MITCHELL: Aldermen launch outreach to help elderly on tax issues

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Philanthropist Willie Wilson and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas with African-American leaders at a press conference regarding last April’s tax sale. | Provided photo

In communities where there are a lot of elderly homeowners, the next few months could be critical.

Nearly 29,000 residential properties are at risk of having the unpaid taxes snapped up by tax buyers in the May 4, 2018, tax sale.

Although some of the parcels are vacant or bank foreclosures, many of the homes are occupied by senior citizens who may be unable to pay the taxes or are unaware the taxes are unpaid.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas met with aldermen on Monday to coordinate an aggressive outreach program to raise awareness about the unpaid taxes.

OPINION

“We met with 17 aldermen, and we are going to give them everything on a disk. We are also setting up meetings and going into their wards to see if people got the exemptions,” Pappas told me.

Pappas has been treasurer since 1998, and she is running for re-election.

In April, she joined with black leaders, including philanthropist Willie Wilson, in an effort to save the homes of people who were at risk of losing their properties in a tax sale.

When taxes are sold, the homeowner has three years to redeem the taxes, but could end up paying the tax buyer thousands of dollars more in interest.

“It is outrageous that the tax buyers can come in and buy every year. It is outrageous that the interest rate is so high and clerk’s fees are so high. That’s the evilness of the tax buyers,” Pappas said.

RELATED: MITCHELL: Too many at risk for losing homes for being late on taxes

The one thing that can stop the sale is a “trick in the law,” Pappas said.

“You can come in a day before the tax sale and declare bankruptcy and you are off the list,” she said.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) left Monday’s meeting with marching orders.

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There are 297 delinquent residential properties in Harris’ ward, where the taxpayer owes less than $1,000, and 841 properties where the taxpayer owes more than $1,000.

“We have all of these older people in my ward and we are going to individually knock on these people’s doors and let them know what resources and help is available for them,” Harris said.

“A lot of these people may not have applied for exemptions. We are going to make it easy for them by giving them the form. Some people may think they owe $1,000 and may only owe $500. After we figure out what they really owe, then maybe we can find a way to help them,” Harris said.

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Toni Foulkes’ (16th) has 957 delinquent residential properties owing over $1,000 and 425 residential properties owing $1,000 and under.

She said the initial list generated by the Cook County Treasurer’s Office contained vacant properties and will have to be updated.

“The good thing about this is we’re going to do outreach. My whole staff is going to be trained to check for exemptions,” she said.

Obviously, property taxes have to be paid, but there has to be a better way.

It is simply immoral and unjust for senior citizens, who are already struggling, to have to worry about their homes being sold out from under them.

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