PI Original Micah Maidenberg Friday January 28th, 2011, 3:54pm

Who Will Step Up To Fight The Foreclosure Crisis?

Last week, Progress Illinois traced out the recent history of a vacant, foreclosed home on Chicago's West Side. Today that home was demolished.

This morning, a wrecking crew reduced the foreclosed, vacant home at 4924 W. Gladys to a twisting pile of old wood and crushed debris. The lot will be empty soon, joining thousands of others across Chicago as a blank reminder of a damaged economy, of irresponsible banking and a foreclosure crisis that has hammered city neighborhoods. The city's Department of Buildings ordered today's demolition because the city had determined the structure was "hazardous and dangerous," a spokesman said.

For those who live on the 4900 block of W. Gladys and West Side community leaders, the take-down of the building was bittersweet at best.

There will be no more drug addicts taking shelter in the wood-frame house, raising the specter of fires that could spread to neighboring buildings and put residents and public safety workers at risk. Helen Love, who has lived immediately west of 4924 W. Gladys since 1968, won't have to spend her own money boarding up the building, as she did last summer. She won't have to worry about scavengers looting the property anymore.

Given the wrecked state of 4924 W. Gladys in its last days and weeks, perhaps the demolition is for the best. But it also represents a lost opportunity. There is now no chance the structure could be rehabilitated and made a home for another family. And it is not the case that there was no time for the home's owners to do something creative with it after it fell into foreclosure -- Love estimated the home had been empty for at least three years. The will was just lacking, responsibility diffused. "The bank wouldn't do anything for it," she said. This morning, Love talked about how the block has changed over the years, and how she wishes owners of empty foreclosed properties would find new tenants or buyers for them. Take a look:

Last week, Progress Illinois traced out the history of the home that stood, as of yesterday, at 4924 W. Gladys. The property, as we found out through a review of public records, showed that the home shifted from a stable place to a blighted one swiftly. A man purchased the home in December 2006. He was in foreclosure about seven months after that, and the property was part of Merrill Lynch's balance sheet by March 2008. Based on neighbors' testimony, Merrill, which is now owned by Bank of America, apparently failed to keep the property secure during the foreclosure proceedings and after they took control of the home.

A Bank of America spokesperson told Progress Illinois last week they no longer own the home but its exact owner is not immediately clear. At least the now-gone Gladys property came out of the foreclosure process with an owner. Increasingly, lenders and their servicers are simply walking away from homes after beginning legal proceedings to foreclose on them. About two weeks ago, the Woodstock Institute released "Left Behind" (PDF), a study that estimates there are at least 1,896 properties that went into foreclosure but have not emerged with any clear outcome. They are likely vacant and deteriorating, and have particularly damaged the city's black communities.

Elce Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Community Coalition, said today that whoever owns these buildings needs to meet with neighbors and community leaders and talk rehabilitation; the City of Chicago needs to step up with a strategy too, Redmond said, as fixing up homes is preferable to adding more vacant lots to already struggling blocks. Here's Redmond outside of the Gladys home this moring, as a demolition crew did their work:

At least two City Council legislative efforts to deal with different aspects of this problem have stalled out, however. One, the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, seeks to reserve a portion of the city's annual take from its hundreds of tax increment financing districts to create affordable housing, including fix-ups of deteriorating vacant buildings. For 4924 W. Gladys, it's too little and too late.

The question is whether anyone -- owners of vacant properties, community leaders, and elected officials -- will step up to the plate with an effective policy to deal with vacant homes, many of them foreclosures, beyond simply opting for demolition. They certainly could start on the 4900 block of W. Gladys.

Dorothy Puchford, a longtime resident on this block, lives in a tidy red-brick two flat that has boarded-up vacant homes on either side of it. The buildings do nothing but destablize the neighborhood, sowing instability and fear, she said.

Late at night, Puchford told Progress Illinois this morning, scavengers break in the buildings to steal whatever they can find. Her own home has been targeted too. Once, Puchford recalled, she woke up to find a fence around her home had simply disappeared. "If you've got a fence all the way around your house," she said, "and the next morning it's gone and you don't know who did it, that's a bad feeling."

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