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After federal funding, thievery hits home in Chicago Heights

The house 227 E. 16th Street Chicago Heights Thursday January 31 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

The house at 227 E. 16th Street in Chicago Heights Thursday, January 31, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Take it away

A series of crimes have taken place at vacant houses built with $3.6 million in federal money as part of a Chicago Heights housing program, according to police reports. Here are some of the highlights. There have been no arrests:

Police have responded most frequently — seven times — to 227 E. 16th St. In May 2011, a Mecca Cos. employee reported $300 to $400 worth of copper piping was stolen. The next month, about 20 feet of copper pipe and two brass valves worth a total of $1,000 were stolen.

In October 2011, three garage door panels costing about $1,000 total were dented. Three days later, police responding to a burglar alarm found an exterior electric meter had been tampered with.

A false alarm was triggered by a cleaning crew six days later. Police were called to the home again on Oct. 18, 2011, when the front door was unlocked and the key had been taken from the lock box.

The property was hit once more in October 2012, when about $2,000 worth of damage was done when copper above the floor was ripped out.

At the house next door, 30 to 40 feet of copper pipe valued at $300 to $400 was stolen in May 2011. In July that year, thieves took about $600 worth of copper wiring. Three months later, the outdoor electric meter was removed and found on the ground.

The house at 1541 Wallace St. has been vandalized twice in the past five months. In October, someone broke the glass patio door. In November, a different sliding glass door was shattered.

Police have visited the house at 1612 Center Ave. five times in a little more than 18 months. In July 2011, copper wiring was taken out of the electric meter, the northwest bedroom window was broken, the screen was missing, and copper wire was stolen out of the hot water heater.

In October 2011, the security alarm went off, and police found an electric meter damaged and lying on the ground. Burglar alarms drew police to the home again in June and August.

Front doors at the homes of 192 E. 16th St.,
186 E. 16th St., and 192 E. 16th St. were kicked in in August and October 2011. Gutters at a house at 169 E. 16th St. were damaged in
September 2011.

According to police, there have been no incidents at homes at 140 E. 16th St., 150 E. 16th St., 152 E. 16th St., 1607 Center Ave., and 1611 Center Ave.

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Updated: March 6, 2013 6:06AM



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.



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