With nothing left to lose, Ford Heights property taxpayers revolt
In Chicagoland's poorest suburb, just three miles from the Indiana border, property owners have discovered the most effective strategy yet for avoiding Illinois' highest-in-the-nation property taxes.
Facing astronomical bills on real estate that's now worthless at best, Ford Heights home and business owners have literally nothing to lose by ignoring them.
Nearly 1,000 Ford Heights property tax bills totaling $2.3 million weren't paid last year, according to an analysis of Cook County Treasurer records by South Cook News. That's in a village of just 2,763 people, 987 households and 729 residential properties.
More perspective: the village's total 2017 budget was $1.8 million.
The 996 Ford Heights properties with delinquent taxes will be up for public auction in May; willing buyers can take them off the owners' hands by making good with Cook County on what's in arrears. That none will both explains the strategy's genius, and the tragedy it reveals.
In Ford Heights, real estate equity has ceased to exist. The concept of "homeownership" has been explicitly, violently eviscerated in this community. And it's hardly the only one.
Effective Tax Rate: 48%
The 20 most expensive properties in Ford Heights in 2017 amounted to $6.6 million in alleged, collective property value and $1.07 million in property taxes due, according to Cook County.
An analysis by South Cook News found that 13 of those 20 bills have not been paid, totaling $737,630 of the $1.07 million.
The non-payers have their reasons.
They include Ford Heights' top billed property, GMI Recycling Services at 1703 Cottage Grove Ave. The county values the property at $403,356; its tax bill last year was $192,271, or 48 percent of its alleged market value.
The McCullough Funeral Home at 1619 E. Lincoln Highway, next to Illinois Route 394, is delinquent on its $72,489 bill. Its effective rate is 28.5 percent on the property, valued at $253,932.
Two of Ford Heights three liquor stores are delinquent on their property taxes, including Food & Liquor on Lincoln (bill: $54,658) and BJ Foods & Liquor ($25,378). A New Way Food & Liquor ($30,632) is current; it was the scene of a 2009 fight between a village trustee, the liquor store's clerk and Ford Heights police in 2009. The clerk had refused to sell the trustee more alcohol.
The former Ford Heights tire incinerator property ($28,899), owned by New York-based Geneva Energy, is delinquent. Environmental activists finally shut down the plant in 2011, claiming the electricity it generated burning tires wasn't "clean" enough.
Other non-payers include an empty lot with a vacant garage surrounded by rusted-out cars at 1317 E. Lincoln Highway. The county claims it is worth $418,208 and billed its owner, 93 year-old Ford Heights deacon Andrew Nelson, $106,475 in property taxes last year.
Another empty lot four blocks west at 920 E. Lincoln Highway, this one owned by the Village of Ford Heights, isn't zoned as vacant but, rather, as having a two to six unit apartment building, according to the county assessor. Maybe that's why it is valued at $459,660 and has a property tax bill of $46,812, also unpaid.
The same goes for a dilapidated walk-up apartment unit at 1116 E. Lincoln Highway. It looks vacant, but is valued at $345,530 with a tax bill of $35,189 for its owner, 78 year-old Patricia Roberts of Ford Heights. She isn't paying, either.
So who is?
Family Dollar ($25,169) is current on its taxes, according to Cook County. Its Ford Heights store is the only retailer in town that doesn't sell liquor.
And the Atlantis Gentleman's Club ($99,062) is also paying on time. Billed as the Chicago area's top strip club, it has the fourth-highest tax bill in town-- after the garbage dump, empty lot, and a Citgo gas station.
Ford Heights' Top 20 Property Taxpayers. Or Avoiders.
Only seven of Ford Heights highest-taxed properties paid their bills last year.
|Property Name||Annual Bill||County Value||ETR||Status|
|1||GMI Recycling Services||$192,271||$403,356||47.7%||Delinquent|
|Address||1703 Cottage Grove Ave.|
|Property Owner||GMI Recycling Services||Crown Point, IN|
|Company provides garbage service to nearby communities, not Ford Heights.|
|2||1317 E. Lincoln Hwy Garage||$106,475||$418,208||25.5%||Delinquent|
|Address||1317 E. Lincoln Hwy|
|Property Owner||Andrew Nelson||Ford Heights|
|2.4 empty acres with rusted cars and a building that used to be a service station, but is not operational.|
|3||Citgo Ford Heights||$103,198||$883,400||11.7%||Delinquent|
|Address||2393 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Gurmeet Singh Bhola||Lincolnwood|
|The only gas station in Ford Heights is in an industrial area away from its residential areas.|
|4||Atlantis Strip Club||$99,062||$725,228||13.7%||Paid in full|
|Address||1897 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Atlantis||Ford Heights|
|According to state filings, Atlantis' corporate officers are Ari Pomerantz & Dianna Dobrilla of Elmhurst.|
|5||Baker Corp.||$90,200||$660,344||13.7%||Paid in Full|
|Address||2205 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Tuffi Family Foundation||Torrance, CA|
|Seal Beach, CA-based Baker Corp. is "a market leader in tank, pump, filtration and shoring equipment rentals." Ford Heights is one of its 46 U.S. locations and the only one in Chicagoland.|
|6||McCullough Funeral Home||$72,489||$253,932||28.5%||Delinquent|
|Address||1619 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Sir George D. Washington||Olympia Fields|
|One of two locations owned by McCullough. Taxes have been delinquent since 2015.|
|7||Food & Liquor on Lincoln||$54,658||$247,826||22.1%||Delinquent|
|Address||926 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Munther F. Haddad||Orland Park|
|One of three liquor stores in Ford Heights.|
|8||920 E. Lincoln Empty Lot||$46,812||$459,660||10.2%||Delinquent|
|Address||920 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Village of Ford Heights|
|This half-acre empty lot hasn't had an actual owner since 2003, according the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. The Cook County Assessor describes the property as having a two to six unit apartment building-- it doesn't.|
|9||1116 E. Lincoln Highway Apts||$35,189||$345,530||10.2%||Delinquent|
|Address||1116 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Pat Roberts||Ford Heights|
|Dilapidated walk up apartment building on Ford Heights' main drag looks vacant, but it's valued at $345K, still; owned by a Loop-based trust.|
|10||1400 E. Lincoln Highway Apts||$34,802||$341,730||10.2%||Paid in Full|
|Address||1400 E. Lincoln Highway|
|Property Owner||CTLTC C 602421||Chicago|
|This apartment complex has 24 units and 22 adult residents, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.|
|11||A New Way Food & Liquor||$30,632||$177,192||17.3%||Paid in Full|
|Address||1311 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Husam Daklas||Oak Lawn|
|Liquor store was the scene of a fight in '09 between a village trustee, his sons and a police officer.|
|Address||1705 Cottage Grove Ave.|
|Property Owner||Geneva Energy LLC|
|The Ford Heights Incinerator closed in 2011. Geneva Energy of New York bought the property.|
|13||Clarke's Garden Center||$26,606||$243,240||10.9%||Paid in Full|
|Address||2061 E. Lincoln Hwy|
|Property Owner||Clarke's Garden Center|
|Nursery business on the far eastern outskirt of town; has been in business since the 1980's.|
|14||BJ Foods & Liquor||$25,378||$149,524||17.0%||Delinquent|
|Address||1311 E. Lincoln Hwy|
|Property Owner||Yasmin Singh||Hawthorn Woods|
|This property saw its county's valuation rise 54 percent from 2017 to 2018, to $149,524 from $99,680|
|15||Family Dollar||$25,169||$98,856||25.5%||Paid in Full|
|Address||803 E. Lincoln Hwy|
|Property Owner||Family Dollar|
|The only retail store in town that doesn't sell liquor.|
|16||1400 E. 13th Pl. Storefront||$22,913||$89,996||25.5%||Delinquent|
|Address||1400 E. 13th Pl|
|Property Owner||James Williams||Park Forest|
|An empty storefront across the street from an elementary school.|
|17||Lincoln Hwy Strip Mall||$21,962||$152,888||14.4%||Paid in Full|
|Address||801 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Richard A. Barr||Winnetka|
|Includes a Shark's Fish, Currency Exchange and a beauty salon.|
|Address||1450 Drexel Ave.|
|Property Owner||Drone McGee||Chicago Heights|
|Property across from school is zoned commercial, but has no evidence of ever having been used.|
|19||Former Clark Gas Station||$17,774||$69,812||25.5%||Delinquent|
|Address||1117 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Village of Ford Heights|
|Abed S. Nesheiwat of Schaumburg still receives the tax bills for this property. But according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, he hasn't owned it since 1985. Neshiewat died seven years ago. The village has owned it since 1993, taking it over from the Clark Gas Station here that closed.|
|20||Ford Heights Hope Center||$11,302||$189,840||6.0%||Delinquent|
|Address||1001 E. Lincoln Hwy.|
|Property Owner||Ford Heights Hope Center|
|Taxes are delinquent for previous years too.|
Sources: Cook County Assessor, Cook County Treasurer, Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Blockshopper.com