We’ve all been there before – low on cash and in need of someone to bail us out. Most of us turn to a close friend or family member to lend a helping hand. But is it smart to ask someone with a line of debt longer than Lake Shore Drive for support?
Longtime Illinois State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) is asking the same question about the state’s vacant housing plan. On Feb. 3, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $50 million trial program to buy and rehabilitate vacant homes in six Cook County suburbs and then resell them at low interest rates.
“It’s kind of ironic that a basically bankrupt entity like the state is trying to provide relief to other entities that are on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy,” Dillard said. “It’s like the pot calling the kettle black.”
Although the Building Blocks Pilot Program is not targeted at any areas represented by Dillard, the former Republican gubernatorial candidate said the reverberations from the housing crisis have been felt all across the state.
Therefore, he said he supports any idea aimed at boosting property values. But he is not convinced Illinois has the means necessary to follow through and revive the struggling communities.
“The state cannot be all things to all people,” Dillard said. “It has very, very limited resources because we owe billions of dollars in backlog bills.”
Dillard said he shares the governor’s concerns over the current housing market, but worries about the state getting involved in private financial matters between lenders and borrowers.
Meanwhile, the attitudes in and around the targeted towns are much more optimistic. Mayor Robert Lovero of Berwyn said he was thrilled to find out his city had been selected by the state to participate in the program.
“We got hit very hard by foreclosures,” Lovero said. “Berwyn is known for its housing stock and until we can get these foreclosures off the books, the property values are going to remain stagnant.”
The mayor said that no one likes to live next to an empty house. And Berwyn can’t afford to continually landscape and maintain the security surrounding the city’s vacant homes.
So, he said, any type of assistance the state ends up providing to the city should be considered an accomplishment.
“I don’t know exactly how many homes they are going to be able to turn around,” Lovero said. “But one home is better than none. So to me that is 100 percent success.”
Chicago Heights, Maywood, Park Forest, Riverdale and South Holland were also picked by the state to take part in the trial program.
Cook County Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy, a Democrat whose sixth district represents four of those communities, said she fervently backs the governor’s plan.
Murphy said one reason she is so eager to get this plan in motion is because more than 10 percent of homes in the county are empty.
“It’s the largest amount of vacant houses we’ve ever had,” Murphy said. “So what we have to realize is that when we have vacant homes, the communities are bearing the costs in lost taxes, increased crime and lower quality of life.
“We have to be realistic and try to do something to keep our areas and communities from deteriorating.”
South Holland’s president, Don DeGraff, said he was surprised when the state extended an invitation to the village because they don’t have an exceptionally high foreclosure rate.
DeGraff said he believes the state wanted to mix up the type of communities included in the program, because only about 350 of South Holland’s 8,000 homes are vacant.
The village president isn’t complaining, however.
“I completely back the governor and Cook County president in this program,” DeGraff said. “It should be a big success.”