- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

Residents oppose demolitions

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Mayor Emanuel has begun demolishing vacant buildings in his newest anti-crime effort, but an organization of residents in the affected communities says it won’t work — and there are better ways to deal with vacant buildings.

Action Now [2] will hold a press conference in front of a vacant lot at 53rd and Laflin, Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., to call on the city to stop demolition and instead use the new Chicago Infrastructure Trust to rehab and rent vacant buildings.

“Vacant lots are not any less dangerous than vacant buildings, and demolishing [buildings] won’t solve the crime problem,” said spokesperson Aileen Kelleher.

She points to the shooting Tuesday of a 14-year-old boy standing in a vacant lot [3] in Roseland.  Last year Action Now held a protest in Humboldt Park at a vacant lot – left unsecured by mortgage holder Chase Bank — where a woman was raped [4].

One solution is stepped-up enforcement of the vacant properties ordinance, she said.

“If the city had held banks accountable with the vacant properties ordinance – if the banks had kept these properties up and secured them – we wouldn’t be at this point,” said Charles Brown, chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, which developed the Rebuild Chicago [5] plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post [6].)

The vacant properties ordinance requires mortgage lenders to maintain and secure properties that have been vacated during the foreclosure process.

A retired police officer and longtime Englewood resident, Brown worked to have two vacant homes on his block demolished several years ago.  It wasn’t a real solution, he now says.

“Now we’ve got these big holes on the block,” he said.  “It creates a crime scene.”  And if no one tends the land, weed and trash-strewn lots “bring down the appearance of the neighborhood.”

On the next block is a row of vacant buildings.  “If you tear them down you’ll just have a huge vacant lot that will attract crime.”  Meanwhile, “working families are being forced out of my neighborhood.”

That’s why he’s pushing the Rebuild Chicago plan.  “We shouldn’t be spending money demolishing buildings; we should be rehabbing them and providing housing,” he said.

Brown and other Action Now members met with mayoral staff to discuss the plan this week, he said.

Under the plan detailed by Action Now [5], the $4 million set aside by Emanuel to demolish or secure 200 buildings would be enough to provide city financing to rehab and reoccupy more than 200 buildings in moderate disrepair.

The Chicago Rehab Network [7] has called on the city to make housing an eligible use for revenue generated by the infrastructure trust, said executive director Kevin Jackson.  He points out that after a ten-year push by CRN and others, the state included housing in its latest capital budget.

“We need to view housing as basic infrastructure,” he said.

Jackson sees echoes of the past in the mayor’s demolition program.  “Every decade or so there’s this idea that if we just tear down buildings we can clear away all these problems,” he said.