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1 In 5 Vacant Buildings In Chicago Have Been Empty Over Five Years

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 20, 2014 8:30PM

Photo credit: Ken "artistmac" Smith

Angela Caputo of The Chicago Reporter has been investigating on the glut of abandoned buildings across Chicago and the disparity between buildings on the South and West Sides that have remained vacant, years after the foreclosure crisis wrecked the real estate market, and formerly vacant homes on the North Side that are now fetching prices at pre-crisis levels.

To put the sheer volume of vacancies into perspective the Reporter mapped all the vacant homes and apartment buildings in Chicago—over 18,000 of them—and color-coded them by year. Caputo and the Reporter determined that nearly 20 percent of the vacant properties in Chicago have been empty since the early days of the foreclosure crisis in 2008-09. More alarming, close to half of those vacancies are connected to the Banks that were at the vanguard of the crisis, banks that still do business with the city: Bank of New York; US Bank; Bank of America; Wells Fargo; JPMorgan Chase; and Deutsche Bank.

According to the city’s vacant properties ordinance, those banks are supposed to maintain the vacant buildings so that they don’t attract crime and result in the depression of surrounding property values. These banks haven’t and the city has taken them to court to get them to handle simple things like boarding over doors and windows. Meanwhile, those six banks have managed $1.4 billion in taxpayer money since the foreclosure crisis began; they’re doing business with the banks while trying to hold them accountable for their properties.

Per Caputo:

The message from City Hall: The public needs the banks more than the banks need the public. The rationale is that each bank has special bonding capacity, and city officials need to protect relationships for future borrowing.

Furthering the morass, federal regulations require banks to dump properties within five years of vacancy, but that applies to buildings owned outright by banks. Here in Chicago vacant properties are a tumbleweed of ownership between the banks, former owners who walked away from their mortgages and the current investors looking to somehow make money off the buildings.

Caputo notes there are neighborhood organizations that are fighting to hold the banks accountable on a block-by-block level but the effort is Sisyphean, at best.