Mayor Emanuel to solve foreclosure crisis! (Or maybe just do a little something to help a few people, which is cool too)

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Every evening the mayor’s press office sends out an e-mail announcing the mayor’s public schedule for the following day. The description of each event usually promises a dramatic new development that you won’t want to miss—while actually saying nothing about what’s going to happen.

Last night’s e-mail once again forecast something big for today:

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel will make an announcement about a new initiative that will help revitalize neighborhoods across Chicago.”

And it turned out to be: not quite all that.

The announcement this morning was important if considerably more modest: a new program to rehab some of the thousands of foreclosed properties in Chicago over the next two or three years.

“The Micro-Market Recovery Program will stabilize and sustain local property values on a community level,” Emanuel said outside a rehabbed brick bungalow in Auburn-Gresham.

Specifically, the plan involves using up to $50 million in private and public funds, forming teams of community groups and business leaders, and rehabbing 2,500 foreclosed units of housing by 2014.

The stakes are high—empty and blighted properties become crime magnets and, potentially, lead to the feeling that the neighborhood is in decline, which can rapidly accelerate into deeper decline.

“When a property forecloses, every other house on the block immediately loses $7,000 in value,” the mayor said.

But Emanuel’s plan is much less encompassing than first described.

For starters, not all of the money he wants to spend has been rounded up from private sources. Also, it will only be applied in portions of Auburn-Gresham and eight other neighborhoods—Humboldt Park, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, Woodlawn, West Pullman, Belmont-Cragin, Englewood, and Grand Boulevard—because there aren’t enough resources to implement it citywide.

Most importantly, the program will only address a fraction of the properties that have been foreclosed across Chicago in recent years. City officials say at least 10,000 buildings are vacant here, but many others believe the number is far higher, since there have been more than 80,000 foreclosure filings since 2006.

Nor is this the first effort by the city and federal governments to cope with foreclosures—a complicated national crisis that developed here after years of predatory lending in black and Latino neighborhoods. In 2009 the city received $55 million through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to focus on foreclosed properties in some of the same neighborhoods. In 2010 the feds sent another $98 million.

Yet 2010 was the worst year yet. Here are the citywide filing numbers year by year, according to the nonprofit Woodstock Institute:

2006: 10,268
2007: 13,872
2008: 20,592
2009: 22,685
2010: 23,364

To his credit, at the press conference this morning, Mayor Emanuel acknowledged that even if the new program proves successful in the areas where it’s focused, it can’t possibly end the foreclosure problem in Chicago.

“We don’t have the resources yet to deal with this problem all over the city,” the mayor said.

In other words, if it works, the program will help stabilize a few blocks in a handful of communities.

Yet minutes later, his press office sent out a news release with the headline, “MAYOR EMANUEL LAUNCHES COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAM TO COMBAT FORECLOSURE CRISIS IN CITY’S NEIGHBORHOODS.”

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