“An extraordinary report from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas reveals what happens when government not only doesn’t get out of its own way, but instead adds to the poverty and inequity that has plagued Chicago and the south suburbs for decades.
“In essence, the report details how those neighborhoods never had a fighting chance to attract investment, which remains the crucial problem undermining progress today.
“You would think, then, that a Scavenger Sale program would help spur investment in those blighted areas. But that’s not the case. As the report shows, the bulk of Scavenger Sale properties never receive a bid. And only a few of the bids result in the actual transfer of property to new owners or see taxes paid off.
“The Cook County Land Bank Authority, which also competes with private bidders for properties and in many cases has an advantage over private bidders, took ownership of properties in less than one in 10 Scavenger Sales between 2007 and 2019. And many of the properties cycle through again and again on the sale list.
“‘Because the majority of the properties at the Scavenger Sale are vacant lots or abandoned businesses or homes, the sale’s inability to make anything but incremental change allows swaths of unused, deteriorating land in economically struggling, mostly minority city neighborhoods and suburbs to continue deteriorating,’’ the report concludes.
“Why the dismal track record? The county’s Scavenger Sale makes acquiring distressed property difficult. As the report states, it can take up to three years in some cases for private buyers to win a property outright. And bidders often must compete with the county and Land Bank, which are not on the hook to pay off delinquent taxes.
“Sound arduous? Maybe that’s why Cook County is the only county in the state that still conducts this kind of Scavenger Sale.
“Instead, most counties have moved to a cleaner trustee program, which allows counties to obtain tax liens on properties that aren’t sold at regular tax sales. If taxes and penalty fees aren’t cleared up by the owner, the property then goes into a trust where the liens are cleared, and the property goes up for sale. Any proceeds from an eventual sale are then distributed to the taxing bodies.” (Crain’s Chicago Business Editorial Board, 7/25/22)