County Officials and Suburban Mayors Push for Statewide Homeowner Relief, Increased Capacity for Municipalities to Rescue Vacant Buildings
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today joined a coalition of suburban mayors and other local leaders to support the systemic reforms proposed in the Homeowner Relief and Community Recovery Act. The legislation, Senate Bill 1721, will empower communities and local governments to transform vacant properties into homes and businesses and put them back on the tax rolls more quickly while helping residents stay in their homes by reducing predatory interest rates. The officials urged passage of the bill by the Illinois House of Representatives after it passed in the Senate last month.
The leaders affirmed their support for the proposal at the Animal Care League in Oak Park, an animal shelter that serves surrounding municipalities. With the help of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, the Animal Care League recently purchased a vacant building next door to its current location. The nonprofit is rehabbing the building which will enable the organization to increase the number of animals it can rescue. The Animal Care League attempted to purchase the building for six years through the Cook County Scavenger Sale; however, it was unable to compete with large companies that purchased the rights to the property but never picked up the title or paid the back taxes. The property sat empty for years, becoming a health hazard and eyesore before the Land Bank facilitated the purchase.
“The Animal Care League building is an example of how vacancy hurts neighborhoods and ties up resources that could be used to meet community needs,” President Preckwinkle said. “This established nonprofit had a plan for the property and a proven track record—but they still had to wait years before they could transform the building. The governing bodies have a responsibility and should have the power to help communities with abandoned properties, instead of making them wait while buildings fall apart and become a burden on neighborhoods. This is why I’m proud to stand with my fellow elected officials to urge legislators to pass this bill in the name of community revitalization in areas that need it the most across the entire state.”
Across the state, residents and municipalities are hampered by an antiquated tax penalty system that makes it difficult for homeowners to catch up on tax bills and challenging for local governments to rescue abandoned buildings. When homeowners in Illinois fall behind on property taxes, the penalties and interest—up to 18%, assessed every 6 months—can make it almost impossible for them to catch up on missed payments. Tax delinquency and escalating fines often drive vacancy and abandonment. Abandoned, tax-delinquent properties like the Animal Care League building can take years to reclaim—even when all parties agree and no owner claims the property. These vacant buildings create blight and depress the tax base.
The HRCR Act attacks the cycle of abandonment and disinvestment in key ways. It changes tax penalties from a predatory rate, making it easier for homeowners to pay delinquent tax bills; and it helps municipalities save abandoned properties more quickly, stopping the cycle of vacancy and blight and returning properties to productive use.
Chatka Ruggiero, board member and past president of the Animal Care League, understands the frustration of seeing the building next door fall into disrepair and the joy of finally rescuing the property. “For years, we watched the building right next to us sit empty, full of weeds, while we needed space to expand,” Ruggiero said. “The Land Bank made it possible for us to grow our operations and care for more animals in our community.”
Cook County Land Bank Authority Chair and Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer called for lawmakers to pass the HRCR bill.
“We are delighted to work with organizations, like the Animal Care League, that are turning empty, deteriorating buildings into safe properties that meet pressing needs,” Gainer said. “And we hope that legislators will allow municipalities to transform more abandoned buildings into viable homes and businesses. Neighborhoods need this legislative reform, and we look forward to working to achieve the Land Bank’s and President Preckwinkle’s vision for revitalizing communities at scale.”