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So … after all the work I did this summer (in between filming “South Side” for HBO Max) to get my mom’s house ready to get repaired for the winter, there’s only one thing standing between her and getting the house fixed — a ridiculous, previously unknown bill from the city that it attached (in the form of liens) to her property. 

She was completely unaware of these liens until a title company ran a report on the property for the purpose of getting a loan for the repairs. Some of these fines date all the way back to 2005.

Liens are like getting parking tickets from the city and not being able to renew your registration. The difference is, instead of not being able to renew her registration, she cannot get a loan to fix her house — specifically, the heat. There are some old fines for things like uncut weeds on a vacant lot she owns and other repairs on her current house that have long since been fixed. 

The thing about my mom, though, is that she’s on top of whatever goes on with her properties. If she ever gets a notice, a violation or a fine, she’s down at City Hall lickety-split. In these cases, she was not notified. The only proof of notification the city must provide is saying the notice was mailed. Well, we’ve never had any issues with the mail in Chicago, have we?

The City of Chicago has, however, had a history of cheating Black, Latine and poor people out of their properties using redlining (refusing to provide insurance or a loan to someone because that person lives in an area considered to be a poor financial risk), predatory lending, fines, liens, etc.

Recently, the city of Chicago has come under fire for unfair and illegal fees for parking tickets, registration delinquencies, moving violations and other fines. 

Now it seems, instead of (or in addition to) parking, registration and speed camera tickets, the city is also using building violations and fines to unfairly punish people and possibly stage more property revocation or allow other, cash-liquid individuals to acquire them.

While negotiating with the attorney for the city, I asked for a payment plan or a more reasonable solution for my mother. She responded after a couple of days and said the “value of the property and the equity in the property are too high” for them to offer any additional consideration. They are actually punishing her for taking care of her home! Would it be different if she were drowning in debt or the property was worth less (or worthless)? To me, this also means people have been watching and studying the property. There is no other justifiable reason for the attorney to know what the property value is and how much equity exists in the home.

Meanwhile, the situation is getting dire. My mother is using electric heaters to stay warm in a house with old, faulty wiring. It’s very dangerous and the loan has a very short time frame to close before we lose it. If (God forbid) something were to happen to her or the house, the city could easily try to snatch it away, sell it for a fraction of the value or further encumber any progress unless and until the ransom is paid. The fact that it’s in a historic area — near the lake and right by the Tiger Woods Golf Course and the Obama Presidential Library — makes it very attractive.

Right now, we’re in a deadlock. We can’t afford to get the heat fixed because the loan won’t go through, the loan won’t go through because of the liens and we can’t afford to pay the liens because they are old. In addition, there are all these extra fees while my mother lives on a teacher’s pension. The city is saying she owes more than $10,000 for uncut weeds on a vacant lot in Roseland — one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped areas in Chicago. The fines are more than the lot is worth. So, of course, they get attached to her primary dwelling. The City of Chicago recently tried to charge her again for uncut weeds until she went to court and showed them pictures of the lawn being nice and neat. Those are just some of the fines; there are many more. In addition, they won’t allow for a reduction that will match her fixed income, or a payment plan.

That is why I was inspired by former Illinois Treasurer and newly elected Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias’ site, especially when he states:

“We need to repair the broken relationship between our government and the people by restoring the faith and trust of so many who feel frustrated and dismayed, believing that there are two sets of rules — one for the rich, powerful and well-connected, and one for everyone else.”

No truer words have ever been spoken. We all know about the shadiness and corruption that runs rampant in the city of Chicago. We subtly reference it often on our show “South Side” and everyone from Chicago knows about the “corruption tax” and the “time tax” (the amount of time wasted waiting in lines, staying on the phone or completing forms for simple government services) that Giannoulias also mentions. I, alone, have spent over 200 hours trying to resolve this issue. My mother has spent even more and at her age, limited mobility and technology divide, it’s more than a notion.

There is no reason that a 75-year-old, retired Chicago Public School teacher should have to risk her life in order to stay warm because someone thought the grass was too high. Make it make sense. In this case, Chicago is NOT working and the only Revving Up in this part of Illinois is the danger of my mother freezing to death or burning the house down … unless she can pay ancient fines and court costs about which she had no clue Of course, if she could afford it, she’d probably opt for fixing the heat.

We all know about corruption: Some have been victims of it and others have skirted it … but, either way, we shouldn’t allow it to continue to be a blight on such an otherwise beautiful city. Is anyone going to step up and do anything about it, or are we going back to the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s — or worse?

is an actor best known for his role in the Chicago-set HBO Max show “South Side.”