A Black History Month celebration hosted by the Cook County Treasurer’s Office quickly turned into an informational session about homeowners delinquent on their property taxes but also due refunds.
The county is set to start a tax sale for properties, such as homes, with a delinquent tax bills on May 8. However, the problem for nearly half of the is that most homeowners owe ‘very little’ money and in many cases are due a tax refund for over paying within the last 20 years, explained Maria Pappas, Cook County treasurer.
“My office sent out 56,000 notices by mail and 20,000 were returned. And 24,000 of these notices were for homeowners who owe less than $1,000 in delinquent taxes,” said Pappas. “And now they are faced with losing their homes even though they may be owed more money than what they owe the county.”
By collaborating with community organizations, such as Rainbow PUSH, 930 E. 50th St. and Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd., the treasurer’s office has refunded $20 million since April 2019, according to Pappas. But another $74 million is owed to homeowners.
Pappas said many homeowners on the tax sale list are delinquent because they did not apply for an exemption or senior freeze on their taxes, which could have reduced their bill by $500 or more.
For example, a homeowner at 5652 S. Wells Ave. in Chicago owes $1,400 in delinquent property taxes, but is owed a refund of $1,700. Another homeowner at 1614 E. 74th Place in Chicago owes $2,600 but is owed $2,900.
Homeowners can go online to cookcountytreasurer.com using only their address to see if they are owed any monies or if their property is on the county’s tax sale list.
Pappas said most delinquent homeowners in jeopardy of losing their homes are on the city’s South and West Sides as well as the south and west suburbs.
“Minority neighborhoods are where most of these delinquent properties are located and we are trying hard to reach as many homeowners as possible but we need the public’s help in spreading the word,” added Pappas.
According to Pappas, the city’ s 34th Ward on the Far South Side, which includes the West Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods, has the most tax delinquent property owners with more than 5,000. And the south suburbs have many delinquent property owners as well. Harvey leads the way with 4,996 followed by Robbins with 1,500 and Markham with 1,100, according to the treasurer’s office.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) was unavailable for comment.
The Feb. 28 event at City Hall also included individuals and organizations recognized for their community service work. Organizations honored included the Chicago Defender for being a voice for Black America for over 100 years.
Dyanna Knight-Lewis, vice president of the Chicago Defender, attended the event and said the mission of the online newspaper has not changed since its 1905 inception.
“Informing readers about Black America especially here in Chicago is what we strive to do because we know how important it is to highlight the good things happening in black communities and not just the negative stuff,” said Knight-Lewis.
Former Chicago Bulls star Cliff Levington and his wife Valerie were also honored for the work they do with high school students through their Legend Leaving Legacies Foundation in Michigan City, IN. Both attended the event and spoke passionately about why they decided to start the organization two years ago.
“While the foundation is in Indiana we do a lot of work in Chicago and arrange college tours for students and their parents,” Levington told the Chicago Defender. “It’s important for parents to also attend the tour so they can have a peace of mind about the school where their kids are going. I am in Chicago three days a week because I still work with the Bulls organization and I personally have sent at least 30 kids to college out of my own pocket over the past 10 years.”