For over 10 years, I have been a member of the 25th District Housing Subcommittee. It is an official subcommittee of the BEAT program. Our mission has been to work on problem buildings. From drugs to gangs to illegal conversions, we would meet diligently once a month to press the issues.
About two years ago, the city rewarded our efforts by changing the meetings from once a month, to once every three months. The city, when it doesn’t want to truly deal with an issue, does what it does best-frustrate the citizens with the hope that we will tire of it and go away. We haven’t. We were a voice pointing out problems in the mortgage industry years before the current mortgage crisis became headline news.
We didn’t know the fancy lingo to describe the problem. What we did know was this: People who could ill afford to own a home were being put in them and with it came neighborhood instability. Houses that once held people with the same goals and desires as those already living on the block were soon filled with people who didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the community.
Blocks that contained bungalows suddenly had real estate ads describing properties with eight bedrooms, two home offices and three kitchens. “For rent” signs appeared in the windows and those same blocks found that a once-a-week garbage pickup didn’t suit their needs when they put out three to four times more garbage than the other houses.
The city didn’t care to hear our concerns. At one budget hearing, I presented Mayor Daley with actual listings of properties that showed a bungalow for sale without a dormer and stating it had six bedrooms and three kitchens. Yet even with concrete evidence before their eyes, our elected officials remained unresponsive.
So as I travel all over the city and see blocks with empty or boarded-up houses, I know the buck stops at the feet of our elected officials-especially the mayor since he was presented the evidence in person.
When we elect representatives to every level of government, we hope and expect they will watch out for our interests. But one of the mistakes many of us make is leaving decisions in their hands without actively monitoring what they are up to. For example, the recent shooting near Chicago and Lorel avenues had many of those being interviewed blaming drug sales, lack of jobs and all the normal excuses. Yet as a community, we allowed the 15th District police station to be relocated from the Chicago and Lorel site to west Madison Street, where it now serves to symbiotically protect Oak Park as police cars drive to and from the station through that suburb.
Over the years, I have written about how the mayor must attend the annual budget hearings held at one of three neighborhood locations. At those hearings, residents can testify to the mayor and to the heads of all the city departments (including Jody Weiss CPD, Arne Duncan CPS, and Ron Huberman CTA) on anything they’re concerned about when it comes to this city and what is going on. All you have to do is register to speak between 6 and 7 p.m., and then once your name is called, you can give the mayor a piece of your mind on any subject under the sun.
If you can’t think of what you want to talk about, I’ll give you a few pointers, based on what has been happening in the city right now: The Brach candy site, shootings, red-light cameras, schools (including a new high school for Austin), parks, police, sanitation, the housing crisis, Cook County tax increases, property taxes not going down even as our property values have fallen, dogs without tags being walked down the streets, city taxes on gasoline, phone service, electricity and cooking gas, the price of city stickers, TIF money and how it’s being used, jobs for youth, opportunities for ex-offenders, a land-based casino for Chicago …
And on and on.
The schedules for the hearings are:
Aug. 19 – Falconer Elementary School, 3020 N. Lamon Ave.
Aug. 20 – Central West Regional Center, 2102 W. Ogden
Aug. 21 – South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.
I will be at the Ogden location on Tuesday. Since the mayor cannot leave until everyone who wants to testify does so, let’s fill the location and keep him there overnight. That, along with voting to elect someone to take his place, are some of the ways we can make him understand that as a city, we are tired of the antics of our elected officials and we’re not going to take it anymore.
By the way, arrive early. All the city officials drive cars so as to take up all the parking spaces, thereby frustrating people who can’t find a place to park and thus don’t come to the hearings. If I had my way, every one of the people employed by the city, including the mayor, should have to take the CTA to attend those hearings so they can experience what the rest of us do every day.