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Study: Rental foreclosures threaten minority areas

More than 10 percent of the rental units in some of Chicago’s community areas are at risk of foreclosure, and those neighborhoods are mostly in African-American and Hispanic communities, according to a new study.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s Tenants in Foreclosure Intervention Project found that in 2010, some 5,904 of the city’s apartment buildings went into foreclosure, affecting more than 17,000 units. The numbers are about the same as in 2009, the first year that the Lawyers’ Committee produced such a study.

The most-affected neighborhoods create a sort of “foreclosure belt” in Chicago, according to the Committee’s legal director, Mark Swartz.
“When you look at it visually... all of these properties (are) in areas that are sort of on the South Side and the far West side,” said Swartz. “Communities that really are already underserved are experiencing a large percentage of potential loss of their rental housing because of the foreclosure crisis.”
Swartz says in many of these neighborhoods, the foreclosed buildings have been repurchased by the financial institutions that once lent the mortgages to the former owners. Rather than allow tenants to continue living there, Swartz says those banks often empty and board-up the buildings, taking them out of the rental stock perhaps permanently.
The study’s authors were surprised to find that in 2010 Chicago saw its lowest eviction rate in ten years. 
“We think a lot of tenants are just walking away,” explained Swartz.
The Committee has documented many instances where renters have been coerced into leaving before their leases are finished.
“There’ll be people at the building demanding that tenants leave,” said Swartz, “telling tenants that there’s going to be an immediate board-up, and putting notes all over the property saying get out, or there’ll be a board-up crew coming to put you out.”
Swartz says those actions are often illegal, and the city should renew efforts to educate tenants about their rights when their building is in foreclosure.

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