Comm. Bridget Gainer on Cook County's Vacant Buildings Ordinance - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Comm. Bridget Gainer on Cook County's Vacant Buildings Ordinance

Eric Allix Rogers (flickr)

Throughout January and February, MPC’s blog, The Connector, is running a series on vacant properties in metropolitan Chicago. In the coming weeks, the blog will feature guests posts from elected and appointed officials, policy advocates, finance experts, and others about the many ways we are all working together to get a handle on this growing regional and national challenge. The opinions expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MPC. Follow the series at 

On Dec. 14, 2011, I introduced and received unanimous support from my colleagues on the Cook County Board and President Toni Preckwinckle to pass the Cook County Vacant Building Ordinance. This ordinance is the first step for the County to be a part of the solution to help stabilize communities throughout the county suffering under the burden of increased foreclosures and the resulting vacancies. 

Cook County leads the nation in foreclosures – more than 50,000 filings in 2011 and on pace for that number again in 2012. This is in stark contrast to 15,000 filings in 2002. The average lag time between filing of a foreclosure and award of title is 513 days – largely driven by an increased volume being handled by the same 10 foreclosure judges. 

This enormous volume of cases has created not only a backlog in court, but has driven the increase of vacant and abandoned buildings; in fact, the last census reported that almost 10 percent of residential buildings in Cook County are currently vacant. The owners are gone, the banks are years from taking title and our local communities are paying the price.

The market economy only works when all the players play their part: If those who hold a financial interest in an asseteither the owner or the lender/servicer—don’t act rationally and protect the value of that asset, the rest of the players in the systemcourts, communities, governmentscannot pick up the pieces. The current system, one that does not require asset holders to maintain their property, in fact creates an incentive for doing nothing – at least in the short term. We need to change the incentive for doing nothing, because the decay of these building undermines our most precious asset – the strength and vitality of our communities. 

The Cook County Vacant Building Ordinance does three things. It creates a common template for maintenance standards; it increases the opportunity for vacant building violations to be heard by Administrative Hearings, whereby reducing legal costs and time delays for municipalities; and it creates a county-wide vacant building registry. 

Vacant building ordinances are turning into a national movement: Las Vegas, Philadelphia, New York, L.A. and Miami all have similar ordinances in various stages of development and adoption. 

It is important as this issue moves forward that legislation allowing for a fast-track foreclosure process for vacant and abandoned homes is supported and passed statewide.

Finally, I am now working with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association and others on a proposal for a Cook County Land Bank. A land bank will provide the missing link between vacant housing, investors and communities that need this critical tool. Please visit our web site for more information on land banks. 


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