‘Urban Decay’ Created by Segregation Fueling Poverty and Population Loss on South and West Sides: Study | Chicago News

A residential street in Wicker Park in Chicago. (WTTW News)

There’s a straight line between the scaffolding of modern segregation and the tens of thousands of vacant or abandoned properties on Chicago’s south and west sides, helping to keep Chicagoans impoverished for generations and fueling declining poverty. the city’s black population, according to a new study from the Cook County Treasurer’s Office.

Many of the barriers erected by elected officials and civic leaders beginning in the 1930s to prevent black Chicagoans, Latino Chicagoans, and white Chicagoans from living, working, and playing in the same neighborhoods remain unchanged nearly a century later. thwarting efforts to keep abandoned properties from turning. in the horrors ravaging neighborhoods, according to “Maps of Inequality: From Redlining to Urban Decay and Black Outmigration,” a study released Tuesday by the office of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

The treasurer’s most powerful tool to return these properties, labeled as ‘deteriorated’ by government agencies, to productive use and generate tax revenue ‘has done little to halt the downward trajectory fueled by racism government-sanctioned and other discriminatory practices,” according to the study, authored by Hal Dardick, director of research affairs for the Office of the Treasurer and former Chicago Tribune reporter.

“Large tracts of vacant land, abandoned homes and closed businesses in minority neighborhoods are in areas where the US government had discouraged mortgages,” according to the study. “Government-sanctioned redlining in the 1940s led to today’s urban decline in many black and Latino communities.”

The Federal Housing Administration, established in 1934, explicitly refused to support loans not only to black people who wanted to buy homes, but also to those who lived near black people, on the grounds and belief that such investments would not be profitable. This practice has become known as redlining.

Neighborhoods where homes could not be sold to blacks—and remained racially homogeneous—were first designated with green lines by the New Deal’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and later by the Federal Housing Administration, creating a self- reinforced which served as a modern segregation infrastructure.

The Treasurer’s Study mapped 41,450 properties considered distressed by the Treasurer’s Office, the City of Chicago or the Cook County Land Bank in 2022 and found nearly 63% of those properties were on maps created in 1940 by the federal government in an effort to boost home ownership by encouraging banks to provide mortgages — but only in places where white Chicagoans live.

Nearly 57% of Cook County properties now considered distressed and included on these maps were ‘marked’ in 1940 – warning banks that it would be ‘unsafe’ to invest in these areas, with 40, Another 5% “marked” – warning banks these areas were “in decline. »

According to the study, less than 3% of distressed properties today were rated as “best” or “still desirable” by federal authorities in 1940.

The modern segregation system has created an almost immutable “pattern of urban decay” in Chicago – replicated in Detroit and Philadelphia – that has had a profound impact on the lives of black and Latino Chicagoans, helping to fuel the huge wealth gap race that continues today. , according to the study.

These cards also skewed Chicago’s real estate market, allowing unscrupulous landlords to exploit black residents eager to get their share of the American dream through contract-buying schemes, which they were falsely told ‘they would allow them to own a home and build generational property. wealth, in areas covered by racially restrictive pacts.

The study directly links the concentration of vacant and abandoned properties on the south and west sides to the decline in Chicago’s black population that began in the 1980s and has only accelerated.

The 15 neighborhoods with the most properties considered distressed by Chicago and Cook County officials all lost population between 2000 and 2020. All are home to a majority of black or Latino residents, according to the study.

“An example of this continued decay can be found on a single red block in North Lawndale, where one in four properties became vacant land between 1938 and 1973 – before doubling to one in two, where it remains today,” according to the study.

On this block, near 15th and Christiana streets, the city owns 13 lots, according to the study.

“The scourge harms neighborhoods already struggling with entrenched poverty, endemic crime and a declining population,” according to the study. “Concentrations of vacant land and derelict properties exacerbate crime problems and drive down property values.”

Fourteen of the 15 neighborhoods with the most distressed properties had violent crime rates above the city’s average in the decade ending in 2020, accelerating already entrenched rates of divestment and population loss, the report concludes. study.

Driven by “discriminatory credit policies that have driven up homeownership costs, [these distressed properties] were abandoned by black people who could no longer afford it,” according to the study.

In the southern suburbs, at least one in four taxable properties in Dixmoor, Ford Heights, Harvey, Phoenix and Robbins are considered distressed. It has shrunk these cities’ property tax bases so much that governments are struggling to function – while raising the tax burden on other property owners to ‘onerous’ levels, creating a vicious circle of divestment, the study finds. .

Scavenger Sale’s “Dismal Record”

The study concludes that the treasure sale, Cook County officials’ most powerful tool for breathing new life into these distressed properties, is woefully inadequate, in part because it was started in 1943 by the same officials who created the modern segregation system in the beginning. square.

While the properties auctioned during the treasure sale represented only 1.5% of all properties in Cook County, 95% of these properties were concentrated in areas where the majority of residents are black or Latino, have officials said.

The Treasure Sale takes place every two years, allowing the Treasurer’s Office to auction vacant and derelict properties with at least three years of unpaid taxes. Bidding starts at $250, with an additional $190.

Homeowners have another opportunity to pay their back taxes and penalties and regain full ownership. But if the deadline is missed, the winning bidder gets the deed, often after paying only a fraction of the property taxes owed.

However, few offers result in a final sale, and the bulk of the properties remain eyesores and magnets for crime, according to Pappas.

More than 93% of properties auctioned in at least one sale had been included in at least one previous treasure sale between 2007 and 2019 – “another sign that the sale is an inadequate remedy”, according to the study.

Pappas first sounded the alarm that the treasure sale was not working in a 2020 study and made a series of changes to the program designed to make it more effective in revitalizing vacant or derelict properties.

But nearly a year and a half later, Pappas acknowledged that those changes — while increasing the number of bidders and increasing the transparency and accountability of the program — have not fundamentally changed the dynamic.

“The failure of the sale to bring more than incremental change allows swathes of unused and deteriorating land in economically distressed neighborhoods, mostly minority towns, to continue to deteriorate,” according to the study.

Cook County is the only place in the country auctioning off properties that have fallen behind on property taxes, the study found.

A state law allows counties in Illinois to put liens on properties that have overdue bills and hold them in trust, easing the process of selling to new owners — and Cook County should adopt a similar system, concludes the study.


Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]