CHICAGO — The city boasted of clearing away more than 250 vacant buildings it deemed "dangerous" this year.
“I am committed to using every tool available to fight crime and make Chicago’s streets as safe as possible for our families,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement Thursday.
“Since early July, the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Buildings worked to target vacant and hazardous properties for demolition to prevent them from serving as centers of gang and other criminal activity in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Police and the Buildings Department consulted aldermen and community groups in determining which vacant neighborhood buildings were serving as gang havens for illegal activity and would be better off demolished.
Yet some community groups charged the city was being overzealous in razing vacant buildings.
"They're dangerous only because the city makes them so," said Charles Brown, who sits on the board of the community agency Action Now representing the 16th Ward and the Englewood neighborhood. "We want to revitalize them, rent them out," he said, using local labor and with the help of the banks that typically own the properties.
Brown said the city consulted with some groups, but also sometimes just issued an order to raze the buildings.
"They tell us what they're going to do," he said. "There's no consulting at all."
A retired Chicago cop, Brown said the city was threatening to make itself look like Detroit in some areas, with blocks of empty lots.
"My house is paid for," he said. "Why should I move? I want to build my block up."
The coordinated program first targeted the Englewood, Harrison, Grand Crossing, Chicago Lawn and Ogden police districts, then expanded to Wentworth, South Chicago, Calumet, Gresham and Austin.
Overall, the city spent $14 million this year demolishing 736 buildings and boarding up 1,036 more, increases of 60 and 20 percent, respectively, over last year's figures.
The campaign to specifically target possible gang gathering places benefited from $4 million given to the Buildings Department for that purpose in July, when police were struggling to confront a rising homicide rate.