By Becky Vevea, WBEZ Chicago | May 1st, 2018 (Click here for the audio clip)
More than 3,000 vacant, tax-delinquent properties across Cook County go up for sale Tuesday at below-market rates, as part of a government program to get blighted homes back on the tax rolls.
It’s the latest move by the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which was formed in 2013 after the housing crash to deal with the tide of newly vacant and abandoned properties in Chicago and the suburbs. Officials there are hoping the addition of the 3,189 vacant lots to the land bank’s portfolio will further help break a cycle of speculation and lead to new development in neighborhoods damaged by the housing crisis.
Each year, the county holds an annual tax sale, in which private buyers can pay off a property’s back taxes in exchange for being able to collect payments from the original owner, with interest. County officials say the problem with that system is that the people who buy the debt often just collect the interest alone, while the blighted properties remain untouched.
“Their intention, from our standpoint, is the role of a speculator,” said Rob Rose, executive director of the land bank. “They’re not really trying to use this as a tool for acquiring properties or redeveloping neighborhoods.”
By contrast, the new move by the land bank aims to take the properties that have been in that cycle the longest — known as “scavenger” properties — and get them rehabbed and back on the tax rolls, Rose said. Buyers who purchase property from the land bank will have the back taxes and other fees forgiven in exchange for promising to redevelop the land within a year.
With 3,189 new vacant lots released today, the total number of properties available for purchase through the land bank is 8,500. Most of the land bank’s inventory is in neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis.
“We’re taking a step to be able to offer even more properties to the neighborhoods,” Rose said.
As of last year, the land bank says it had sold 400 homes to developers and has spurred 500 rehabs. Officials estimate that activity has brought $4.3 million back on to the tax rolls. Last year, the land bank also started selling directly to homeowners and began acquiring commercial property.