At a community meeting held Oct. 13 at the Garfield Park fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Ave., Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) offered residents of West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park information on building issues and the budget, in addition to fielding their questions on these topics.
Marlene Hopkins, managing deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Buildings, announced the formation of a new online database that would allow city residents to search the status of vacant buildings in order to see if they had any interest in investing in their stabilization. Hopkins said that, in the past, the department tended to demolish buildings that were vacant for long periods of time and that had no clear owner. She said the website would at least give potential investors the chance to reclaim the properties.
Hopkins explained that the building database would include court date listings. She said that anyone interested in acquiring a vacant building should simply show up at one of the court dates and express interest in the building. The judges, she said, are usually inclined to figure out a way to transfer ownership. But there is a caveat.
“You also have to be able to demonstrate that you have the financing necessary to invest in the property,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins also addressed the issue of problem buildings in the area, which are known to host gang and other illegal activity. She said her department could only do so much since building inspectors are unarmed, but that the department works with the Chicago Police Department to build the case against people who frequent the buildings. Hopkins said that residents who live within proximity of the problem buildings would do well to complain.
“In addition to calling 3-1-1, I strongly encourage you to call 9-1-1,” she said. “That is how you’re going to hold those owners’ feet to the fire.”
When one resident asked about the 3-1-1 service as it relates to removing dead trees that she’s complained about, Ervin explained the city’s process. He noted that the city “just finished the 2014 requests, so now they’re just starting with the 2015 requests.”
Ervin also addressed the city’s budget process, noting that he and other Chicago City Council Black Caucus members were looking into ways to reduce the property tax burden on West and South Side property owners through a series of budget amendments.
The alderman also expressed concerned that the new budget didn’t call for any new police officers and streets and sanitation employees. He said that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to increase the homeowner’s exemption wasn’t something he would be willing to count on, noting that it would require a change in state law and that the Illinois General Assembly doesn’t seem interested in considering anything of the sort.
On Emanuel’s proposed garbage hauling fee increase, Ervin was rather explicit in his denunciation.
“Let’s call the garbage fee what it is — a black tax,” he said, noting his concern that if the fee is approved, it will continuously increase, burdening homeowners even more.
“Every year, it’s going to continue to rise,” Ervin said. “Once you set something like that, you can’t get rid of it.”
Ervin also said he’s worried that a garbage hauling fee would pave the way for complete privatization of Chicago’s garbage collection services. He said that he believes it would happen gradually, over the course of seven to 10 years, which would hurt black neighborhoods throughout Chicago.
“For many of us, the path to middle class has been through government work,” said Ervin. “[When we reduce those jobs], we save on tax dollars but you may lose a house, your kids may not go to college.”
Ervin added that, if taxes were going to increase burdens on residents, aldermen need to make sure the money is spent to actually serve those being taxed.
“I don’t mind paying for services,” he said. “I mind paying for something and getting nothing.”