After federal funding, thievery hits home in Chicago Heights
This probably isn’t what the federal government had in mind when it provided $3.6 million to fund one prong of a Chicago Heights housing program.
New homes on the city’s east side are attracting few buyers, but the properties have been hot spots for thieves and vandals, records show.
Police have visited homes on Wallace Avenue, Center Avenue and 16th Street more than 30 times since May 2011.
Sometimes, it’s just a tripped burglar alarm that draws them. Sometimes police find broken-down doors. Bandits have stolen thousands of dollars worth of copper wire and tubing out of the houses, and even electric meters.
Of the 15 homes built as part of the program, only two have been sold. That’s like an invitation to steal, experts say.
“Anytime you have homes that are not occupied, they become a target because there’s nobody there,” said Chicago-based Realtor Lisa Thompson, one of the agents selling the homes. “Whether you’ve got a house in Chicago Heights or Park Ridge, it’s the same concerns developers have when it comes to vacant homes.”
The two homes sold through the federally funded program went for $85,000 and $86,000. They are part of a multimillion-dollar effort to restore and rebuild the city’s housing stock that was rocked by the economic crash.
Median home sale prices in the city of about 30,000 have fallen nearly 40 percent from 2008 through September 2012 — from nearly $150,000 to $95,000, according to realty website Zillow.com. But there are some signs of a recovery. The Main Street Organization of Realtors reported in January that home sales in the city spiked in December, with 26 homes sold, up from nine in December 2011.
Realtor David Huerta, of Lansing-based Calumet Region Real Estate, hopes the vacant houses are the next to go. Two are under contract, he said.
Huerta said all of the houses, which sell from $79,000 to $90,000, have been shown to potential buyers about five times.
Half the homes are single-story houses and half are two-story homes. Each has three bedrooms, new appliances and built-in security systems.
Grant-based financing is available for buyers who qualify.
Huerta said the vandalism and theft are products of “kids who were kind of bored and have nothing to do.”
Ald. Wanda Rogers (3rd) said break-ins occur “all over, not just in my ward.”
She said knowing ahead of time that such crimes could occur was not a deterrent for the program.
“When we started thinking about the possibility of it happening, you prepare yourself for that,” Rogers said. “You can’t let that stop you.”
Chicago Heights police did not return several phone messages Monday.
Homewood-based Mecca Cos. was hired in 2010 to build the low-cost homes as part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program created through the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Most of the homes are owned by the city of Chicago Heights.