Tag Archives: beat meetings

Speed bumps or TCD’s

We got speed bumps, or TCD’s (Testosterone Control Devices) as Cathy calls them.

Our street has a school and daycare center at the west end. Beyond that is Douglas Park.  Just to the north is a Catholic church and school.  To assure the safety of the kids, young and older, our street was turned into a cul-de-sac some time ago.  That may have helped with calming traffic down. But we still get the regular explosions of hormone releases that translate into unsafe speed on a hundred yard stretch, along with the unnecessary waste of gasoline.

We have a lot of kids on the block, during school and after school. The mindlessness of burning rubber made us nervous – until yesterday, when it all came to an end. CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) showed up and installed two TCD’s on our block. One right in front of our house – horray!

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One of our neighbors, a woman who has a small son, has been leaning on our Alderwoman for a while. Thanks to her persistence and vocal skills in the CAPS meetings, our wish for speed bumps was granted. And they totally work! We get a kick out of watching the wanna-be race cars carefully crawling over the new bumps.

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Who will finance a foreclosure purchase?

We kept monitoring a number of foreclosures we earmarked – and witnessed the price tumble over time. I distinctly remember a beautiful large, sturdy, gray stone six flat, gutted on the inside, listed for $140,000. Imaging, that is $23,350 per unit! Very tempting, but too large of a building for us – we are first time buyers after all. The last time I checked the price was down to $75,000.

These buildings are on the market for very little money, but no one buys them. How can that be? Even if they need a lot of work, they are still a steal. Well, it’s not only the tons of tender loving care they need (see also 04/02/2009 posting), they are basically uninhabitable in their current condition.

Banks and mortgage lenders got very picky. They like to see a good credit history and a juicy down payment. The other thing they require is a property to be inhabitable before they finance the purchase. Inhabitable is defined as the property having a functioning bathroom and kitchen with running water and electricity. We looked at about 25 vacant foreclosures and none of them met that requirement.

We heard wild tales of buyers investing several hundred or even a thousand dollars into a property prior to closing, fixing up the bathroom and kitchen so they could secure financing. And even then there was no guarantee that the deal would go through. Too much of a déjà vu for us after our recent attempts to purchase a vacant city lot.

And honestly, not inhabitable is good for us, as we will remodel everything green anyway. Except – how are we going to finance the purchase and the rehab? I heard on National Public Radio that a lot of foreclosures are bought for cash. That is fine if you’re a builder with a cash flow, or if the property requires no major work. But that is not our world.

The solution to our problem fell into our lap during a beat meeting. Two representatives from a local community bank, ShoreBank, attended the meeting to spread the word about their Rescue Loan Program for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. We’d researched and talked with a lot of lenders, but ShoreBank was new to us.

A brief conversation after the beat meeting led to an appointment in which we learned about ShoreBank’s Rehabber Loans program. The bank’s mission is to invest in communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides, provide financing to improve housing stock, increase home ownership and offer special products for first time buyers.

Bingo! ShoreBank’s product appears to be a perfect match for our purchasing and rehab plans! The interest rate on the rehab loan seems a little higher than on other conventional mortgages, but at least ShoreBank is willing and interested in investing in the rehab, even if the subject property is uninhabitable as it is now.

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Drilling down

Beat meetings have been a wonderful resource to us in our neighborhood research (see also 03/21/2009 post). But there is more homework to do…

We continue to monitor crime statistics and reports around the properties that we have singled out. I basically have shortcuts in my browser so that I am only one click away from this information (i.e. CLEARMAP and Every Block Chicago).

Online or paper statistics are sometimes hard to interpret without having the feet on the ground backup research. This insight led us to drive by the various properties at a relatively frequent schedule, at various times of the day and night. Thanks to our friend Ann who joint us a couple of times, we quickly learned what to look out for.

Trash

The level of trash in the street, the alley, the yards or vacant lots is a very good indicator of community care, involvement and pride. Some property owners got so fed up with picking up the trash that gets dumped into their parkway or yard, that they tie a trash bag to their fence in hope of passers by dropping their litter into the bag, rather than on the ground. And it seems to work!

Drugs

There are certain categories of trash (yes, this becomes a real science!). The bottles of booze on the ground or empty beer can collections were at an impressive scale in some locations. I quickly learned to spot drug paraphernalia, such as tiny Ziploc bags. Not what you want to see, at least not in great quantities. We also learned to check the power lines. A pair of shoes over the lines is an advertising sign for new or established drug sale operations.

Saturday night (live)

What we observe during our daytime drive-bys may have nothing to do with what is going on at night – in particular a weekend night, and specifically a warm midsummer weekend night! We’ve been advised over and over again to check in sometimes after midnight on a hot Saturday night – Sunday morning. That is exactly what we did to gauge our comfort level with the activities (or lack thereof) and the noise level.

The interesting thing is, we’ve found that the activities at night generally aren’t that much different than during the day.  The street corners that had groups of people hanging out during the day had large groups of people at night.  The streets that were quiet in the daytime were largely quiet at night.  The difference was the brazenness of the drug activity – rather than standing huddled on a corner, the person is now yelling in your car window about that offer you can’t refuse.  The thought crossed our minds that we might get picked up by the police for attempting to buy drugs.  It would be interesting to explain our way out of that one.

Services and Amenities

quarter-and-half-mile

What services and amenities are available at what distance? To find out, we prepared maps with a quarter- and half-mile radius circle and plotted the various facilities within those circles. Another easy resource is Walk Score web site that helped us to determine and rate the walkability of any given location.

To back up our research findings, we walked the ‘hoods and looked at the bike routes. We visited the nearby stores, restaurants, coffee shops, other facilities, amenities and transit stops. The more we drilled down, the clearer the picture of the neighborhood. And we have been drilling now for over one year…

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Beats and meetings

We found some interesting properties with the help of our Realtor. It’s now time to investigate their surroundings in detail, to start the serious research.

If anyone would ask us what our most useful research tool was, we could answer it in a heartbeat: beat meetings! – If you don’t live in Chicago, or you’re not involved in your community, you might ask “What are Beat meetings?”

“Beat Community Meetings involving police and residents; extensive training for both police and community; more efficient use of City services that impact crime; and new technology to help police and residents target crime hot spots.”

Source: What is CAPS?

In April of 1993 Chicago started in earnest with the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, in short CAPS (for more information, see also ClearPath). The principle idea was to develop and grow a partnership between police and community to increase the efficiency of community policing and crime reduction. The city of Chicago is organized into police districts (twenty five in total). Each district is organized into three sectors, while each sector is subdivided into police beats. Each police beat has a community meeting once a month, where a CAPS officer, beat officers and typically a sergeant sit down with the residents of the beat to discuss community policing, crime statistics, crime hot spots and to develop a plan of action.

We attended beat meetings religiously for the properties we were interested in. It is amazing how much we learned in such little time! We got a detailed picture of community interest and involvement. Some beat meetings were very poorly attended, while others were buzzing with people, activity and opinions. We learned about crime activity levels and hot spots. It is amazing how localized some of the problem areas were. We observed how the officers worked with the community to target crime hot spots, relying on the observation and reports from residents. We learned that “the most interesting time of the year” is when the weather gets warm after a long winter and cabin fever reigns.

It was and is a privilege to meet and talk to our potential future neighbors. Some of them had been living in the neighborhood for years, even decades . That wealth of knowledge was absolutely priceless to us. This was the most fun and effective way to learn about the short and long history of a neighborhood.

Same for the officers and sergeants, some of them long-serving veterans in the community. They were always – and I mean always – happy to talk to us and share the historic ups and downs in the crime development and control. Looking at crime statistics online is one thing. But having an active duty officer walk you through the details of a crime hot spot gave us the perspective we were looking for. And if some of the details were not at the officer’s fingertip, they called us within a day with the answers in hand. Talk about excellent customer service and dedication to the community – we found it in the beat meetings. Thank you!

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