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Dealing with Chicago’s vacant buildings isn’t an open-and-shut matter

Dorothy Leonard has lived for 33 years in the same house on the same block in West Humboldt Park, one of the better blocks in the struggling West Side Chicago neighborhood.

She’s the block’s unofficial ambassador, shooing away young people who gather on the corner, telling neighbors where to go for help and calling the city when she sees a burned-out street lamp or plywood removed from a window at one of the boarded-up homes.

Two years ago, her neighborhood was chosen for renewal and reinvestment by the city and nonprofit community groups. Additionally, Chicago beefed up an ordinance to crack down on the city’s estimated 18,000 abandoned properties and those owners and mortgage servicers who fail to register buildings.

There was a belief that, despite the problems, areas such as West Humboldt Park could be nurtured back to health. The real estate market’s recovery has added to expectations that Chicago might see its vacant building problems alleviated.

Yet vacant, unsecured buildings still litter the neighborhood, providing havens for squatters and illegal activity such as arson, drug dealing and prostitution. Many buildings haven’t been registered, so the city is not collecting the fees and officials don’t know who to notify in case the property isn’t maintained, is broken into or is damaged. On Leonard’s block, only one vacant building has been registered…Please click here to read By Mary Ellen Podmolik’s full story in the Tribune.

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