Chicago, IL

Homeownership race gap steady

August 20, 2001
Kevin Stewart was paying too much for too little.
     Four years after leaving his former career as a military police officer ''with nothing, no money at all,'' Stewart moved his wife and three children out of a cramped and drafty apartment into a refurbished five-bedroom house near his boyhood home in Springfield.
     ''The rent we were paying was ridiculously high. We're paying $200 less a month now--and we own it,'' said Stewart, who built a new career as a Web page designer and computer technician.
     More Illinoisans are realizing the American dream, with the percentage of families owning their homes rising from 64 percent to 67 percent in the last decade, according to Census 2000. But for many black families, the dream remains a longer reach.

Safety concerns for Chicago league

August 02, 2001
Officials have reached a tentative agreement that could bring an end to the long wrangle over admitting a predominantly black school into a mostly white athletic league.
     St. Sabina Elementary School pulled out of the Southside Catholic Conference after some members said they planned to forfeit games played at the school because of safety concerns.
     Jim Lago, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, declined to release specifics Wednesday night but said the plan would deal with the possibility of racial taunts and of teams forfeiting games rather than traveling to St. Sabina.

Anti-Semitic bias cited at Minnesota college

July 20, 2001
A Minnesota Jewish public affairs group that studied allegations of anti-Semitism at St. Cloud State University has reported that "a consistent and prevailing sense of discrimination" against Jewish faculty, staff and students exists on campus and that the university administration seems unwilling or unable to deal with it.
     The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which was contracted by St. Cloud State to study allegations of anti-Semitism, reported a "nearly universal perception" on campus that due process in dealing with such grievances has been "hopelessly compromised" and is unresponsive and even hostile.
     The council's 14-page report said many Jewish respondents to a survey it conducted on campus "feel threatened, ill at ease and in some instances unsafe." The group said that even in the face of widespread media attention as it conducted its study, St. Cloud State administrators appeared to be "passive about new allegations of misconduct or mistreatment." 

Judge: Couple's black son triggers housing bias

January 16, 2001
After a Palos Hills landlord refused to rent a home to a white couple with a 6-year-old black adopted son, the boy blamed himself and even tried to set himself on fire, thinking he could "turn himself white."
      Those were the findings of an administrative law judge who awarded Darlene and Ronald Wooton nearly $64,000 in damages--most of it for emotional distress--in a housing discrimination case announced Monday.
      The Wootons contended Cecil Timmons had promised them the home, but reneged on the deal after their son showed up at the April 19, 1998, signing. At that point, the Wootens said, Cecil Timmons' mouth dropped.
      Cecil Timmons told the couple he had not yet obtained a lease form, then claimed he had one but had not filled it out yet, administrative law judge William C. Cregar found. Finally, Timmons said he had to get his wife upstairs, and returned to say his wife had already rented the property to their daughter's friend.
      Afterward, testimony indicated, the 6-year-old questioned his parents about whether he was the reason they didn't get the house.

Advocates laud Ill. governor's predatory lending bill

December 14, 2000
On the heels of GovernorRyan's announcement of comprehensive regulations to thwart the  impact of predatory lending practices, community leaders,affordable housing activists and consumer advocates hailed the governor's actions andurged the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to lend their full support to the governor's proposed regulations. 
     "Homeowners and neighborhoods in every community in Illinois face a clear and present danger from predatory lenders, who today are able to roam the state at will," said JamesCapraro, alongtime neighborhood activist. Capraro also serves as Co-Chair of the Southwest OrganizingProject (SWOP) and Executive Director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation. "We urge thelegislators who form the JCAR to provide swift approval of the governor's proposals so we may end this scourge on ourcommunities." 
     Governor Ryan's proposals, which were made public on Thursday, cover a broad range of practices associated with predatory lending. The proposals would call for the examination of everyso-called 'high risk' loan, requiring lenders to verify the borrower's ability to repay the loan.They would prohibit abusive practices, including flipping, use of high-pressure salestactics, direct payment to contractors and the sale of single premium credit insurance. The proposals would also set limits onballoon payments and the financing of points and fees. 

Fannie Mae starts program for victims of bad loans

November 09, 2000
Sandra Contreras paid off her SouthSide home seven years ago, but her house needed some work. She borrowed $40,000 in 1995 from a local loan company tofix her roof and make other repairs, but soon found the $700-plus monthly paymenttoo much.
     Two refinancings later, she wasn't any better off. In each case, the60-year-old retired factory worker found out that her loan payment was only temporarilylowered and wound up both times with payments of more than $700 a month, too much for her $1,300 monthly income fromSocial Security and her pension. 
     The final blow came last year, when she was served with foreclosurepapers. She then owed $60,000 in principal and interest on a home that she at one point hadpaid off, and now she was going to lose it. 
     "I was just going crazy," Contreras said. "I didn't know where toturn. I wanted to kill myself." 
     Too many stories like this prompted Fannie Mae, the largest buyer ofmortgages in the country, to step in and launch a first-time test program in Chicago that will helpvictims of predatory lending.
     Fannie Mae, which owns about one of every five U.S. mortgages,today will announce a $5 million plan that helps Chicago homeowners save their homes fromforeclosure, restructure their loans and preserve the equity built up in their homes. Ifthe pilot program works, Fannie Mae could offer the program in other parts of thecountry. 

Chicago loses disability rights champion

November 07, 2000
After a spinal hemorrhage put himinto a wheelchair at age 22, Larry Gorski kept a quotation on his desk: "If you don't like something, don't sit on the outside and b- - --. Go in and change it."
     And he did, in a life filled with accomplishments that includedfoundin  the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities 10 years ago and directing it ever since.
     With his death Monday, Chicago lost its toughest fighter on behalf ofequal opportunity for people with disabilities.
      Mr. Gorski, 53, experienced trouble breathing Monday morning anddied in the ambulance on the way to Resurrection Medical Center.
     His death rocked the disabled community. As word spread, thephone rang constantly at his office with people expressing their grief.
     Under his leadership, Chicago laid claim to the title of the mostaccessible city in the nation, boasting 250,000 curb cuts on sidewalks, a help not only to people inwheelchairs and on crutches, but also to mothers with strollers, people wheelingluggage or grocery carts and anyone with stiff knees.
     As he told the City Council's budget committee October 24, in its10-year history his office helped level the playing field for the disabled by making accessibility part ofthe building permit process, starting a pilot project of rehab work to help peoplestay in their homes when they become disabled, providing job training and counseling, supportingdesignated street parking spots for the disabled, helping ensure major tourist attractions are accessible, launching the AccessChicagoexposition of products and services and making sure the 1996 Democratic NationalConvention here was physically accessible to all. 

Opposition to Indian mascots grows

November 06, 2000
A school board in suburban Chicagovotes to do away with "Indians" as a nickname for a high school. At the University of Illinois,American Indians and others are trying to force the school to retire its mascot ChiefIlliniwek.
     Activists say these events are part of a resurgence to eliminatepotentially offensive Indian nicknames as schools become more conscious about racism and face increased scrutiny about their mascotnames. 
     "The pace is really picking up," said Cyd Crue, president of theIllinois chapter of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media. "We're seeing more educators around the country, in middleschools and high schools and at universities, concerned about the racial climate inschools (and) are dropping these symbols." 
     The movement started making headlines in the 1970s, when theUniversity of Oklahoma rid itself of an Indian character named "Little Red" and Stanford abandoned the "Indians" as its team name. 

HUD to pay homeowners cheated on mortgages

November 06, 2000
The federal government has agreedto make payments to more than 100 West Side families who lost their homes after securing loans through a company accused ofquestionable mortgage practices.
     Most of the affected homeowners live in South Austin and receivedfederally insured loans through the Easy Life real estate agency. Easy Life is named in a class-actionsuit brought by residents and the South Austin Coalition Community Council, who accuse the firm of inflatinghome values along with other "misleading schemes." The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in the spring.
      The agreement, which is unrelated to the lawsuit, was reached aftertalks with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Training andInformation Center and the South Austin Coalition Community Council. It states thatHUD will pay Easy Life homeowners one-time payments of $2,000.
     The payment is not full compensation for the losses, but meant toprovide rental assistance, HUD officials said in written statements.  While HUD claims no legal responsibility to borrowers with FHA loans,officials say the agency is "recognizing a moral and social responsibility and is acting aggressivelyto try to repair damage that has been caused." 

Some apartments using drug tests for screening

November 04, 2000
The way Charles Poole remembersit, the Bryn Mawr apartments used to be a full-service building--if the services you were looking for involved drugs and prostitutes.
     Outside its doors was what amounted to an open-air drug store. And inside, right behind the front desk, one woman ran her own little side business, finding customers dope and hookers.
     These days Poole, 79, says he sees none of that. And a big reason, he says, is the test for illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana that everybody, from teenagers right up to a white-haired retired accountant who needs a cane to get around, must pass before they're allowed to move into the building and keep passing once a year to stay.
     "To me, it's that much more of a guarantee that we do have a drug-free building," he said of the drug testing implemented more than a year ago by Holston Management Corp. after it bought and rehabilitated his building and two others. "I think it's great."
     For its part, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which enforces the Fair Housing Act, said such a policy is legal as long as it is enforced in an evenhanded manner.
     But Avery Friedman, a fair-housing attorney in Cleveland, thinks the rule is legally suspect. "It's illegal to deny housing because of a handicap," he said. "Chemical dependency is a handicap."
     And F. Willis Caruso Sr., a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago who also runs the school's fair-housing clinic, sees another problem.
     "There are people with asthma and other disabilities who may be using controlled substances and it's perfectly legal," he said. "There is substantial risk of excluding somebody [from renting an apartment] with a disability." 

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