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Vandals continue to target vacant home in Englewood, but tax assessment stays the same and the county ends up selling the house

CHICAGO (CBS) — We’ve heard many times about vacant homes that end up being tax-sold or treasure-sold.

Often people have just left these properties, but this is not always the case. In fact, CBS 2 political investigator Dana Kozlov found a woman who did everything she could to keep her family’s home — but lost it anyway.

Barbara Watson still can’t believe what vandals did to a home in Englewood she’s owned for nearly 20 years.

“They took the aluminum liner off,” Watson said. “They broke down the walls, removed the copper pipes.”

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

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

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

“So I was just trying to stick with it over the years — paying the mortgage, paying the taxes, doing the maintenance, doing the repairs,” she said.

“I’ve seen her firsthand put things in there — the new appliances, the plumbing, all those things, the water heater, the furnace — and people keep coming in and stealing things,” said said Watson’s daughter, Andrea.

Watson pointed out that everything was stolen from the kitchen – cabinets, sinks, fridge, stove.

“It’s like every time she’s about to improve, something else happens,” her daughter added.

It was a vicious cycle – while emptying Watson’s bank account. She has fallen behind on her property taxes and she says she has approached the Cook County Treasurer and Assessor, her councilman and community groups seeking help.

“I’m not asking for handouts,” Watson said. “I ask for loans.”

One fight was over his property tax assessment. He remained the same, even after telling the county assessor that his home had been repeatedly vandalized.

But in February, the home her mother treasured was sold at the Cook County Treasurer’s Treasure Sale – for $1,200. A spokesperson for the treasurer said Watson will have to pay more than $68,000 in unpaid taxes to get it back — with interest.

“If there was anything I could do to help bring this house back to what it was, I would love to do it,” Watson said. “If I could do something to help the community, I would love to do it.”

“When you look at the African-American community, not many of us have assets. We don’t have things like that to pass on to our children,” her daughter Andrea added. “So I respect my mother, and I love my mother, and I admire my mother who thinks about the future.”

But Watson, 61, is unsure if she will be able to get that money to get the house back. But she will try.

“You have to stop making this process so difficult for those earning minimum wage, but they’re still trying to keep their homes. They’re trying to keep those homes going,” Andrea added. “So I think a lot more needs to be done there.”

Since we started making calls, we learned that the Cook County assessor had lowered Watson’s assessment and issued certificates of error for his property taxes from 2017 to 2020.

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.


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