New plan may offer property tax relief

March 16, 2009 4:55:54 PM PDT
The recession and the staggering rate of foreclosures have lowered the value of most homes across the Chicago area. But property taxes remain as high as ever. And that has a lot of homeowners upset.The Cook County Assessor says he has a plan to provide some relief.

Home foreclosures in Cook county have doubled in the last two years. In Maywood, the evidence of that is abundant. That's where Iberia Hampton lives. A-late-in-life home improvement loan is not what Iberia believed it to, and now she could lose her home of more than 50 years.

"I'm trying. That's all I can say. I'm trying to stay there," said Hampton whose home is in foreclosure.

Last year brought a record 42,000 home foreclosure filings in Cook County. The assessor says new methods are now being developed to more accurately consider the impact foreclosures have had on neighborhoods.

"It is this effort that will allow us to be more precise and reflect the dramatic economic conditions we are facing in Chicago and throughout Cook County," said James Houlihan, Cook County Assessor.

So when property values are reassessed next year in Chicago, there'll be a new model that would, by design, provide some relief for property owners in neighborhoods stung by foreclosure.

Homeowner Clara Lastre, who lives in one of those neighborhoods, applauds the idea, but is skeptical.

"I've been living since 1957 in Chicago and nothing has ever been changed for assessments of property that has helped," said Lastre, Albany Park Neighborhood Council.

In neighborhoods where foreclosures are not prevalent, there is still plenty of homeowner outrage over assessments and taxes that have remained high while property values have tanked.

Throughout Chicagoland in areas being reassessed homeowners are still getting socked with taxes based on an average of their property values over the last three years. Real estate values today don't reflect that, and there's a growing call to reassess every year, not every three. Houlihan endorses that concept.

"I don't know if that'll come in the next round, but the assessors office is working on it with very competent people and they will get in done in the very near future," said Rebel Cole, DePaul real estate professor.

How it would work, and what relief it might provide are still unknowns, but the new model for reassessing neighborhoods hit by foreclosure should have an impact on the fall 2010 tax bills.