Friday, February 03, 2012

Pilot project aims to help neighborhoods blighted by foreclosures

By Ashley Griffin

During his State of the State address on Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a new initiative to restore vacant foreclosed properties in the Chicago area. On Friday, he was joined by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and six Cook County mayors to announce the Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program.

The program aims to stabilize neighborhoods, protect property values, preserve the existing local tax base and increase affordable housing stock in six communities in Cook County: Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Maywood, Park Forest, Riverdale and South Holland.

“The Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program is a strategic effort to help stabilize communities struggling with the foreclosure crisis,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. “By turning vacant properties into affordable housing, we’re assisting existing homeowners, strengthening hard-hit neighborhoods and boosting affordable homeownership options for working families.”

According the latest report from Realty Trac, a California-based company that monitors housing sales, Chicago leads the United States in the number of foreclosed homes.

 “With the highest inventory of foreclosed homes in the nation, the Chicago region requires a focused foreclosure response like the Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program,” Mary Kenney, executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority, said in a written statement. “This program represents a multifaceted approach and is an important part of Gov. Quinn’s overall housing strategy to address the economic, public safety and quality-of-life issues caused by abandoned and foreclosed properties.”

“Abandoned properties burden communities by creating blight, attracting crime and reducing the local tax rolls,” the statement from Quinn’s office said. “On average, homes located the same block as a foreclosed property can drop $8,000 to $10,000 in value.”

With $40 million allocated from the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now! program and $10 million from Cook County, the pilot project  aims to help 500 current homeowners in the area avoid foreclosure. It includes a second component that provides $5 million in assistance for homeowners to purchase vacant properties, along with grants of $10,000 for 500 homebuyers to help with down payments and closing costs.

“I am excited to partner with Gov. Quinn and the state of Illinois in this joint effort to stem the tide of the foreclosure crisis in our underserved communities and revitalize Cook County’s neighborhoods,” Preckwinkle said. “We must continue to focus on a regional economic development strategy that more effectively leverages our resources to spur economic growth, and the Building Blocks program is a step in the right direction.”

Although the program has received some support, some lawmakers wonder if the state can afford such a program in cash-stricken times.

“Every one of these probably sound good … they all look and sound good, but to come in and say, “I want you to spend another $500 million dollars …’” House Minority leader, Tom Cross said Wednesday during a news conference to criticize Quinn's proposals to spend money on new initiatives. “In about two or three weeks, he’s going to come in and say, “I want you to borrow four or five billion dollars to pay bills. How does that jibe? It doesn’t jibe. So they all sound good and they look good and they are appealing, but can we afford them? And I think we all know the answer to that.”

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