City, partners work to sell foreclosed houses in Humboldt Park

By Chris Loeber

Vacant buildings and empty lots dot the landscape of Chicago neighborhoods hit hard by the 2010 foreclosure crisis, but the city and its partners are collaborating to assist present and potential homeowners to revitalize these troubled areas.

On March 14, Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development announced the TIF Purchase Rehab program that will offer forgivable loans for no more than 25 percent of the cost to purchase and rehabilitate one- to four-unit buildings in the Chicago/Central Park tax increment financing district.

Funding for the program includes $1 million from the Chicago/Central TIF district in the Humboldt Park community, one of many TIF districts in Chicago that provide financing for public projects from property taxes collected by the city.

The loans provided by the TIF and through the program will be forgivable, meaning they will not have to be paid back if the homebuyer lives in the building for a period of five to 10 years, depending on the size of the loan.

“The longer that these [buildings] remain vacant, the more they’re subject to a lack of maintenance, damage from the weather and looters,” said Peter Strazzabosco, communication director of HED. “Some of these homes can lose up to—after a year of vacancy—75 percent of their value.”

Strazzabosco said attracting homebuyers and stabilizing property values are important for the economic vitality of neighborhoods severely affected by foreclosures, including Humboldt Park, where more than 786 foreclosures were filed in 2010 and 2011, according to the Woodstock Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization.

Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, a nonprofit providing community-based lending in Chicago, will administer the assistance available to homebuyers through the program.

“There are a stream of vacancies where these properties have been sitting vacant for the last two to four years, and the majority of those that are vacant went through foreclosure,” said Darris Shaw, director of Construction Services at NHS. “We’re going to try to focus our efforts in getting potential homebuyers to look at those properties and to hopefully turn those blocks around.”

Much of the NHS’ work will focus on reoccupying homes in the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of North Central Park Avenue where there is a significant number of vacant properties, Shaw said.

Although he agrees with the program’s intentions, Tom Tresser, a civic engagement instructor at the Illinois Institute of Art, said he questions the use of TIF money overall.

According to him, the City of Chicago publicizes TIF use for projects that benefit the community, while it also allocates money toward other projects that may not be as worthwhile for everyone.

“Is it a good thing to get people into foreclosed homes?” Tresser said. “I would imagine that people would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good thing.’ But if you ask the same people if we should give Mariano’s [Fresh Market in the West Loop], a private enterprise, [$7 million in TIF] to build a grocery store in a perfectly fine area, my guess is that most people would say, ‘No.’”

The purchase rehab program is an extension of the city’s Micro-Market Recovery Program, which targets nine communities in Chicago for foreclosure mitigation efforts, according to Strazzabosco.

Before the establishment of the MMRP, the city’s efforts to address foreclosures were spread across much of Chicago, Strazzabosco said.

By focusing on areas where homebuyer assistance is needed most, the program will have a greater effect on Chicago as a whole, he said.

“The TIF Purchase Rehab program was created to provide another tool within these nine localized areas where the city is layering a variety of resources that will cumulatively have a resonating effect on local property values,” Strazzabosco said.