‘A great injustice’: Property tax hikes lead to protests, workshops to help homeowners lower bills

A protest Thursday downtown and workshop Saturday in Little Village are the latest in a series of actions to help homeowners save money and change the process that led to the increases.

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Jolie Jimenez, 48, who said her property tax bill increased from about $1,000 to $11,000, stands outside her three-floor apartment in Pilsen.

Jolie Jimenez, 48, who said her property tax bill increased from about $1,000 to $11,000, stands outside her three-floor apartment in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Jolie Jimenez, like many homeowners, saw the property taxes for her family’s place in Pilsen spike this year and she’s crying foul and joining a campaign to reform the assessment process.

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“This is a great injustice,” said Jimenez, 48. “I almost passed out when I saw the bill.”

The property taxes for the three-flat had been low because her mother, who owned it and passed away recently, qualified for homeowner, senior citizen and senior freeze exemptions; but Jimenez didn’t realize the bill would jump from about $1,000 to $11,000 annually.

“I was not expecting it to be that high,” she said.

Jimenez plans to fight it, starting by attending a property tax exemption workshop this weekend and by joining property tax reform demonstrations around Cook County.

The upcoming workshop was announced Wednesday by Mi Villita Neighbors outside a community center in Little Village, where leaders from the group also shared the plans for its upcoming campaign.

The community center, Universidad Popular, 2801 S. Hamlin Ave., is where the workshop will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It’s free, and no registration is necessary. Help will also be available for Spanish speakers. Organizers are asking people seeking help to bring identification and proof of residency.

“We’re going to assist people to make sure they get the exemptions they qualify for,” said Dr. Howard Ehrman, a former assistant health commissioner and co-founder of the neighborhood group, who is helping lead the workshop. “We have people on every block that they don’t know they qualify for exemptions and then we have others that don’t know they qualify for a certificate of error going back four years,” he said.

Ehrman said some people who attend the workshop mighty get back thousands of dollars in refunds.

Raul Contreras said he got back around $2,000 through an exemption for senior citizens. Contreras, who teaches Chicano studies at Indiana University Northwest, plans to volunteer at the workshop, where he hopes to recruit attendees to fight the assessment process.

“This is to help people become part of a campaign to deal with this truly unjust property tax increase, that is hitting communities like ours — Latino communities,” he said.

Raul Contreras attends a press conference outside Universidad Popular in the Little Village neighborhood, where Mi Villita Neighbors announced an upcoming property tax exemption workshop on Saturday.

Raul Contreras attends a press conference outside Universidad Popular in the Little Village neighborhood, where Mi Villita Neighbors announced an upcoming property tax exemption workshop on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

An analysis of tax bills released last year found property owners in gentrifying Latino neighborhoods in Chicago saw some of the biggest increases.

On the Lower West Side, property owners saw their median tax bill jump from $4,964 to $7,239, a 46% increase, according to the analysis.

Not long after it was released, residents began to protest, demonstrating in a car caravan that began in Pilsen and ended outside the Cook County Building in the Loop.

Contreras said the demonstrations are just beginning.

“We intend to take it all the way to the state level to get these property tax increases changed,” he said.

On Thursday, The People Rule Coalition — the same group of Pilsen residents that organized the car caravan — plans to demonstrate outside the Cook County treasurer’s office, 118 N. Clark St.

A car caravan traveled to the Loop, where Pilsen residents protested huge increases in their property tax bills, in December.

A car caravan traveled to the Loop, where Pilsen residents protested huge increases in their property tax bills, in December.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Laura Paz, a Pilsen property owner and member of the group, said they will demand a moratorium on the property taxes and any related interest until the process is changed.

“People will lose their houses,” Paz said.

She said the group understands Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas has no control over the process, but they want her to ally with them. Pappas’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

The group also staged a protest outside the suburban home of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi in early February.

Paz said the group was ramping up its actions as it fears that if something isn’t done, the property tax hike will lead to the demise of the historic port of entry for Mexican immigrants.

“For us, houses are not commodities. We come to our new country, our new world and we want to set down roots and that’s where we build our community,” Paz said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

Laura Paz of the Pilsen Alliance speaks at a news conference in the Loop on Friday, Dec. 20, 2022.

Laura Paz speaks Friday at a news conference in the Loop. She and other Pilsen residents, joined by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), were there to protest sharp hikes in their property tax bills.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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