By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Issuing an alert to homeowners, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas Saturday warned them that the property tax deadline was just days away and for those owing as little as $100 if left unpaid their homes could land up on the May 4 tax scavenger list.
With Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. by her side during the Rainbow PUSH Coalition live broadcast, Pappas warned homeowners that about 37,600 property tax owners in Cook County had not paid their past due taxes and that includes about 16,000 whose bills and notices have been returned to her office seven times by the U.S. Postal Service.
When Pappas first took office 20-years ago, she said there were 120,000 homes on this tax list and now it is down to 39,000. Pappas credited the reduction to Rev. Jackson, clergy and elected officials who helped her get the word out to homeowners.
That, she said, is good news including for 360 Black churches that are no longer on the tax sale list.
Years ago, this reporter confirmed that a white realtor was going around buying up Black West Side churches that were on the scavenger tax list.
The ministers did not know they were supposed to sign a waiver which would have kept their churches off the tax list.
The realtor would show up during their services threatening to seize the church if the ministers did not pay a huge amount of money.
This reporter reached out to Pappas and then Ald. Robert Shaw (9) to come up with a law to prevent these church seizures. A law was passed resulting in fewer churches being sold for delinquent taxes.
While the number of churches on the tax list is down, Pappas said, “That’s not good enough” and explained that of the 39,000, 17,000 were mailed that were returned to her office seven times. “Of those that came back to my office, 17,000 people owe less than $1,000. It’s not good enough,” she said.
Holding up a multi-colored sheet copied from her website, www.cookcountytreasurer.com, Pappas pointed to the purpose box. “You put in your address and it will tell you if you are on the (tax) list. It will tell you if you have the wrong address.
“There are 120,000 seniors countywide, and I am one of them, who forgot to get their senior citizen exemptions,” Pappas said.
Saying they have to apply for this exemption each year, Pappas said, “There are people on this list who owe $100 who forgot to get their senior exemption. They shouldn’t be on the list. I should be giving them $500.”
Pappas said seniors “are the most vulnerable,” and she had hoped to find them before the May 4th deadline. If property owners didn’t have a computer, she asked them to call 312.443.5100, then punch in their 14-digit pin number that is on the top left hand corner on your bill.
“A voice said, ‘You owe this much” and then told the homeowner how to pay, including by credit card. To emphasize the vulnerability of senior property owners, Pappas took Ald. Howard Brookins’ (21) ward as an example. He has 4,581 seniors in his ward. “He has 602 seniors in his ward who didn’t get their exemptions but got them last year, and has 523 who got their exemptions last year on the freeze but not this year. Brookins is out knocking on the doors.” Pappas said she was looking for the 39,000 tax delinquent homeowners.
Pappas said in the middle of May she and Rev. Jackson “are going to spearhead something about this tax sale. When the home gets sold, in order to get them back after three-years, there is almost a 72 percent interest rate.” She said they are going to Springfield “and stop it.”