Continuing its quest to spruce up city and suburban neighborhoods, the Cook County Land Bank is putting 3,189 vacant lots up for sale. The lots will be made available at below-market rates to individuals, developers and organizations. The land bank is hoping those who buy the properties will redevelop them in ways that meet community needs, by creating amenities like public gardens, play lots and basketball courts.
Most of the vacant lots are in areas hit hard by the 2008 foreclosure crisis and are delinquent on taxes. Many of the 2,436 vacant lots in Chicago are on the South and West sides. The bulk of the properties are in East and West Englewood, according to land bank documents. The land bank also put 753 vacant lots in the suburbs up for sale, in communities such as Bellwood, Chicago Heights and Harvey, among others.
The lots were acquired as part of the 2017 biannual Cook County tax scavenger sale. Because the land bank aims to have community members transform these lots to address community needs, in acquiring the properties it has the authority to clear back taxes and other related fees to help eliminate barriers to buying the properties.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the land bank had the tax certificates for 7,638 vacant lots, 739 residential properties and 306 industrial and commercial properties. The land bank acquires the tax certificates for the properties first, and then after a redemption period when the owner has a chance to pay the overdue taxes, the land bank can transfer the deed to a buyer. Vacant lots are often transferred within six months, and owners of tax delinquent buildings have 2½ years to pay the overdue amount before they lose the deed, according to Rob Rose, executive director of the land bank.
“In these neighborhoods, without this sort of intervention there is no market force that allows for a reset of these properties,” Rose said. “We have properties that are vacant and the tax burden is increasing every year and new taxes owed every year. The thing that makes them unattractive in the first place is the taxes are higher than the value of the property. At one point there’s never a way for these to be turned around. We are resetting these properties and allowing these neighborhoods to receive investment.”
The program is similar to the city’s Large Lots Program, which slashes red tape and encourages community members to buy vacant, blighted properties for just $1 and redevelop them.
Potential buyers of lots in Chicago are required to provide a letter of support from the local alderman if they don’t live in the same ward as the property. Buyers of suburban properties must have the support of the municipality if the purchaser is not local.
The land bank also is offering commercial and industrial properties.