CHICAGO (WLS) --In an effort to make Chicago neighborhoods safer, the city plans is fast-tracking the demolition of vacant buildings in high-crime areas. Officials said gangs use the buildings as centers for illegal activity.
Several vacant buildings in the 200-block of West 113th Street in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood were torn down Tuesday.
"We've really been waiting on that to happen down the street, we've really been waiting, just praying for this to happen," said Pearl Willis, a neighbor.
Ms. Pearl, as she's known in the neighborhood, runs a daycare facility on property up until a year or so ago was home to two other abandoned buildings.
"These locations over here, these vacant buildings, we know that they are targets for gangs to gather and commit nefarious activities such as storing weapons or selling illegal drugs," said Cpt. Eddie Johnson, Chicago Police Dept.
For years, residents of the 34th Ward have asked Alderman Carrie Austin to beg the city to take them down. She finally got what she has been asking for.
"We can rid our community of drug-infested buildings, prostitution and every illegal activity that could possibly be in a community. This effort will strengthen this community once and again," Austin said.
Austin hopes new housing can take the place of the empty lots that will be left behind after demolition.
The challenge will be to make sure crime doesn't move to other areas. Chicago Police Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson said the department has a plan.
"We've decentralized our gang team enforcement unit. We put them under the direction of the deputy chiefs, so we can deploy them in minutes instead of hour," Johnson said.
The city and police department tore down 14 buildings this year and 251 last year. The city has also boarded up and secured about 425 buildings this year.
The city also plans to close businesses where shootings and murders occurred, conduct targeted raids in high-crime areas and allow neighbors to purchase city-owned land for $1 per parcel.
The city pays for the demolition, but then will pursue the owners of the buildings in court for reimbursement. Neighbors said they're just glad to see them go. Ms. Pearl says she hopes to turn the soon to be vacant lots into a park for the kids.
"We've been excited about it for years. It's just, now we can see it with our own eyes," she said.
Johnson and Chicago Department of Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland joined ABC7 Eyewitness News to speak on the city's plan to tear down vacant buildings linked to crime.