As hard as the foreclosure crisis hit Chicago, its force has been felt with an unevenness that can seem fiendishly unjust. The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Currently about 40 percent of all homeowners in these communities owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and countywide 80,000 foreclosures are wending their way through circuit court. Last spring, a nine-month study conducted by the National Fair Housing Alliance revealed what everyone in these neighborhoods already knew: After forcing out families in foreclosure, banks failed to properly market, maintain and secure the vacated homes. Thieves subsequently entered many of the properties and stripped them of copper and anything else that could be trafficked. J. R. couldn’t reconcile the idea that homes were being allowed to turn into wrecks with the fact that the city had a shortage of 120,000 units of affordable housing and some 100,000 people sleeping in shelters or on the street each year. Chicago didn’t have just a housing crisis, he offered, it had a moral crisis.
This is why I get so crazy when people talk about how awesome the Clinton economy was or how the stock market is doing or how former Mayor Daley fixed up Chicago really nice. Because, um, an investment portfolio showing gains and a really pretty park downtown ain’t this.
And until you fix THIS, no, “Chicago” isn’t fixed up, and “the economy” isn’t doing better.