CHICAGO (CBS) — Rats and riff-raff; a couple in Bronzeville has had enough of abandoned areas in their neighborhood, and want to pay to make a change.

But as CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory reports, despite city programs for community members to spruce up a block, not all ideas are equal.

It’s a growing community; resilient, and proud of its evolution. But turn the corner in Bronzeville, and you’ll find Tammy Winchester’s block. She feels forgotten.

“Let me just be very transparent. You see things going on that’s not legal,” she said. “Drug activity possibly, a lot of littering.”

She said the problem is vacant land on Langley Avenue, where dead plants, beer bottles, and trash abound. At least some of the property is owned by the city.

“We have to clean the lots constantly, coming out of our pocket,” Winchester said.

Winchester said she and neighbors have spent their own money to clean the lots for years, but instead of complaining all that time, “we’ve tried to buy these lots, and we’ve been denied.”

In 2013, she and the homeowner next to one abandoned area were told no on their application to the Adjacent Neighbors Land Acquisition Program (ANLAP), which allows homeowners in some areas of the city to purchase vacant city-owned lots for less than market value, if they meet certain criteria.

Their bid was denied because they didn’t have a letter of support from their alderman.

They tried ANLAP again in 2019, plainly listing their intentions: “keeping the grass cut, planting flowers and trees.”

“We’re here to give back, and want to beautify the neighborhoods. And why are we denied?” Winchester said.

They got the same answer on their 2017 petition to the $1 Large Lots program, which sells vacant residential lots for $1 to homeowners who live on the same block, in an effort to rejuvenate neighborhoods and bring in new property tax revenue.

“The alderman has reserved this lot for future development,” they were told.

But CBS 2 could not find any such plans. We scoured permits for every address on Langley and on 43rd, and only got one hit for those vacant lots in 14 years. It was for a permit to put up a tent on Memorial Day weekend in 2018.

It’s all about “best and highest use,” a spokesperson for Ald. Sophia King (4th) told CBS 2. He said that means constructing a home on the lot, not a garden. And, yes, that means holding out as long as it takes for a solid building proposal; not the answer they want to hear on Langley.

“It’s just not a good look, and we’re tired,” Winchester said.

A check of 311 records show complaints are filed at least once a month to clean up the city-owned lots, which of course means taxpayer dollars are being spent to maintain them.

King’s spokesperson said she strongly encourages community members interested in building on vacant lots to come forward.


Lauren Victory