Phil Kadner, columnist for the SouthTown Star
It’s an area south of Chicago one state legislator recently called “Forgottonia.”
East of I-57 and stretching south to the Indiana border it includes some of the poorest communities in the state.
No one pays much attention to the region until there’s a crime, political corruption or oddity that provokes a public “tsk, tsk.”
In recent weeks, Robbins, a suburb of about 5,000 people with an average family income of around $25,000 a year, was in the news media spotlight.
It was revealed that village leaders had agreed to turn over 20 to 30 percent of all the land in the suburb through eminent domain to a private developer to build a limestone quarry, concrete mixing facility, asphalt plant and, eventually, dig an underground mine 600 feet beneath existing homes.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) held a news conference to denounce the village’s pact with the developer as “dirty, dirty rotten deal.”
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has since announced his inspector general has launched an inquiry into the development agreement.
Robbins is one of many minority communities in the south suburbs that have been struggling for decades to attract jobs, generate tax revenue and find enough money to pay police officers $10 an hour.
Long before the Great Recession, unemployment in many of these suburbs was in the double digits.
In Ford Heights, near the Indiana border, when people turned on the water taps in their kitchens mud came out...for more than a decade.
The suburb had no money to fix broken water pipes.
In Dolton, when a new administration took over this spring, the mayor announced the suburb might have to file for bankruptcy.
The gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods has sent low-income blacks to the south suburbs in search of affordable housing.
Many of the people who once lived in Chicago’s public housing high rises have relocated to the south suburbs as well.
Yet, the influx of more poor people has not been accompanied by additional government resources.
State and Cook County tax policies, in fact, have had a greater impact on “Forgotonnia” than perhaps any other geographic area.
Property tax rates on homes there are the highest in the state.
Businesses struggling to get by have shut their doors, many relocating a few miles away, across the border in northwest Indiana, where both sales and property taxes are lower.
Economic development in these southern suburbs doesn’t mean high-rise office buildings or high-tech industrial complexes, it means intermodal transfer stations, warehouses, garbage incinerators, and yes, a rock quarry.
Many of these communities are so short on money they often can’t come up with matching funds to obtain state and federal grants to rebuild roads, bridges and maintain their infrastructure.
The problem Robbins faces is that if this development deal goes away it will be forgotten once again.
No jobs, no money, no future.
It’s what people have gotten used to in Forgottonia.