Housing advocates took to the streets in the south suburban city of Harvey Monday afternoon to protest against what they claim have been the various problems that have developed as a result of the growing number of abandoned homes seen throughout their community over the past several years.
More than 20 demonstrators, which included residents and community activists led by the group Harvey Residents Organized for Change, gathered outside of the town's City Hall prior to the start of that night’s city council meeting to present Mayor Eric Kellogg and city council members with debris the group collected from three abandoned homes located on a block the group said had as many as 11 vacant houses.
A leader for HROC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said vacant homes have created an influx of dilapidated properties within many residential neighborhoods, which she felt has played a major role in a decline in property values and a rise in crime within many neighborhoods throughout the 25,000-person community over the past decade.
“I know a lady that moved here from Chicago who was a professional seamstress - since she has moved out here, her clientele has dropped by 40 percent,” she said. “People don’t want to move out here - that’s how bad the situation is getting.”
Longtime resident Eric White, 45, who recently moved back to the area to take care of his ailing father, said problems associated with the six abandoned homes located near his family’s home have gotten so bad that he is in the process of trying to convince his father to move with him back to his residence in Texas.
“I tell my Dad pack your stuff and get the hell out of here while you still can,” White said. “I don’t want to have to come back here and bury him.”
No arrests were made at the event, although city officials stated in an email response Tuesday that the city would consider citing HROC members as well as fellow community organization, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation In Chicago, for illegally dumping waste on city grounds.
Vacant properties have been a problem within the south Chicago suburb for more than a decade, according to White, but was accelerated in the past few years as communities throughout the country experienced a wave of foreclosures that saw thousands lose their homes.
According to U.S. Census Bureau information, there were more than 9,800 housing units in Harvey in 2010, while the number of vacant homes totaled 1,822 – leaving a vacant housing rate of about 18 percent, compared to 12 percent for the U.S.
For its part, City of Harvey spokeswoman Sandra Alvarado e-mailed the following statement in response to the protest and calls by residents for more to do be done regarding vacant homes:
On yesterday's date, Soul Chicago led a small demonstration in the parking lot of City Hall, in which they claim they represented Harvey residents and that they were outraged about the number of abandoned homes in Harvey. The City believes that all organizations have the right to protest or demonstrate and support their constitutional right to do so; however, during yesterday's event Soul Chicago scattered garbage and debris throughout the parking lot of City Hall.
As the City continues to move forward with their Abandoned Property Plan, the Mayor is committed to working with Harvey residents to bring forth positive change within the community and looks forward to continued to dialogue with his residents.
It is unfortunate that Soul Chicago came to the City of Harvey and thought that it would be acceptable to dump illegally in a minority community that needs assistance not added problems. At this time, the City is contemplating sending Soul Chicago citations relative to their illegal dumping, because many residents who attended last evenings City Council Meeting expressed their outrage at Soul Chicago's tactics of dumping garbage at City Hall.
In regards to the Harvey Residents Organized for Change, Mayor Kellogg has met with the Harvey residents regarding their concern of abandoned homes, in order to explain that the condition exists not because there is a lack of code enforcement but because during this difficult economic crisis many residents have lost their home to foreclosure.
The City has already implemented a four prong approach to dealing with vacant homes and has already begun Phase One which includes identifying all vacant homes within the City and identifying the owners. As the owners of the properties are identified, the Second Phase will be implemented and includes the enforcement of Vacant Property Ordinance, which mandates that property owners must register their property with the City and maintain their property, abiding by all City Ordinances and their failure to do so will result in a fine issued to the owner. Phase Three of the Plan includes identifying any and all properties that need to be demolished and pursuing demolition permits from the county. And finally, Phase Four, identifying contractors interested in purchasing properties in order to restore them and place them back on the tax roll.
In an e-mail statement, SOUL In Chicago spokeswoman Ashley Dinzey said her group had requested a meeting with the town's mayor to discuss the issue of code enforcement of vacant properties, but were reportedly denied with Kellogg instead agreeing to meet only with Harvey residents.
Images: Lev Hirschhorn