It took 10 years, but Animal Care League gets building

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

After over 10 arduous years of trying, the Animal Care League (ACL) has successfully purchased the dilapidated building at 1009 Garfield St., which sits directly between three other ACL-owned properties. 

Once renovated, the building will serve as an extension of the ACL's animal adoption and care services. 

"It'll be a part of our whole operation," said Chatka Ruggiero, longtime ACL board member, who was instrumental in the purchasing process. 

ACL will join the fourth building to the others by constructing a covered walkway which will allow people to easily travel between the four buildings without having to go outside – a particularly pleasant attribute during the cold winter months.

The building once served as a daycare center, but the business failed and property taxes went unpaid following the death of the owner, according to Ruggiero. ACL first tried to purchase the building in 2009 in a scavenger sale.

Scavenger sales occur every two years in Cook County. In a scavenger sale, the county sells tax delinquent properties to the highest bidder. In many cases, the highest bidders are large companies. 

"They just collect these properties and then see if they can resell them," said Ruggiero. "They don't actually get the property title because they don't pay the full back taxes."

ACL lost the bidding war over the property's taxes in the 2009 scavenger sale to a Chicago-based company which offered to sell to ACL for a large profit, according to Ruggiero. The company had two years to pay off the back taxes and acquire the property title but failed to do so. The company ended up forfeiting the property.

The non-profit animal organization tried a second time to purchase the building in the 2013 scavenger hunt but was again outbid – this time by a company based out of California, Ruggiero said. 

"The building is getting in worse shape and worse shape by that time," said Ruggiero. 

Like the Chicago-based company before it, the California-based company offered to sell to ACL for much more money than the building was worth, according to Ruggiero. The ACL declined. 

The property's tax debt continued to grow, and the building's condition worsened, in the four years since its first scavenger sale.

"By then it was in total disrepair and the roof was leaking. There were trees growing up from the roof," said Ruggiero. "It was a wreck. And inside there was mold all over."

ACL's luck brightened in 2015 when 1009 Garfield St. was purchased in yet another scavenger sale by the Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA), a government agency formed in 2013 specifically to identify and acquire distressed properties in the county.

"This is vacant, abandoned, tax delinquent property. We clear the title of the property and then make them available at below market prices to investors, developers, homeowners, business owners and nonprofit organizations," said CCLBA Executive Director Rob Rose. 

CCLBA sells their properties not to the highest bidder, but to the people and organizations looking to rehabilitate the property into a productive end use.

"We want to take the time to make sure we get the right person, the right group into that property because that's going to lead to long-term sustainability," said Rose.

At the time CCLBA acquired the property, its tax debt amounted to $364,736. CCLBA then began the lengthy legal process to release the property from its tax lien, so that the person the agency sells the property to is not responsible for the unpaid taxes of the property's previous owner. 

"Another thing the land bank does is they negotiate with you a fair price based on the property's current value," said Ruggiero. "That's a big thing."

CCLBA sold the property to ACL this past summer, after relieving it of its tax lien – a success for ACL a decade in the making.

"I'm particularly excited since this was a goal 10 years ago and it just finally happened," said Ruggiero. "No one knew it was going to be this difficult."

Ruggiero credits CCLBA for saving the Garfield Street property from the continuing cycle of scavenger sales, where it was becoming untenably expensive while simultaneously becoming more dilapidated. 

"It's doing a real service," said Ruggiero. "I think the land bank is a very worthy organization."

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