City Planner Dennis Marino, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin touring the 1700 block of Grey Avenue.

On Feb. 5, Senator Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky visited the 1700 block of Grey Avenue, located in a neighborhood that will benefit from the $18 million Neighborhood Stabilization grant that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the City through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In its application for the neighborhood stabilization funds, the City sought $41 million to purchase and rehab 108 foreclosed properties in the City’s west and south sides, returning them to the market for sale or rent at affordable rates. The City also proposed to develop 96 units of mixed-income housing, consisting of apartments, townhouses, flats and single-family homes for rental and ownership along Emerson Street.

City planner Dennis Marino told the RoundTable that a requirement of the grant is that the City use the funds to purchase and rehab 100 foreclosed properties before using the funds toward the Emerson Street project.

Sen. Durbin said as homes are foreclosed upon “they drag down the value of every property, not just in the neighborhood, but in the community.” He said the $18 million grant will enable the City to invest that money in the community and stabilize the neighborhoods where homes have been foreclosed upon or are vacant.

Congresswoman Schakowsky said, “The reason people come to this community is in large part the diversity of the community, and that’s what’s threatened right now. Neighborhoods that have been thriving for many years are now in incredible difficulty. Some blocks have many homes in foreclosure. And when that happens, all kinds of other things happen. There’s an increase in crime. There’s an increase in drugs. There’s been a shooting on this block. People who have lived here for years are seeing the whole neighborhood deteriorate.

“Thank goodness Evanston had the talent and the foresight to apply for the neighborhood stabilization grant. Because it [the grant] can change the character, not only of Grey and the west side of Evanston, but really stabilize our whole community,” she said.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl thanked Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Schakowsky for their support in obtaining the grant and thanked Aldermen Ann Rainey (8th Ward), Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd Ward) and Delores Holmes (5th Ward) for their work. “We are going to change the second, fifth and the eighth wards, and they are going to be wards that people fight to come to,” she said.

“We’re just really excited about being able to receive the funds and to begin to make a change in the neighborhood,” said Ald. Holmes. “We’re going to do it block by block. We’re going to make it livable and make it the most livable community in America.”

On the national level, Senator Durbin said, “Foreclosures are growing in number. The estimate this morning is that in a few years one-half of all people with a mortgage in America will be under water. What that means is that the value of their home will be worth less than the principal that is owed. We have to deal with this and deal with it aggressively.

“As this economy gets better,” he said, “we cannot overlook the fact that the foreclosure crisis still threatens us. What we’ve done in Washington is good, but not good enough. And let me call upon the banks – the banks that are willing to let these homes stand vacant for years, literally for years, instead of working with those who are in the homes, trying to keep them in their homes, or doing something positive with them after they are foreclosed. That is a scandal. It’s one thing we need to change.”

A partnership between the City of Evanston and Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs will expand one-on-one foreclosure-prevention counseling and education to Evanston residents.

City Council recently approved a $25,000 grant from the City’s affordable housing fund to retain Interfaith, a HUD-certified fair housing and housing counseling agency, to directly assist at least 75 Evanston residents at risk of mortgage foreclosure, and educate at least 170 Evanston homeowners on how to prevent loans from becoming delinquent and avoiding fraudulent lenders or servicers.

Free, confidential counseling will be offered at the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call Interfaith to schedule an appointment at 847-501-5760.

Evanston Foreclosures Jumped in 2009

The Woodstock Institute, a non-profit research and policy organization, issued a report on Feb. 4, concluding that government interventions have had a limited impact on curbing foreclosures in the Chicago area in 2009. “”New foreclosure filings in the Chicago six-county region increased to over 70,000 in 2009, up 21 percent from 2008,”” says the report. The North and Northwest Suburban Cook County and Kane County regions had the “”most rapid rate of growth in foreclosure filings.””

In Evanston, the number of foreclosure filings in the last four years was 121 in 2006, 179 in 2007, 267 in 2008, and 336 in 2009, according to the report. Foreclosure filings increased by 178 percent between 2006 and 2009.

The report raises a concern that lenders have begun to delay advancing foreclosure cases to auction in distressed neighborhoods where a quick sale to a third party purchaser is less likely. Delaying the resolution of a foreclosure case may have a “”destabilizing effect”” on a neighborhood if the property being foreclosed is unoccupied, “”because there is no clear entity responsible for their management,”” says the report.

In Evanston, there were 104 foreclosure auctions in 2008, with lenders acquiring the property at auction in 101 of the cases. In 2009, there were 111 foreclosure auctions, with lenders acquiring the property in 105 of the cases.

Woodstock’s report says foreclosures will remain a significant issue in the Chicago area as long as unemployment remains high and the number of homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth remains high.

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Evanston’s unemployment rate in December 2009 was 7.4 percent, up from 4.6 percent in December 2008.