Foreclosure continues to plague West Siders

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Imagine coming home from work one day to a note on your front door saying your home was no longer yours because it had gone into foreclosure.

That’s what a 45-year-old West Side woman found this past winter – and she’s been struggling ever since to get answers.

The mother of three said she had no idea what to do when she learned the place she was renting to own was being foreclosed.

“I’m sitting there with family members, and we find this out and we try to call anyone that could help us,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified because she fears getting kicked out of her home.

The 45-year-old woman is one of many West Side residents who’s experienced foreclosure, which continues to be a major problem for Austin.

A recent report by the Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing lists Austin No. 1 among Chicago neighborhoods for having the greatest number of rental units in foreclosure in 2013. Last year, more than 500 housing units were impacted by foreclosure in Austin and more than 4,600 have gone into foreclosure since 2009.

But things may be looking up.

A new report, released by the Woodstock Institute just last week, shows Austin has seen a drop in the number of foreclosures filed this year compared to 2013. Last year, Austin had 293 properties file for foreclosure during the first six months of the year. During the first half 2014, Austin had 203 properties file for foreclosure – still more than any other Chicago neighborhood.

Foreclosure continues to haunt West Siders: “Still to this day I’m stressed out because I still need to find somewhere to go. I just need a place to move, so they don’t put my stuff out on the street.”

The Austin resident has lived in the house the last 10 years. She doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have a home.

This was the first house she had purchased, and it didn’t take long for her to realize it was a bad investment.

“The pipe burst the first day I moved in,” she said. “Every year the pipe would burst; we were freezing and had no insulation. But I didn’t know these things when I moved into the house.”

After she was laid off from her job and fell behind on her payments, the bank sold her home to a Realtor. Now she’s looking to move into a new house she can afford – away from the West Side.

Deborah Williams, a housing counselor for Bethel New Life, has worked with the woman – and many others – as she navigates the long, often confusing world of foreclosure.

An Austin resident herself, Williams said she’s surprised to see so many boarded-up buildings and foreclosed properties on the West Side.

Most of the people she works with have lost their jobs: “No job is out there for them to find and for them to get income coming in.”

Williams thinks more education about the housing market and buying a house would help prospective homeowners before they make such a big commitment.

“A lot of people are just like, ‘I want this house, I want this house,’ but they need to read the contracts before they commit to it.”

Patricia Fron, a housing policy specialist for the Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing, said one of the biggest problems is that once a building goes into foreclosure, there is little or no upkeep with many properties.

Fron said buildings often remain vacant for months, targets for crime and vandalism, which makes them harder to sell.

She said the foreclosure crisis and disinvestment in Austin may have gone unnoticed before, but all the vacant buildings draw attention to the situation.

“It’s undeniable at this point.”

Fron said stabilizing the residents and housing options that are still available in the community would help improve the situation.

Andrew Born, director of community planning and data management for Austin Coming Together, said his organization is still seeing new vacancies and foreclosure filings in Austin.

“There’s been so much foreclose and abandonment over the past 10 years that the housing market in Austin is really depressed,” Born said. “So a lot of people have trouble selling their home.”

Born said another challenge is trying to get the homes reoccupied.

“It’s hard to convince people to invest their money in a property and to really make a commitment to live and invest in a community when they’re worried about housing values not going up or are really concerned about safety.”

Nirav Sanghani, special projects and canvass director for Action Now, said his group has neighborhood organizers in the Austin and Garfield Park area working on neighborhood problems, like the foreclosure and housing issue, and are in the process of getting more details about how to turn the vacant properties around. 

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