opportunity Area Map (Courtesy of the CHA)" /></a>Tiara is painfully shy and asked that her last name not be used. As she recounted her story, Tiara dabbed her teary eyes with a tissue.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve never experienced anything like this. I couldn&rsquo;t believe it. It still took me awhile to like really come to the fact that I was discriminated against. That hurt so bad,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Tiara filed complaints against four property owners and management companies with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. The complaints are currently under review.</p><p>Tiara&rsquo;s allegations aren&rsquo;t occurring in a vacuum. Earlier this month, the Chicago Lawyers&rsquo; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law&nbsp;issued a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-reveals-pervasive-discrimination-housing-voucher-program-109946">report that found rampant racial discrimination in housing.</a></p><p>Tens of thousands of Chicago families rent in the private market using a housing voucher. Renters with vouchers only have to pay a portion of their rent. The Chicago Housing Authority administers the program and picks up the rest. CHA has been criticized for putting families in poor segregated neighborhoods in the city.</p><p>In 2011, the public housing agency started&nbsp;a <a href="http://www.thecha.org/pages/mobility_counseling/2639.php">mobility program</a>. In&nbsp;very limited cases, CHA will pay more in rent if a family moves to so-called &ldquo;opportunity areas.&rdquo; About 10 percent of voucher holders are in this program.</p><p>Opportunity areas are communities with fewer than 20 percent in poverty and low-subsidized housing saturation. That&rsquo;s how Tiara was able to consider high rises with monthly rents upwards of $3,000 a month.</p><p>&ldquo;It allows families an opportunity to explore areas of the city that they might not otherwise be familiar with,&rdquo; said Mary Howard, executive vice president of resident services for CHA.</p><p>Many neighborhoods with the highest number of vouchers also have the highest poverty and crime rates in the city.</p><p>&ldquo;Families that live in opportunity areas on average have higher earnings than those that do not live in opportunity areas,&rdquo; Howard said. She added that these areas can have higher retention rates. &ldquo;So that once a family does move and becomes integrated in their new community, that they&rsquo;re not moving is success.&rdquo;</p><p>In segregated Chicago, North Side neighborhoods may seem inaccessible for some families in the voucher program. There can be feelings of isolation. CHA has mobility counselors who try to alleviate those concerns.</p><p>But that was never an issue for Tiara. She said in her case it was pushback from the rental community. It&rsquo;s illegal for Chicago landlords to say at the outset that they won&rsquo;t take Section 8 vouchers.</p><p>Danielle McCain is an attorney with the Chicago Lawyers&rsquo; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and she represents Tiara.</p><p>&ldquo;We want her voice heard as a voucher holder. We want these landlords to have to address these issues. Whatever damages we&rsquo;re able to recover, those are ways in which we can influence landlords going forward not to have conduct such as this in the future,&rdquo; McCain said.</p><p>McClain said housing voucher discrimination is common, and not just in affluent areas. She pointed to her group&rsquo;s&nbsp;recent <a href="http://cafha.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CLCCRUL-CHA-testing-report.pdf">report</a> as evidence, but also says a lot of discrimination goes unreported.</p><p>As for Tiara, she eventually found a happy ending in a Streeterville apartment building that accepted her voucher.</p><p>&ldquo;I love it,&rdquo; Tiara said. &ldquo;You have parks everywhere. You have bus stops everywhere. You have stores, easy to get to. Healthy food. Healthy food almost everywhere. So it&rsquo;s more like convenience.&rdquo;</p><p>And most importantly, Tiara said, her six-year-old son attends a high-performing public school. And he&rsquo;s thriving.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a></em></p><p><em>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:52:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/woman-alleges-housing-voucher-discrimination-pricey-chicago-buildings-110023 New report reveals pervasive discrimination in housing voucher program http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-reveals-pervasive-discrimination-housing-voucher-program-109946 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/housing-voucher_140331_nm.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Chicago Lawyers&rsquo; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law spent two years investigating discrimination in the subsidized housing market and found rampant racial discrimination.</p><p>Subsidized housing vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8, allow families to rent in the private market. <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcafha.net%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2014%2F02%2FCLCCRUL-CHA-testing-report.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNF013SD2bWvufFKrTbwg1pmiD90Kg">A new report outlines the discrimination</a>.</p><p>To assess fair housing practices, trained investigators posing as potential tenants inquire about availability, terms and conditions to assess compliance. White and black testers, with comparable backgrounds, tried to rent from landlords.</p><p>Landlords already participating in the voucher program discriminated against tenants based on race 33 percent of the time, most commonly by steering them to other buildings or neighborhoods. This also happened based on disabilities 44 percent of the time and against families with children 25 percent of the time.</p><p>Landlords in opportunity areas - places with low poverty - who were not participating in the Chicago Housing Authority&rsquo;s voucher program discriminated against white testers with vouchers 55 percent of the time. In 39 percent of the tests, landlords directly refused to rent to them. And a little more than half of the landlords who told white testers that they accepted vouchers discriminated against African American testers who said they had vouchers. Opportunity areas are an important tool to break up segregation in the housing market; voucher holders tend to be clustered in low-income, segregated black communities.</p><p>&ldquo;Race is still a pressing concern within the city of Chicago and within our region. Even though this happened specifically within Chicago, it&rsquo;s probably not a surprise to any of us that it&rsquo;s probably the reality going even beyond that scope,&rdquo; said Morgan Davis, executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance.</p><p>The study was conducted for the CHA. In a statement, the agency said it takes allegations of fair housing violations very seriously and &ldquo;educates owners, property managers and participants to ensure that federal, state and local fair housing laws are adhered upon. CHA also assists the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in its investigations of potential housing discrimination cases and/or fair housing violations.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is a WBEZ reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a><u>&nbsp;</u>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 07:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-reveals-pervasive-discrimination-housing-voucher-program-109946