The growing problem of abandoned buildings, and the trouble those structures attract, has been intensified by the foreclosure crisis.
"When we're in the classroom, we can see the evidence of the children's fears," said retired teacher Bonita Robinson. On Sunday afternoon, Robinson joined those in Chicago's Austin neighborhood who support the new ordinance that seeks to penalize banks and those who own abandoned properties.
"We want the banks to be accountable, do what they are supposed to do and we can send our children to school not fearing of them being attacked. These are nothing but havens for crime," said Michelle Young with Action Now.
Austin resident Sherman Carter, for instance, has witnessed crime in the empty two-flat that's next-door to his home.
"There's been dog fighting in it, hiding drugs in it. They've been getting stolen cars in the back," Carter said.
Alderman Deborah Graham, 29th Ward, along with Alderman Robert Fioretti, 2nd Ward, plans to introduce the Vacant Property Safe Passages Ordinance to the City Council's housing committee this week.
The proposal would require owners to have watchmen on duty at any vacant property within a 1,000-yard radius of a public school between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Violators would face fines ranging from $100 to $300 for a first offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.
"We want to make sure those properties are secure and there is a security company make sure they remian that way," Graham said. "The city has spent over $7 million a year boarding up property that doesn't belong to the city and then it's a hazard for workers to go to the property to clean up dirty needles like that." With the advent of a longer school day, the Chicago Teachers Union backs the proposed ordinance.
"When children are let out of school later in the day. and when there are criminal activities occurring in vacant properties, it puts them in a more vulnerable position," said Jackson Potter, CTU staff coordinator.
Meanwhile, Austin resident Ruby Armstead remains concerned about the children.
"They have to walk past the abandoned buildings. We have four of them on this block alone," Armstead said.
Chicago Public School officials said in a statement that safe passage of students is a top priority. Although the district faced a $700 million deficit this year, they increased funding the number of community and school watchers and are working with the Chicago Police Department to reduce the instances of violence.