Chicago-area phone bank helps Black, Latino households recover millions in taxes  

The phone bank has connected Chicagoland homeowners to nearly $23 million in property tax refunds and exemptions.

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A phone bank that is intended to commemorate Juneteenth by helping Black and Latino homeowners apply for property tax exemptions and avoid Chicago-area tax sales will kick off this week. 

According to ABC 7 Chicago, which is hosting the event, over the last five years the phone bank has connected Chicagoland homeowners to nearly $23 million in property tax refunds and exemptions. This is the first year that the event honors Juneteenth. Last year’s event was called Black and Latino Houses Matter. 

“It’s so gratifying to see the results of these phone banks with ABC7 as well as the other outreach events I have organized throughout Cook County and I’m not done,” Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said last year. “My office is looking forward to a full calendar of events in 2022 to continue our mission of preserving homeownership and creating generational wealth in communities of color,” she added.

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The phone bank is open today )Wednesday, June 15) from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Cook County Treasurer’s Office. 

Callers must give their address and property index number to phone bank workers, who will in turn search $84 million in available property tax refunds, check eligibility for $34 million in missing property tax exemptions, then verify if the property is on the tax sale list with delinquent taxes. 

“All Cook County homeowners are welcome to call the phone bank,” Pappas told ABC 7. “We will do this as long as people have money coming to them.”

A 2020 article by the Pew Trust found that Black homeowners pay more than their “fair share” in property taxes because their properties are intentionally overvalued by tax assessors. That contributes to the racial wealth gap. 

“We’ve seen these moments of crisis bring structural changes,” Andrew Kahrl, associate professor of history and African American studies at the University of Virginia, said in a phone interview. “What those will be, who knows? These are forms of structural racism that are very invisible,” he said. “It’s subtle. It’s insidious and happens in ways the victims themselves aren’t aware of.”

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