CHICAGO (CBS) — Building better communities by tearing down troubled structures; that’s the new goal of the Chicago Department of Buildings, and their plan was set to begin Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning, city crews tore down a vacant house at 236 W. 113th St.
The home had been vacant for years, and officials said it had become a magnet for criminal activity. It was one of 900 vacant homes slated for demolition in high-crime neighborhoods. Most will be concentrated in four police districts – Calumet, Englewood, Deering, and Harrison.
“We’re going to start over in the Roseland area, and then we plan on expanding it to different locations throughout the city, because this is just one of the tools in our toolbox that we’re going to utilize to make the city safer,” Chicago Police Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson said.
Officials said they are fast-tracking the demolition process for those buildings, in order to get rid of gathering places for gangs, drug users, and other criminals.
“These vacant buildings, we know that they are targets for gangs to gather and commit nefarious activity, such as storing weapons or selling illegal drugs,” Johnson said.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), whose ward includes part of the Roseland neighborhood, said demolishing long vacant buildings will help rid the area of blight.
“We can rid our community of drug-infested buildings, prostitution, and every illegal activity that could possibly be in a community. This effort will strengthen this community once and again,” she said.
In addition to tearing down many vacant buildings, the city also will board up hundreds more. Last year, the city boarded up about 3,000 vacant structures; so far this year, 425 have been boarded up. Also, some businesses where serious crimes have happened might also be closed on a case-by-case basis.
It’s not just about tearing down and boarding up vacant buildings; it’s also about building up communities. As part of that, the city’s Large Lot Program was ramping up.
The initiative allows residents to buy city-owned land for just $1 per parcel, if they already own property on the same block.
Chicago Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland said the owner of a daycare center on the 200 block of West 113th Street wants to buy one of the lots that now has a vacant building, so she can expand the daycare.
“The owner wants to acquire the lot so that she can have a garden for her children that go there, and maybe extra parking, or whatever she needs to enhance her daycare center. She’ll be able to use the property for that, instead of a place for gangbangers to hang out,” she said.
Under the Large Lot Program, buyers must pay property taxes on the land, maintain the property, and keep it for five years before they sell. They can use the program to expand an existing yard, build a garden, or even add homes and apartment buildings within existing residential zoning limits. The land cannot be used to put up a new business.