Alderman wants millions in city fund to benefit NW Side residents

Sarah Schulte Image
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Alderman wants home equity program to benefit residents
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) wants the city to utilize the millions of dollars in Chicago's home equity program to benefit residents.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For years, some residents on Chicago's Northwest Side have been contributing to a home equity assurance program, which is designed to guarantee homeowners not lose money if their property falls below fair market value.

Now, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) wants to use some of the millions of dollars in the program's account to help residents who are underwater with their homes or need money for home improvements.

"There is $10 million that has been accumulating for decades," said Villegas, who would like city council to hold hearings about the program.

He calls it the $10 million mystery, claiming that the program has done nothing to help local residents, such as homeowner Diamaris Medina.

For the Medina family, owning a Northwest Side bungalow is a dream come true. They bought the home four years ago and were hoping to use all of its space, but they have not had the money.

"I'm at a standstill because we have to figure out how to get those funds to fix the upstairs and downstairs," Medina said.

Few people know about the program, which started 28 years in response to fears of white flight on the Northwest Side. The intent of the program was to reimburse homeowners who sold their homes less than what they paid for them.

However, home values never went down. And the fund, which is paid for by a tax levy, kept growing.

"I think the reason why it hasn't been used is the incompetence of the executive director and the board who has overseen it for decades," Villegas said.

Villegas would like the money reimbursed to homeowners who paid into the fund or use for home improvement loans.

Medina would like to see that as well.

"I want to know why it's not being used and how can I use it if it is available," Medina said.

Villegas said the program's executive director is its only paid employee. The office is open only four days a week.

On Monday, the office was closed and the executive director could not be reached for comment.

The program's board is appointed by the mayor. Villegas said there are vacancies on the board and some of the members have served for years.