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Charge city demolitions ‘destroying our neighborhoods’

The city’s program of demolishing vacant homes is just “creating more destruction in our neighborhoods” and not making areas any safer, according to leaders in impacted communities.

“There is no community imput or transparency,” said Charles Brown, a leader with Action Now.  “They are just coming in and creating more destruction in our neighborhoods.”

“Vacant lots are just as dangerous as vacant buildings,” said Brown, a retired police officer and Englewood resident.  “We need to build communities back up instead of knocking them down.”

He spoke as Mayor Emanuel announced the city has demolished the 200th home in what’s being billed as an anti-gang initiative.  There are over 15,000 vacant properties in Chicago.

“This top-down approach to the vacant building problems is just wiping out our neighborhoods,” said Action Now president Michelle Young.  “We want to bring families back into these homes and have the city invest in long-term solutions instead of quick fixes that don’t work.”

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Residents oppose demolitions

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 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 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.

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 plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post.)

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Outrage over federal lawsuit on vacant properties ordinance

A federal agency’s legal challenge to the city’s vacant properties ordinance is “astounding,” said Braden Listmann of Action Now.

The group is one of several community organizations making up the Foreclosure Convening, the coalition that earlier this year won a new provision holding lenders and servicers responsible for maintaining vacant homes following foreclosure.

The Federal Housing Finance Authority filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are exempt from local supervision or regulation.  The two corporations, which are supervised by FHFA, hold mortgages on over 250,000 Chicago homes and use over 200 banks and mortgage companies to service the loans.

Listmann said that Fannie and Freddie’s contracts require servicers to abide by state and local laws and ordinances.

He points out that Fannie and Freddie have refused to modify troubled mortgages with principal reductions.  “Instead of writing down $20,000 on the principal and getting the rest back over 30 years, they’re foreclosing on homes,” he said.  “After the buildings become vacant and fall apart, they’re selling them for $10,000 or $20,000 – enough to cover the servicers’ fees.”

“And now with this lawsuit, the FHFA is admitting that they don’t even want to take care of the vacant properties that result from their policies,” he said.

Mayor Emanuel has vowed to defend the ordinance – and Wednesday morning, Cook County commissioners unanimously passed a similiar measure.

“These abandoned vacant properties are left to deteriorate and attract drug and gang activity, violence, graffiti, garbage and debris,” according to a statement from the Foreclosure Convening.

“They threaten the safety of children, neighbors, police and firefighters, lower the property values of surrounding homes and drain the city’s budget. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pick up the bill for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s negligence.”

Lawbreaking bank calls the cops

A Lawndale activist who was arrested Tuesday while calling on Bank of America to follow the law – and fix code violations in foreclosed properties – has posted her comments at Action Now’s blog.

“I was in shock,” says Marsha Godard, 52, a mother and a Bank of America account holder.  “How can my own bank arrest me for trying to speak to them about vacant properties that are in my neighborhood and all over the city of Chicago?

“Bank of America is not only ruining the lives of homeowners, the safety of communities and America’s economy, they are now arresting people like me that question their destructive actions.”

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