The Poor Get Poorer: How the pandemic is impacting Cook County’s most vulnerable communities

WGN Investigates
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The pandemic has taken a deep and painful toll on some of the area’s poorest communities.

WGN Investigates has found a total of 10 suburbs, the highest number in recent years, collected less than 80 cents for every property tax dollar owed.

Local governments use the money to pay employees and bills. So, a steep decline in tax collection has left some towns with less than what they need.

“If you’re collecting half of what you should be collecting in property taxes, the question is how do you fund the government,” Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said.

No suburb collected a lower percentage than Ford Heights, which received less than half of what it was owed. Now, Mayor Annie Coulter says that steep decline could lead to a local government shutdown.

“It decreases our funding for running the village,” Coulter said.

Ford Heights was hurting before the pandemic. Once ranked among America’s poorest towns, it struggles with an avalanche of abandoned homes and a lack of commercial investment.

What’s more, it has lost 20 percent of its population since 2000.

“It has an effect on the community as a whole,” Ford Heights Fire Chief Gregory Dillard said.

Despite the challenges, the mayor says she isn’t giving up hope.

The Pritzker Administration is reviewing proposals for a South Suburban casino. There are four bids under consideration. There’s no plan to build one in Ford Heights but the proposals call for sharing revenue across several struggling suburbs.

But with the pandemic delaying the decision on the license, all the towns can do is wait and hold on.

“If a casino comes our way, hey, it’s on,” Coulter said. “I just want the people to know – don’t give up, keep praying.”

Full list of Cook County collection rates:

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