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Pointilism in West Lawn

Here is a fairly sobering graphic. The map shows ONE ZIP CODE on Chicago's South West Side, 60629.

The red dots represent all of the properties in that zip code that are either in pre-foreclosure or are already bank owned. In just the first four months of 2008 alone, there were nearly 600 foreclosure lawsuits initiated in this area. The map was put together by the Southwest Organizing Project and LISC/Chicago. It was the centerpiece of Senator Durbin's testimony to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing last week.

Just about every real estate lawyer I know has handled closing involving distressed properties. I certainly have worked on FAR TOO MANY bank-owned properties; foreclosure-pending properties; and short sales. I have seen an unsettling number of other sellers pay money at closing to complete a closing. These are not happy transactions.

But they are each individual tragedies. Isolated deals. Each family suffers the pain once. They rebuild, we in the industry move on to the next closing. In this compartmentalized, serialized way that I see the "situation," it is sometimes hard to put things into a larger perspective.

Which is why I suggest that you go back and take another look at this map for a moment. Now consider the neighborhood you live in. Statistically, its likely that at least one of the homes houses in the hood is "distressed." Maybe more. Consider for a moment what it would be like if every other home or two of three homes were "underwater." What would your neighborhood be like if you had scores of boarded up and abandoned houses; block after block? Stores and restaurants would not be able to stay in business, so you would have to figure that the commercial streets would be pretty empty too. What must life be like under those circumstances?

Now consider the words of Fr. Stan Rataj, Pastor of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, located in the center of this community:

“If several hundred families lost their homes to a fire or a tornado, we would rush to help them,” said Fr. Stan. “This tragedy is just as serious, yet people feel that they have to face it by themselves".
Of course, he is right. Its hard to ask for help when you fall behind on a mortgage. There is no American Red Cross or F.E.M.A. to help out displaced (former) homeowners or tenants.

This neighborhood has been gutted. Fortunately, at least to some modest extent, the community is trying to organize a response. The Greater Southwest Development Corporation; Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Chicago Lawn; and the Southwest Organizing Project, collectively representing 29 southwest side member institutions, have partnered to launch the "Keep Our Homes" Campaign, a community-based housing counseling and organizing effort to stop the spread of foreclosures and help residents on the city's southwest side preserve their neighborhoods.

To learn more about these efforts or how you can get involved in the solution, contact SWOP at (773) 471-8208 and check out the LISC-Chicago program description, here.

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