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Little Village, Pilsen community members express concern over property assessments as appeal deadline looms

A group of Little Village and Pilsen community members gathered Monday outside the Cook County Assessor’s Office to express concern over assessments they fear could trigger taxes increases and cause some small businesses and longtime residents to leave the area.

Homeowner Elia M. Higareda talks about the high jump in property value during the past year during a press conference outside of the Cook County Building at 118 N. Clark St. in the Loop by Little Village and Pilsen residents to address the rise of home owner and small business taxes due to home assessment increases, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
Homeowner Elia M. Higareda talks Monday about the increase in her property assessment in Pilsen.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

With the appeal deadline looming, a group of Little Village and Pilsen community members gathered outside the Cook County Assessor’s Office on Monday to express concern over the new property assessments that they fear could trigger tax increases and cause some small businesses and longtime residents to leave the area.

Moises Moreno, director of Pilsen Alliance, called on Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi “to do the right thing and reassess properly and fairly for all residents of Cook County.”

“Folks are struggling to make ends meet,” Moreno said. “We feel that the property tax assessments are too high. That’s gonna potentially push people out, [including] longtime homeowners, small businesses and eventually renters.”

Moreno’s worries of gentrification in Southwest and West Side neighborhoods were echoed by Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) along with several commercial and residential building owners who said their property’s assessments more than doubled.

Juan Manuel Giron, owner of Giron Books, said he was filled with shock and confusion when he saw his bookstore’s value tripled in the latest assessment.

“My first reaction was this was a mistake, it has to be a mistake,” Giron said.

Elia Higareda, a lifelong resident of Pilsen, was also surprised when she saw the assessment of her three-flat building doubled.

“I was ready to move,” said Higareda, who toured a potential home in another part of the city. “And I told my son, I go, ‘I think it’s time for me to move on.’”

Higareda sought advice from the Sigcho Lopez’s office, which helped her file an appeal.

“They found a lot of errors, so they brought it down,” Higareda said.

Giron said he plans to file an appeal but worries he could be forced to sell his business — one of the last standing brick-and-mortar bookstores in Pilsen — if the property taxes increase.

Scott Smith, a spokesperson for the county’s assessor’s office, said assessments are just one factor used in calculating property tax bills. He noted the average homeowner’s bill has increased only 1% in the last two reassessment cycles.

Moreno demanded the county assessor’s office extend the appeals deadline, which was Monday, through the end of the year and to automatically reassess any properties that saw an increase of 25% or more. He also called for more transparency as to why values in the West Chicago Township have skyrocketed.

Smith said the appeals deadline for the assessor’s office can’t be extended, but property owners will still be able to file an appeal with the Board of Review if they feel there’s an error with their assessments.

“To ensure that any overassessed properties are corrected as soon as possible, our office needs to start the appeals process in our office this week,” Smith said. “Delaying the appeal deadline to the end of the year would mean these properties would end up paying more in taxes than they should. Appeals must be filed before next year’s tax rates are calculated to ensure they end up on next year’s tax bill.”