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Black Houses Matter: Unique property tax program provides money to homeowners during pandemic

Black Housing Matters
Posted at 4:25 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 16:25:54-05

More than three inches of snow cover the sidewalks of this residential community in the West Englewood neighborhood. This might sound like an obstacle for Clarence Diming who is blind, but the walkway and sidewalk outside his house are clean. One of his neighbors took it upon himself to clean the area for this retired worker.

“My philosophy is do onto others as you would like them to do to you,” said Clarence Diming. “One of the things that are important is to take care of where you live.”

This adds some relief to this senior citizen during a time when the pandemic has made life difficult for millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their bills, rent, or mortgage.

This retired worker lives check to check, but recently, he received another helping hand.

Maria Pappas is good with numbers and serves as the Cook County treasurer. The city of Chicago is one of its municipalities.

“The essence of this is, in a depressing and demoralizing time in human history, is to be able to do something for someone,” said Pappas. “The African American community, in this respect, is disenfranchised.”

She is using her skills to bring relief to struggling property owners through a program she called Black Houses Matter.

“In March, everyone called me and said, ‘You have to come to the streets and march with us and we are going to do Black Lives Matter.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. I'm doing something that I can put my teeth into and has a concrete solution.’ Out of that arose black Houses Matter.”

Her goal is to help property owners, in Black and brown communities, receive unclaimed property tax refunds.

The initiative helps the owners avoid losing their property if they have a property tax delinquency by applying for millions of dollars available in refunds for either overpayment for the last 20 years or missing property-tax exceptions for the last four years.

Usually, if a homeowner missed an exemption to save them money, no one from the county was there to point it out. Under the program, the treasurer’s office now seeks out homeowners who it thinks might have an exemption they didn’t file. The program gives two additional months to pay property taxes that are delinquent and headed to delinquency tax sale.