Cook County treasurer calls for scrapping Illinois' scavenger sale law

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas wants big changes in the way delinquent real estate is sold for back taxes. She says it's tainted by a long legacy of redlining and racial discrimination in the local real estate market.

She's asking for help from federal, state and local governments.

Treasurer Pappas notes that thousands of tax delinquent property parcels are in neighborhoods that were predominantly Black in 1940 when the U.S. government declared Black communities ineligible for federally guaranteed housing loans and other assistance, with the grim impact still visible 82 years later.


"This problem is occurring not just here in Chicago. But we took it to Detroit and Philadelphia. This is a national problem. We think that shortly we will be appearing before the banking house and urban affairs committee in Washington, D.C. because this is a federal issue," Pappas said.

Pappas wants to replace the current system of selling properties for back taxes with a system that's used in some suburban and downstate counties. It's a form of trusteeship that allows local governments to seize the tax delinquent properties before they fall into complete disrepair. They could then transfer them to not-for-profit agencies or sell them for a profit that would go to the public schools and other taxing bodies involved — all of it open and transparent.

"Let's say, for example, that you wanted to buy a lot in Englewood. You could come to my database, punch on Englewood, see everything that's available and be directed to how it is that you could obtain it," Pappas said.

The goal would be to reduce the number of abandoned properties in economically troubled neighborhoods and to improve the value of homes that remain.