Two reports released this month paint rather detailed portraits of the state of racial and economic equity in the west suburbs and the Chicago area more generally.
“Maps of Inequality: From Redlining to Urban Decay and the Black Exodus” was released July 19 by the office of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. The study shows how government-sanctioned redlining, a practice dating back 80 years, continues to harm poor, minority communities.
“Redlining is the practice of denying loans to homebuyers in minority areas by deeming them a financial risk,” the study explains. “The term referred to the red shading on maps of urban areas where the federal government, working with lenders, discouraged issuing mortgages.”
The places in red, of course, were heavily populated by Blacks and other ethnic groups. The study recreates the 1940 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation “security map” for Chicago that shows where those redlined areas were located.
The great finding in the Pappas study is that nearly 60 percent of properties sold in the 2022 Scavenger Sale — mostly “vacant lots, abandoned homes and boarded-up businesses” that have accumulated delinquent property taxes — were redlined.
Meanwhile, 40 percent of properties were yellow-lined, “meaning they were at risk of being redlined.” Only 3 percent of 2022 Scavenger Sale properties are located in areas that, in 1940, would have been deemed “Best or Still Desirable” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation.
The Pappas study also shows that the same Cook County suburbs where property taxes are highest, property values are lowest, and Scavenger Sale properties are most heavily concentrated, are also where property owners are most likely overpaying for property taxes by not taking advantage of various exemptions, which might prevent properties from going into delinquency.
For instance, from 2020 to 2022, property owners in Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood received 2,100, 981 and 1,704 refunds, respectively. Those refunds totaled $4.5 million, $2.6 million and $3.9 million, respectively.
Pappas recommends returning deteriorating properties to productive use by creating a “public database of abandoned properties; replacing the Scavenger Sale with a program allowing developers and local governments to receive properties free of financial encumbrances and rehab them more quickly; and advancing legislation to lower the interest rate applied by the county to delinquent property tax payments from 18% per year to 9% per year, lessening the burden on homeowners trying to repay their delinquent taxes to save their homes.”
Another report, “Community Voices,” released July 26 by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, captures the results of several community conversations held with residents from Oak Park, River Forest, Berwyn, Chicago, Cicero and Proviso townships.
Last year, the Community Foundation hired The Nova Collective, the Black-owned, woman-owned DEI consulting agency founded in Oak Park, to facilitate the conversations, “with the goal of building trusting relationships and determining priorities where the Foundation could” be most impactful.
“Two years in the making, this report reveals the most pressing needs in our area, what the data tells us, and how the power of our community will guide our future to a racially just society.” said Foundation President and CEO Tony Martinez Jr.
“We believe the Community Voices Report will be of great value, not just for the Foundation and nonprofit sector, but for local government, schools and the community at large,” he added.
The report’s five strategies to achieve racial equity, gleaned from an article in the Stanford Innovation Review, are valuable insights.
- Ground work in data and context while targeting solutions
- Focus on systems change, as well as programs and services
- Shift power in the collaboration
- Listen to and act with community
- Build equity leadership and accountability
The report contains reams of helpful data and a slew of illuminating maps that highlight the inequities in the west suburbs and Chicago’s West Side. But the document and the inequities it’s designed to address really come alive when the conversation participants start speaking for themselves.
“When a glass breaks, you don’t repair it — you replace it,” one participant says. “We need to stop trying to repair broken systems and reimagine new ones designed within equity and justice.”