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Vandals keep targeting vacant home in Englewood, but tax assessment stays same and county ends up selling house

CHICAGO (CBS) — We have heard many times about vacant homes ending up being sold at tax or scavenger sales.

Often, people have just walked away from such properties, but is not always the case. In fact, CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov found one woman who did everything she could to keep her family’s house – but lost it anyway.

Barbara Watson still can’t believe what vandals did to a house in Englewood that she has owned for almost 20 years.

“They removed the aluminum siding,” Watson said. “They busted the walls; took the copper pipes out.”

It was Watson’s mother’s house – the realization of her American dream in 1980.

“She was so happy to finally have something that she owned, because she had rented for years,” Watson said.

After Watson’s mother died in 2003, Watson herself took ownership of the house. Her disabled brother lived there for a while, but then no one did – while Watson scraped money together to try to fix it up.

“So I was just trying to hold onto it over the years – paying the mortgage, paying taxes, doing upkeep, doing repairs,” she said.

“I saw her firsthand putting the stuff in there – the new appliances, the piping, all these things, the water heater, furnace – and people keep coming in and stealing things,” said Watson’s daughter, Andrea.

Watson pointed out that everything was stolen from the kitchen—the cabinets, the sinks, the refrigerator, the stove.

“It’s like every time she gets close to improving her situation, something else happens,” her daughter added.

It was a vicious cycle—all the while draining Watson’s bank account. She fell behind on her property taxes, and she says she went to the Cook County treasurer and assessor, her alderman, and community groups looking for help.

“I’m not asking for a handout,” Watson said. “I’m asking for loans.”

One fight involved her property tax assessment. It stayed the same, even after she told the county assessor her house had been repeatedly vandalized.

But in February, the house her mother cherished was sold at the Cook County Treasurer’s scavenger sale – for $1,200. A spokesperson for the Treasurer said Watson will need to pay more than $68,000 in unpaid taxes to get it back – with interest.

“If I could do something to help bring this house back to what it used to be like, I would like to do that,” Watson said. “If I could do something to help the community, I would like to do that.”

“When you look at the African American community, not a lot of us have property. We don’t have things like that to pass down to our children,” her daughter Andrea added. “So I respect my mom, and I love my mom, and I admire my mom that she’s thinking ahead.”

But Watson, 61, doesn’t know if she’ll be able to get that money to reclaim the house. But she’s going to try.

“You need to stop making this process so hard for those who are making minimum wage, but they’re still trying to keep their homes. They’re trying to maintain those homes,” Andrea added. “So I think much more needs to be done there.”

Since we began making calls, we have learned the Cook County Assessor lowered Watson’s assessment and issued certificates of error for her 2017 to 2020 property taxes.

This means she will get a refund from the county treasurer for more than $3,000.

Current law only allows corrections for the last four tax years.

Dana Kozlov

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