CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of Cook County residents could be in jeopardy of losing their homes due to unpaid property taxes, with Black and Latino homeowners among the most vulnerable.
Now an expanded program from the Cook County Treasurer's Office called "Black and Latino Houses Matter" is on a mission to provide tax relief to some of the most vulnerable residents of our area. The goal is to educate people about their property taxes and provide resources to get their balance down to zero.
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Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas calls the situation a financial crisis. A recent study by the treasurer's office found that of the 38,000 homes with unpaid property taxes, about 75% are in Black or Latino wards.
"These two communities don't have the money necessary to pay these taxes, and it's extraordinarily alarming because roughly 18,000 of them owe less than $1,000," Pappas said.
The consequences of unpaid property taxes can be devastating. Every two years, delinquent homes are placed on the county's tax sale list. Hedge funds and corporations then take that list and buy up properties.
Pappas believes that for most homeowners on the list, losing their home is completely preventable.
"There are four or five people in a ward who owe less than $200," she said. "You say, how can that happen? It's easy."
Pappas explained many of these homeowners are seniors or people living with disabilities, most of whom qualify for tax exemptions but have never applied to receive them.
For example, a homeowner could owe the county $800 in property taxes, but the county could owe the $2,000 in senior exemptions.
15th Ward Alderman Ray Lopez said many people in his district have no idea they're owed this money, part of what he calls a cultural disconnect.
"In many of our communities we were first time homebuyers. Nobody explained to our parents everything that's been out there and available to them," he said. "There are many individuals who just did not know that they qualify for these exemptions.
That's why Pappas' office is partnering with aldermen like Lopez and other community partners to get the word out and save as many homes as possible, as well as to connect people with the money the county owes them.
"People don't wake up in the morning and say, did I get an exemption? Did I get a senior freeze? They have no idea they're even entitled to this," Pappas said.
Pappas said it's her duty to find these people so their debt can be reduced or, in many cases, cleared.
"There are about 38,000 people who are about to be thrown out of the city because they're about to lose their homes," she said. "Let's try to save the homes that people are in and could lose them for a couple hundred dollars. That's what this is about."
The treasurer's office has $76 million in property tax refunds and $46 million in property tax exemptions. The money is there. A phone bank Thursday from 3 pm. To 7 p.m. is helping spread the word about the Black and Latino Houses Matter program.
If you believe you qualify for a senior exemption or a tax refund, or you just want to know how to pay off your taxes, call the phone bank at 312-603-5105.
Cook County property tax relief resources for vulnerable Black, Latino homeowners offered by treasurer