Watch the vacancy epidemic spread

I visited WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift today with Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network, to talk about The Reporter’s investigation into Chicago’s vacant property epidemic. If epidemic seems too strong a word, look at this map, which shows the sheer glut — we’re talking more than 18,000 — of abandoned houses and apartment buildings scattered across the city. Nearly 1 out of 5 properties has likely been vacant since the early days of the foreclosure crisis in 2008 and 2009. Click through the years and watch how the number of tiny dots — each one a vacant home — pile up. Roughly half of these properties are linked to six banks — Bank of New York, US Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank — that do big business with City Hall.

Reclaiming the avenue

The housing recovery has yet to reach the 6200 block of South Fairfield Avenue in Chicago Lawn, but residents aren’t waiting for the market to bring back the street. They’re doing it themselves.

Ex-inmates help revitalize community, get ‘humanity back’

On a rainy day last July, Charles Farmer stepped out of the Lincoln Correctional Center without any ID and $30 in his pocket. He’d just turned 38, had 20 years of prison time under his belt and no idea what would come next. “For 20 years I was taken care of,” Farmer says. “And that’s not a good feeling.”
He returned to the Southwest Side of Chicago, his movement restricted by an ankle monitor as part of his parole. With no job to go to, he spent his first few months of freedom at home until a friend introduced him to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

heat map of child homicides

Homicides in Chicago down, number of children killed stays the same

A couple summers ago, I had a brief encounter with a young woman at a security checkpoint at Prologue, an alternative school in Chicago’s Near Northwest Side, that has nagged at me ever since. She looked like a typical teenager on her way to class. She had a baby face framed by braids that were tied up in a knot. Her backpack was slung over shoulder as she rushed through the metal detector. She paused and looked at me curiously, so I introduced myself and explained that I was waiting to interview one of her classmates.

Rennie Simmons

Police misconduct reports could be public records

Chicago’s Law Department and police accountability activists have been going at it for years over whether the public has the right to know the names of officers accused of misconduct. This week, an Illinois court said it’s time for the city to cough them up. The 1st District Appellate Court ruled Monday that police misconduct complaints — both the original records and the Chicago Police Department’s electronic log of them — are subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Two years ago, The Reporter took a backdoor approach to identifying officers who’ve been named in multiple lawsuits for which the city had to pay damages. Allegations included beatings, false arrests and unlawful detentions.

Chicago lags behind in meeting low-income housing needs

With rents rising and incomes shrinking across the country, the Chicago-area has fallen behind other major metropolitan areas in creating new housing for its poorest families during the past decade. But why? It’s a question that jumped out at us while checking out some interesting new research by a Washington D.C.-based think-tank, the Urban Institute. We were using this interactive map to see how Cook County stacks up with other big cities when it comes to matching “extremely low-income” households with rentals they can actually afford. In Cook County, which is anchored by Chicago, the number of households that fit the extreme poverty status (that means a household of four is getting by on $22,750 or less each year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) hasn’t exactly grown by leaps and bounds since 2000.

Is the sun finally shining on TIF spending?

It looks like the clouds are beginning to part, allowing some light to shine on Chicago’s tax increment financing program. We were poking around on the city’s website this week and discovered a series of reports have surfaced, detailing the number of jobs created in exchange for public subsidies. Last month, we called out city officials for failing to post employment certification reports, despite a legal requirement to do so under the TIF Sunshine Ordinance. That law was adopted unanimously by the City Council back in 2009. But four years after the City Council voted to expose the city’s $1 billion “shadow budget,” taxpayers were still in the dark about how many jobs the city was getting in return for their money.