Emanuel announces help for troubled homeowners

August 18, 2011 2:26:31 PM PDT
With the number of foreclosures rising at an alarming rate, the City of Chicago is taking steps to preserve neighborhoods and keep people in their homes.

On Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced millions of dollars to help troubled homeowners. The city also recently passed an ordinance requiring loan servicers to take better care of properties in foreclosure.

Home sales are up 18 percent in Illinois from a year ago. While there may be some movement in housing, there are an estimated 10,000 Illinois homes in foreclosure.

Efforts to stabilize those properties can't happen soon enough for neighbors.

Homeowner Gloria Warner hopes to start a block club again. She is staying put after 25 years. She really doesn't have a choice on her retired teacher's income.

"I've invested so much of my savings just by me trying to keep this mortgage current," said Warner. "I'm living retirement check to retirement check"

Warner's block in Englewood has several vacant homes, and she says finding a responsible party to maintain the properties has been a challenge.

"They said that they have sold it to different people but no one has come to do anything about it," said Warner. "Drug users smoke all in the back, [there] was the recent fire in there about six months ago."

The Woodstock Institute estimates there are 1,900 homes in Chicago where foreclosure may have been initiated, but ownership is difficult to determine.

"We can look at red-flag properties as properties that are vacant where there's no discernable outcome to that foreclosure, and where we also suspect that the lender is ultimately walking away from that property," said Tom Feltner of the Woodstock Institute.

In some cases, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) has been asked to step in. The City of Chicago can order NHS receivership of an abandoned home to prepare it for sale and ultimately protect the neighborhood value.

"What we've seen is really the effect on values that have given people who got into this as an investment to treat it like an investment, so they walk away from properties like a bad stock," said Bryan Esenberg of NHS.

Back on Warner's block, she may not have enough interest in a block club, but she's doing her own kind of patrolling. She's working with Action Now. She tracks on the condition of nearby vacant buildings so the organization can try and track down an owner and hold him, her, or it responsible for maintaining the property.

"I would like them to become livable, affordable housing - so many people are out of housing nowadays, seems like if they made them affordable so that people could move in, maybe more families would start moving in again," said Warner.

NHS started the real estate management program in 2006. Then they had about 30 homes. Since then, they have worked on 1,000 homes.

The goal is to have the homes sold to a homeowner who will make a commitment to the home and neighborhood.

In some cases, NHS finds renters in the homes. In those cases, they make the home livable, but finding a permanent owner who will be responsible is the expectation.

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