The statistics are alarming: Nearly one in every six Cook County foreclosures last year was an apartment building, putting thousands of renters in danger of losing their homes.
The hardest-hit areas? The West and South sides.
Englewood had 279 foreclosed apartment buildings with two more or units. On the city’s West Side, that number was 253. African-American residents are the most affected, says a spokesman for The National Training and Information Center.
Earlier this month, journalist and filmmaker Danny Schechter joined the Woodstock Institute and Terry Finnegan of the Westside Health Authority for the premier of Schechter’s Plunder: The Crime of Our Time at Columbia College Chicago’s Film Row.
The movie argues that the financial crisis was built on a foundation of criminal activity in the housing market, not just poor underwriting or unsustainable mortgage products. At the screening, a panel discussed the crisis that’s affecting residents across the United States as well as Chicago.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who attended the event, said the film is more evidence of the devastation foreclosure has caused.
“Whether you are a homeowner or not, we are all suffering, and it’s movies like these that open the eyes of citizens and force change,” she said.
Finnegan agreed with the attorney general, noting that some Chicago communities are being hit harder than others.
The median number of foreclosures per capita in black communities across Cook County was 20 times higher than in white communities and three times higher than in Latino communities, according to The National Training and Information Center.
“The biggest question that needs to be addressed by Americans alike is who owns the country,” Finnegan said. “Look at the facts: 70 percent of America’s wealth is held by the richest 1 percent. The gap between upper and middle class is growing, and the gap between middle class and lower class, or the poor, is getting closer…this is a serious problem.”
Schechter’s film addresses all these issues. He said he believes the wrongdoing committed by a few individuals distracts the media from telling the whole story-investigating “the white-collar perpetrators who profited from the misery of their victims.” The filmmaker advocates for an investigation and financial reforms against those individuals.
National People’s Action, in conjunction with the South Austin Coalition Community Council, released a report in July that focused on Bank of America foreclosures. The study reported more than 8,000 foreclosure filings in Cook County since 2008, and Bank of America was on track to file 3,000 foreclosures by the end of 2010.
In Austin alone, there were 151 Bank of America foreclosure filings in 2009, and since January 2009, there have been 50 completed residential foreclosure auctions by the bank.
US Bank has been involved in 366 foreclosures on Chicago’s West Side and neighboring suburb of Oak Park in the last 12 months. And in 2009 alone, US Bank filed about 1,900 foreclosures citywide, the third highest of any financial institution.
A study by the Chicago Rehab Network found that in March 2010 alone, there were roughly 1,700 newly filed foreclosures and nearly 1,900 completed foreclosures in Chicago. In Austin’s three wards-28th, 29th and 37th-there were 102 newly filed foreclosures and 128 completed foreclosures.
Madigan noted that her office has ongoing litigation against Wells Fargo-another foreclosure leader-and Countrywide, which is now owned by Bank of America.
Finnegan and Schechter hold the government accountable, saying change must start at the top, though Finnegan noted the importance of community action.
“We need citizens to be aware and get involved in the fight for our neighborhoods,” he said.