New Chicago vacant buildings ordinance improving accountability for vacant homes

Chicago made history last year by passing a first-of-its-kind ordinance that makes sure that financial institutions are responsible for keeping homes in which they have an interest from falling into blight and disrepair. Data released today by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office show that the ordinance is already making a difference in how the City holds financial institutions responsible for vacant property maintenance.

 

Thanks to a dedicated coalition including Woodstock and our 2012 Community Investment Awardee Adam Gross, mortgage holders of vacant buildings in foreclosure are now responsible for maintaining and securing vacant homes. The ordinance also increased penalties for noncompliance, such as failing to register a building as vacant. If a building is not registered with the City, it’s much more challenging for the City to ensure that owners and mortgagees are following the law regarding how vacant buildings must be maintained.

 

So far, the ordinance is giving the City a much fuller picture of the vacant property problem. Mayor Emanuel reports that the number of vacant building registrations more than doubled in the six months, from 2,884 properties to 4,436, since the ordinance passed—a very significant increase. In a report published last year, Woodstock estimated that 2,558 lender-owned single family homes were vacant but not registered with the City. Now that more buildings are registered, the City can ensure that owners or mortgagees are maintaining them adequately.

 

The city also issued 2,500 vacant property ordinance violations in the first quarter of 2012 to more than 150 financial institutions. Fines grew by 123 percent from the first quarter of 2011, from $277,200 to $619,000. These fines not only serve to encourage financial institutions to maintain vacant homes properly, they allow the City to better maintain these homes when financial institutions will not.

 

Woodstock Institute is pleased that the ordinance is giving communities a better understanding of the scope of Chicago’s vacant property problem and better equipping the City to combat it. Continued rigorous enforcement will be key to ensuring that this ordinance translates into better outcomes for Chicago’s neighborhoods.