Cook Co. treasurer wants to help Black homeowners who could lose houses to unpaid property taxes

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 38,000 homes in Cook County could end up being sold because of unpaid property taxes, a large majority in African American communities. The Cook County treasurer is trying to prevent that.

The Cook County Treasurer's Office has launched a new initiative called "Black Houses Matter" with the goal of locating Black homeowners and informing them of their property tax status so their homes don't end up being sold.

Thousands of homeowners could be in jeopardy of losing their homes to delinquent property taxes. These homes are placed on the county's tax sale list, from which properties can be sold to tax buyers, often big hedge funds and corporations,

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said she's made it her mission to prevent this from happening.

"We need to keep people in their homes," she said. "If you don't have a home, you don't have a life."

Pappas said one of the most disturbing revelations of the list was the clear racial disparity within Cook County. Of the 38,000 homes on the tax sale list, nearly 75% are in Black communities.

Pappas said the purpose of "Black Houses Matter" is to help Black homeowners catch up on their property taxes while the tax sale is postponed due to COVID-19.

"So we have all this extra time right now where we're hunting down people who are on the list," she explained.

She provided the ABC7 I-Team with a better breakdown of the list, and which communities are hurting the most.

In Chicago Heights, more than 2,000 homes have been placed on the tax sale list; in Harvey, more than 4,000. By comparison, the northwest suburb of Niles has only 21 homes on the list.

"Clearly this is something we need to address," said Dominique Randle-EL, Harvey 5th Ward Alderman.

Randle-EL said educating residents in Black communities about their taxes and how to pay them is key. A Harvey native himself, he said he has friends and family members who are on the tax sale list. Some are seniors who don't know the list exists; others are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The city of Harvey is a low-income neighborhood, so every little thing impacts someone's ability to stay in front of their financial abilities," Randle-EL said. "It's hard to stay ahead."

But with the tax sale currently postponed, both he and Pappas said it's more important than ever to get as many homes off the list as possible.

You can go to the Cook County Treasures to make property tax payments whenever possible, not just all at once.

The Cook County Treasurer said they send letters to everyone who is on the tax sale list. About 19,000 people on the list owe less than $1,000 in taxes.

She believes a big part of getting homes off the list is just education.

To check your home's status click here to go to the Cook County Treasurer's website. Pappas said in many cases the county actually owes the homeowner money; hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Cook County residents can also call at 312-443-5100.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also announced Thursday the launch of a $20 million Cook County COVID-19 Recovery Mortgage assistance program. Visit cookcountyil.gov/recovery for more information.
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