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300th Vacant Building Torn Down Wednesday Under City Crackdown

By Geoff Ziezulewicz | February 27, 2013 1:42pm

ROSELAND — Claude Young saw trouble set up shop at the abandoned house across from his home in the 10200 block of South Lowe Avenue.

There was shady traffic coming in and out at all hours, he said, and gang members were breeding pit bulls there.

About four months ago, after the dogs were seized by authorities, the gangbangers returned and set fire to the house on this quiet residential street, Young said.

It has sat that way ever since.

“There was a lot of squatting and gang activity,” the 53-year-old independent contractor said. “It was a real problem.”

But on Wednesday, the vacant house became the latest casualty in Chicago’s battle against the blight of 16,000 abandoned buildings.

It was the 300th abandoned building to be demolished under a joint police-buildings department initiative started last year.

Abandoned buildings are havens for gangs, squatters and criminals, Police First Deputy Supt. Al Wysinger said a few blocks away at Fernwood Park.

“Vacant buildings are an element that facilitate gang problems,” Wysinger said.

And squatters were responsible for a house fire in an abandoned building in Auburn Gresham that injured two firefighters, he said.

Knocking down these buildings is a way forward for Chicago, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said.

“This will be just a step in the right direction in order to bring our communities back,” she said.

The city decides which buildings are demolition-worthy by consulting police statistics and community leaders, Wysinger said.

Orders of demolition are filed by the city and take 12 to 18 months to process, according to Marlene Hopkins, managing deputy commissioner of the buildings department.

The buildings cost about $20,000 to knock down, and the city sues the owner to seize the property to pay off that debt, a city hall spokesman said.

Officials did not have statistics available regarding how many property owners have fought the demolition orders. And they did not know what has been done with the lots where the other buildings have been torn down.

The city looks to sell the lots to developers if they have a solid development plan, city officials said,but community leaders here said Wednesday they are exploring options for community gardens, playgrounds and other public uses.

Back on South Lowe, two other boarded-up houses flank the one torn down Wednesday across from Young’s home. He said he would like to see them go too.

“Knock all these abandoned-ass buildings down,” he said. “The squatters are coming.”