City clears vacant buildings from CPS Safe Passage routes

August 19, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The pile of bricks here used to be row houses that for years were occupied by squatters, a magnet for crime. They're gone now, demolished by the city because the school safe passage route to Mays Academy passes where the row houses stood until last week.

For years, residents in this Englewood neighborhood, like Michael Ford, were hoping something would be done about the eyesores next door. Safe passage helped make it happen in a few short months.

"Lights are being fixed. Streets are being fixed. Houses are being torn down. They're really serious about this safe passage," said Michael Ford, resident.

6743 South Damen is coming down on Monday. This building and the Englewood row houses are among 40 properties along the various safe passage routes that are being demolished because they are vacant and considered dangerous. All have been cleared through the court process.

"What we've done because children's safety is such a priority now, we've prioritized the buildings already on the safe passage routes to take down immediately," said Mike Merchant, Chicago Building Commissioner.

But there are many other homes, vacant or dilapidated, near, and in some cases on, safe passage routes that will not be brought down by the start of the school year. This one, for instance, is a stone's throw from the home on South Damen.

"And it's been sitting there for seven years. Vacant. Falling in," said Willie Corbitt, resident.

It's been vacant long enough for plants to be growing in a back room that no longer has a roof. The owner told us he's in bankruptcy court. The city says it'll move on this property in demolition court, which takes time.

"No matter what, at a minimum , we're going to have a board up company go out and secure it because it's on the route and the court process will take its course," said Merchant.

Apart from the expense of litigation, the cost of knocking down a home is roughly averaged at $20,000, so the arithmetic would suggest over $800,000 is spent on safe passage demolitions.

The bigger picture here, of course, is the number of vacant homes citywide that are boarded-up, or falling down and being navigated through a court process that often moves at a glacial pace.

Last year, the city knocked down over 700 such homes, higher than in the past, because of an anti-crime initiative.

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