‘We’re in Danger’: How Soaring Property Taxes Threaten the Future of a Chicago Neighborhood

CHICAGO — Sticker shock is more than sticker shock for many Pilsen homeowners when they opened their property tax bills at the end of the year to find they were three times more in debt than expected.

Olga Andrade said: “I panicked as soon as the bill came out.

She and husband Jorge Saldana bought a three-flat in Pilsen in 2004 that was a fixer upper. Now they are raising her four boys there, with the oldest living in her upstairs unit.

The first installment was approximately $2,900. Their new bill made him over $8,600. That means your monthly mortgage payments are skyrocketing.

“I mean someone who can sanely say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to put another $1000 into my mortgage,’ from one day to another,” Saldana said.

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Homeowners in Pilsen saw an average 47% increase in property tax bills. Families aren’t the only ones feeling the financial whiplash.

“We are in danger,” said Juan Giron, owner of Giron Books.

Giron’s Spanish bookstore has been serving Pilsen for nearly 40 years. He imports books from Mexico and Span and sells them to independent stores nationwide and to major online retailers such as his Amazon. He guards the storefront for the neighborhood.

“We are preserving and preserving our culture and heritage,” he said.

However, the future of Giron Books is not guaranteed. Giron’s property tax bill jumped from $26,000 to $44,000 a year.

“Go ahead, get out, you can’t pay for this,” he said.

So why are costs skyrocketing for some, especially in Pilsen?

Let’s start with the big picture. Fiscal 2021 property taxes increased countywide by $614 million to $16.7 billion, according to an analysis by the Cook County Treasurer. Homeowners were responsible for paying more than half of that increase.

That’s part of the problem right there, says Cook County Councilor Fritz Kaegi. His office is responsible for estimating property values. These valuations are used to determine the percentage of tax each property owner pays.

“I think one of the biggest drivers for the community that the bill came up with is actually the review board revision,” Kaegi said.

Kaegi said his valuations should have paid homeowners less than businesses, but owners of large commercial properties who didn’t like his valuations asked county review boards. Kaegi says they got what they wanted. Their collective tax burden was he reduced by 24%. That means homeowners will have to pay more to make up for the difference.

“That’s an average of about $700 in additional taxes per household that we wouldn’t have paid otherwise,” Kaegi said.

One of those big commercial establishments is the old post office. It’s valued at $1.1 billion, according to county appraisal records. Kaegi’s office estimates its value at $800 million. But the property owner, citing the pandemic’s impact on downtown office space, argued the review board was only worth $600 million, which the board agreed, giving him a value of $630 million. valued at $10,000.

Review board member Samantha Steele said, “In my opinion and others’ opinion, this was unfair. It just shifts the tax burden onto others.”

Steele is one of the jury’s new commissioners. She took office in December, well after the old post office’s decision. And she promises changes to improve the work of the board.

“Just making sure that individual assessments are as accurate as possible is really a measure we need to consider and ensure that staff have the resources they need,” she said. Told.

Kaegi said one way he is looking to bring down the tax bill is to return the value of the 600 largest properties downtown to the value set by his office, and a new review board will decide on the appeal. I’m hoping to make a different decision and put the money back in my pocket. of homeowners.

Another factor driving up property taxes is the so-called “return clause”. A change in state tax law has enabled, for the first time, a local government to recover the amount it had to return in a previous year’s appeal. This increased his bill by more than $130 million.

George Cardenas, another new commissioner of the review board and former alderman, said the methodology used by the board will not necessarily change under new leadership.

It’s not as simple as someone saying, “It’s the judges who changed the values, so it’s their fault.” There’s a lot more complexity to it,” he said.

Pilsen is in his district.

“It’s called the hot district, and it’s one of the hottest districts in the country,” he said.

It is a factor that affects property values ​​and taxes. New homes and remodeled homes pop out on the same block where other homes are untouched.

Assessor Kaegi admitted in a meeting with neighbors that his assessment system compares apples and oranges.

“We need to get better data, especially for homes that haven’t been refurbished, so we don’t count them the same as refurbished homes,” Kaegi said.

At stake is the very place that makes Pilsen a community that many like to call home.

“This mosaic fabric … has so much thread that when threatened with high taxes, it starts to fray.

Not to mention people. Olga Andrade and her husband Jorge could be forced to separate her family if they can’t find a way to buy the home they bought nearly 20 years ago.

“Are we going to keep struggling, struggling, struggling?” Andrade said.

Photojournalists Kevin Doellman, Steve Scheuer and Joe Lynn contributed to this report. ‘We’re in Danger’: How Soaring Property Taxes Threaten the Future of a Chicago Neighborhood

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