Graham, Fioretti propose 'safe passage' ordinance

Banks, owners would be forced to monitor vacant properties near schools

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By ELLYN FORTINO

A new ordinance would require owners of foreclosed and vacant properties located within a 1,000-yard-radius of a Chicago school to hire watchmen to ensure students' safe passage walking in that area.

West Side aldermen Deborah Graham (29th) and Bob Fioretti (2nd) are sponsoring the Vacant Property Safe Passages Ordinance. Graham introduced the proposal earlier this month in the Chicago City Council's Housing Committee. If approved, the ordinance would allow the city to fine banks or other owners of foreclosed buildings up to $500 for failing to have watchmen on duty between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Any money generated from the fines would go back into the city's school system.

"As teachers, we know that when children do not have stability in their surroundings, it makes it harder for them to learn and excel in school," said Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union, a backer of the ordinance.

Earlier this month, union officials joined the two aldermen, as well as members of community advocacy organization Action Now, outside Leland Elementary School, 5221 W. Congress Pkwy. in support of the proposal.

At least three vacant properties are located near the elementary school. Vacant properties, Potter said, are often "hot beds" for illegal activity.

One empty two-flat by the school is a haven for illegal activity, such as dog fighting and drug use, said Sherman Carter, who's lived on the block for 41 years. Carter adds the building, located in the 5200 block of West Congress Parkway, has been vacant for three years.

"Numerous gangs of people come to hide dope in and around the building, because there is no one to complain except me," he said. "I have put combination locks, all kinds of locks, on this gate, and every time I turn around, somebody cuts it off."

In addition to illegal activity, the vacant building attracts mice, rats and other vermin, which, Carter said, "makes the neighborhood look bad."

Potter maintained the proposed ordinance will keep children safe, create jobs, and provide money for schools if banks do not fulfill their obligations. Michelle Young, president of Action Now, said the banks need to be held accountable for foreclosed properties.

"(Vacant buildings) are nothing but a haven for crime," Young said. "We want the banks to be accountable, doing what they are supposed to do, and we want to send our children to school not fearing them being attacked."

Bonita Robinson, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher for 39 years at Austin's Edward K. (Duke) Ellington Elementary School, said as a child, she felt safe going to and from school.

"I felt nurtured by my community, and our children should have the same experience. They deserve no less, because they are priceless treasures," she said.

According to Fioretti, the proposal has a good chance of passing the City Council because it "protects our children."

"I know we have to roll up our sleeves. I am going to roll them up," he said. "I am going to sign it with Deborah, and we are going to get this thing passed."

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