Bullseye on some Cook County homeowners’ backs

By Kevin Beese for Chronicle Media

The Cook County Treasurer’s Office

A push is being made to inform 50,000 Cook County residents — many of them senior citizens — that they could be the targets of tax scavengers.

The education effort has led to high-profile individuals like the Rev. Jesse Jackson to join in and a local philanthropist to help create a fund to help residents whose homes wind up on the county tax sale list.

Dr. Willie Wilson, a businessman who got nearly 11 percent of the vote in the 2015 Chicago mayoral election and launched a 2016 candidacy for president of the United States, has put $150,000 of his own money into a newly established fund for individuals delinquent on paying their 2015 real estate taxes.

Jackson said while the contributions by Wilson and others are noteworthy, more needs to be done to stop predators that pay the taxes on individual homes and then require the tax payments, plus interest of up to 18 percent.

“People cannot survive on generous tax relief by individuals,” Jackson said, when speaking before the Cook County Board last week (March 22).  “We need policies to protect people from this.”

Jackson said knowledge of the crisis is not widespread and that that needs to change.

The delinquent taxes will be up for sale on April 3.  Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, Cook County Commissioners Robert Steele and Richard Boykin who is putting $5,000 of his own money into the no-interest fund to help people pay their taxes, local clergy and others are working to inform as many homeowners as possible of their taxes being delinquent.

Boykin said that 7,000 people on the list do not even know they are being targeted because mailings from the county about their tax delinquency have come back undelivered seven times.

Steele said it is vital that word gets out so “our residents, our businesses and our churches are aware that their properties may be on the tax list. They need to get in to pay their taxes immediately so that they don’t make the tax sale on April 3.”

Commissioner Peter Silvestri pointed out that state legislation moved the tax sale up. The sale used to take place in June, he said, but now it is in April.

“Part of the problem is that people are being taxed who don’t have the money to pay the tax, and are being asked to pay the money they don’t have quicker,” Silvestri said, “and other people are benefitting from that.”

Silvestri said the county needs to make a renewed effort to encourage the General Assembly to change the tax sale law back to how it was to give people more time to meet their tax burden.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer noted that tax buyers would make close to double the $25 million that they normally make in Cook County through tax sales with the sales being moved up two months.

“It is just another tax on the poor and none of that goes to revitalizing communities,” Gainer said.

She added that tax buyers don’t buy all the taxes due. They only buy the taxes for areas where they know people will be able to scrap together the money to pay.

“They’re not buying the taxes in Ford Heights and they’re not buying the taxes in Englewood,” Gainer said.  “They are buying the taxes in Chatham, and in Belmont-Cragin, and in Bellwood, places where they know ultimately that someone is going to give them money.”



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