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Let renters stay in foreclosed buildings to prevent crime, activists say

'Keep Chicago Renting'  ordinance rally outside an abandoned South Austapartment building Tuesday April 30 2013. | Stefano Esposito~Sun-Times Media

"Keep Chicago Renting" ordinance rally outside an abandoned South Austin apartment building Tuesday, April 30, 2013. | Stefano Esposito~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:19AM

With a boarded-up rental building scheduled for demolition behind them, about two dozen community activists gathered in the South Austin neighborhood Tuesday to urge passage of a city ordinance aimed at keeping renters in foreclosed buildings.

“We cannot sit idly by as vacant properties serve as havens for gangs and rapists,” said Patricia Fron, a member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing. “Vacant properties weaken the fabric of communities and signal to outsiders that a community is ambivalent to crime.”

The committee released a study Tuesday, one day before the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate is set for a hearing on the ordinance, linking the city’s growing number of abandoned foreclosed homes and lots with a spike in crime. Among other things, the lawyers’ study found that the number of crimes that occurred on abandoned lots and in vacant homes in 2012 has tripled since 2005.

“Because there are more vacant buildings today than in years past due to the foreclosure crisis, this trend is not surprising,” Fron said. “Vacant properties invite and allow for the concealment of crime.”

The activists blame banks that buy up properties at auction and then quickly displace renters, leaving properties vacant for months, sometimes years.

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