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U.S. Bank neglects foreclosures in suburban minority areas: complaint

Administered by non-profit Affordable Housing CorporatiLake County funded part by Illinois Attorney General’s office Mortgage Foreclosure MediatiProgram was launched late

Administered by the non-profit Affordable Housing Corporation of Lake County and funded in part by the Illinois Attorney General’s office, the Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program was launched late last year. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:26AM

Fair-housing activists on Tuesday accused U.S. Bank of failing to maintain foreclosed homes in predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhoods in six Chicago suburbs, creating dangerous conditions and hurting property values.

The neighborhoods are Country Club Hills, Dolton, Evanston, Hazel Crest, Matteson and Waukegan.

The suburbs join five other local suburbs and Chicago’s South Side that were included in an original April 17, 2012 complaint claiming the bank maintained and marketed foreclosed homes far better in white neighborhoods than in minority neighborhoods. The non-profit National Fair Housing Alliance filed the administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging the bank discriminated in its actions and seeking proper upkeep of poorly maintained properties in 24 cities in 11 metropolitan areas nationwide.

Already part of the complaint are Aurora, Bellwood, Chicago, Cicero, Maywood and Rockford.

A spokesman for the Minneapolis-based bank disputed the accusations and said many are inaccurate. The bank is a trustee in the cases and therefore has “no legal ability to service or maintain these properties,” said bank spokesman Tom Joyce.

The fair-housing advocates counter that the bank owns the properties and can be held responsible for them.

The activists showed photos during a press conference of well-manicured houses in white neighborhoods juxtaposed with homes in communities of color with rotting gutters, siding damage, trash pileups, overgrown shrubbery, balding front yards, boarded-up doors and windows and back-porch steps with no railings.

The homes in white neighborhoods showed easy-to-see “for sale” signs, while the minority-community homes had no signs or signs saying they were dangerous or uninhabitable, according to the complaint.

In many of the minority communities, the neighbors had pristine lawns and homes, yet the eyesores had pummeled the property values of the inhabited homes, the activists said.

The bank sold a ranch-style house on Hastings Drive in Dolton in September for $14,000, even though the average market value of the homes on that street is $80,000, according to data analyzed on real estate listing website Zillow, said John Petruszak, executive director of the South Suburban Housing Center in Homewood and a board member of the housing alliance.

Other Chicago-area agencies involved in the property inspections, which took place from this past spring until as recently as last week, were HOPE Fair Housing Center in West Chicago and Open Communities in Winnetka.

The mostly white communities in the Chicago-area inspections were Frankfort, Mokena, Naperville and Skokie.

The fair-housing advocates said the villages, towns and cities where the foreclosed properties are located are not to blame for poor upkeep because they have no power over the bank.

The advocates said they would ask elected officials in the suburbs with the most egregious cases to join the complaint against U.S. Bank. Officials in Evanston, Dolton and Matteson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A HUD spokesman could not be reached due to the federal government shutdown. A spokeswoman for the city of Evanston said she didn’t have enough information about the complaint to comment.

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