Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner – Tenth District
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Tax Year 2014 Property Tax Exemption Applications now available

2014 Applications for the Homeowner, Senior Citizen and Senior Freeze Exemptions are now available by the Cook County Assessor's Office. All eligible exemptions you apply for will result in a deduction on your second-installment property tax bill - to be issued by July 2015 by the Cook County Treasurer's Office.
Friendly Reminders:
  1. The 2014 Long-Time Occupant Exemption application will be released in February 2015 by the Cook County Assessor's Office.
  2. All senior citizen homeowners must apply for their senior exemptions (senior citizen and senior freeze, if eligible) every year.
  3. Please include a photo copy of your Illinois-issued driver's license or Illinois-issued identification card with your completed exemption application when submitted to the Cook County Assessor's Office. 

Questions or need assistance? Contact Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer's Office:

Accepting Nominations for 2015 "Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroine" Award

In recognition of Women's History Month, the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues will be sponsoring a breakfast on March 5, 2015 at which 20 women will be recognized as the County's "Unsung Heroines." 

The selection of these heroines is being made on a district basis so as to ensure that women from each area of the County will be recognized for their contributions to their communities. Each member of the Commission on Women's Issues will seek community input for the identification of nominees for this award by forming a selection committee charged with collecting nominations and selecting the awardee. 

Nominees must be a resident of the County Board district from which they are nominated. They should be women who, either in a professional or volunteer capacity, have made significant contributions to the well-being of their community for which they have not received widespread recognition. Elected officials are not eligible for consideration.

For more information and to apply:
If you have someone you would like to nominate and a resident of the Tenth District, please complete the nomination form and submit the form to Commissioner Bridget Gainer's Office via fax (312-603-3695) or email (Info@BridgetGainer.com).

*The Tenth District includes the Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Uptown, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, Edgewater, Sauganash, North Park, Edgebrook, Forest Glen and Jefferson Park neighborhoods. To verify if the nominee is a Tenth District resident, please click here and enter their home address.

DNAinfo Chicago: "'Go Albany Park' Program to Hit the Ground Running, Biking and Walking"

January 13, 2015
By: Patty Wetli

ALBANY PARK -- There's nothing like a bike-pedaled smoothie machine to get people out of their cars and taking advantage of other modes of transportation.

That's just the sort of creative alternative to driving that Albany Park residents can expect to see this summer with the launch of Go Albany Park, a program that aims to encourage residents to walk, bike and take transit more frequently. Go Albany Park is a collaboration between the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance, and follows on the heels of Go Bronzeville in 2013 and Go Pilsen in 2014. Go Edgewater is also planned for summer 2015 and a fifth Chicago neighborhood will be chosen for 2016. The programs are all tied to a four-year federal grant obtained by CDOT. Active Trans, which manages the Go program for CDOT, will spend the next several months drumming up support for Go Albany Park among community groups, as well as soliciting input on potential events.

"We want to meet everyone," said Maggie Melin, Go project coordinator for Active Trans.

Part of the process is to determine the barriers to biking, walking and transit, she said.

A common obstacle to cycling, particularly among women, is "not wanting to ride close to cars," she said.

"We try to show people there are parts of Chicago where you can bike and feel comfortable," said Melin.

A group ride might be organized on a self-contained trail, for example, and then as cyclists gain confidence, they might be led onto quiet side streets, she said.

"It's kind of baby steps," Melin said.

Full-time ambassadors will be hired for Go Albany Park's four-month duration, June to September. In both Bronzeville and Pilsen, the ambassadors continued on a grassroots volunteer basis.

"People didn't want them to go away," said Melin.

In implementing the Go program, CDOT has selected geographically diverse neighborhoods that boast enough modes of transportation to make the project feasible, she said. The Brown Line, bus routes and forthcoming Divvy stations worked in Albany Park's favor, as did the neighborhood's strong sense of community, according to Melin. Activities vary from one neighborhood to another, though all are free. In Bronzeville, a bike tour highlighted the homes of famous residents, including Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. In Pilsen, ambassadors organized a bike scavenger hunt; hooked up bikes to record players and smoothie machines, which were powered by pedaling; and led an evening ride that ended with a stargazing session hosted by a local amateur astronomer. Transit-oriented events are more challenging to organize, Melin conceded. Pilsen's ambassadors cracked that nut by taking a neighborhood knitting group for a ride on the Pink Line, with participants bringing along their needles and yarn.

"They called it 'the Loop and purl,''' said Melin. "People were very creative."

One aspect of the program that remains constant across communities is the distribution of free "Go Kits."

Like the residents of Pilsen and Bronzeville, people in Albany Park will have the opportunity to choose from among 20 to 25 transportation resources -- Divvy passes, CTA maps, etc. -- and receive a customized kit containing as many of the items as they request. Ambassadors assemble and deliver the kits, by bike or on foot, Melin noted. Based on its experience in Pilsen, Active Trans has already obtained a number of materials printed in Spanish. Given Albany Park's even greater diversity, Active Trans will work with community groups to identify other key languages.

"It's definitely a goal to reach people who aren't reached out to," Melin said.

Though Go Albany Park doesn't officially launch until June, a Facebook page will be up and running shortly, the hiring process for ambassadors will begin in April, and Melin will happily field suggestions for potential events via email at maggie@activetrans.org.

Copyright 2009-2015, DNAinfo.com

Chicago Tribune: "Hopes high that Millennials will embrace Homeownership"

January 2, 2015
By: Mary Ellen Podmolik

Players and prognosticators in the nation's housing market are holding out hope that 2015 will bring reasonably low interest rates, slowly rising home prices and increased mortgage availability. 

That's all good, but what they really want to see are millennials, lots of them. 

Young adults have been noticeably absent from the closing table, and that's caused a fair amount of hand-wringing by economists, real estate agents and lenders, as well as homeowners who want to move out of their starter home but need to find a buyer first. 

Will millennials take the plunge and buy a home? There's a belief that starting in 2015, they will, and much of that optimism is tied to numbers, numbers like birthdays. 

In Illinois during 2010, for example, there were 910,273 men and women ages 25 to 29 and another 865,684 ages 30 to 34, according to census estimates. In each year since, the number of Illinois residents in their late 20s shrank while the number in their early 30s rose. 

In 2013, according to estimates, there were 887,925 Illinoisans ages 25 to 29 and 896,917 from 30 to 34. 

That aging of the millennial generation, roughly those born in the years from 1980 to 1999 and equal in size to the baby boom generation, means some of them are thinking of settling down, having children and possibly buying a home. "They're putting down some roots," said Swati Saxena, an agent at Baird & Warner. "They want to be more than the rent they are paying." 

If that proves true, it'd be a welcome change. First-time buyers accounted for 33 percent of the nation's housing market in 2014, the smallest share since 1987 and down from 38 percent in 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

So the housing industry is counting on people like Chicagoan Sam Rosen, who will turn 30 in 2015. 

Rosen and his fiancee, Linsey Burritt, 31, share a large apartment in the city's Noble Square neighborhood and were intrigued with the idea of buying but also apprehensive. They'd met with mortgage lenders but liked the freedom that renting gave them and knew people caught up in the housing crisis. 

"It hit close to home," Rosen said. "I saw people struggle who I always considered smart, hardworking people who lost and got screwed." 

The couple will marry in 2015, and they see marriage and homeownership as commitments that go hand in hand. They are looking to trade monthly rent of $2,000 for a mortgage payment, possibly in the Humboldt Park or Portage Park neighborhoods. 

"(Homeownership) is the next big step," Rosen said. "I think the idea of building a home together makes us want to buy a home. "All of our friends are getting married. All of our friends are having babies. That's a big driver. The people around me are really starting to consider (homeownership)." 

The Chicago market may be among those destined to benefit from demographic and societal trends that show millennials are attracted to urban markets, according to Jonathan Smoke, Realtor.com's chief economist. Also in the Chicago area's favor are home prices which, while recovering, have not appreciated as much as they have in other markets. 

"Chicago is one of the few cities that offer both (an urban location and affordability)," Smoke said. "You can have your cake and eat it too." 

As of October, home prices in the Chicago area were up 1.9 percent from a year earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index. That compared with a gain of 4.6 percent nationally. 

Meanwhile, the median rent in the Chicago area rose 7.4 percent in 2014, according to Zillow. 

That difference will nudge more young adults to homeownership, said Peter Moulton, president of agent services at Dream Town Realty. 

"There's still bargains to be had," he said. "There's a maturation in their perspective on money. When you own something, you're paying yourself. When you rent, you're paying someone else." 

Right now, Eric and Jaclyn Huffnus aren't paying anyone but they can't find a space much smaller than the one they've got now. The couple, both 26, sleep in a bedroom at the suburban home of Jaclyn's parents suburban home. The bedroom still has glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. 

After living in an apartment in Schaumburg for a few years, the couple moved into the house in June to save for a down payment, thinking they'd be there a few months. A job change has kept them there longer than planned. 

Several of their older friends also are living with their parents. If Jaclyn gets a permanent teaching position in 2015, the couple intends to buy a home in the northwest suburbs in 2015. Other plans also are in the works, like a dog and children. 

"We both grew up in houses," Eric Huffnus said. "My parents still live in the same house. As much as I want to buy, I want to make sure we're financially set beforehand." 

Crystal Ly Tran, a 30-year-old agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group, certainly understands that mindset. Growing up, she was taught to save money and buy a home. Instead, she took those savings and started a small business. Some of her friends also took the entrepreneurial route and few have bought homes. 

She still desires to own a home, but like other millennials, she says money remains an issue. "We want everything perfect, done for us," she said of her generation. "Or we want a blank canvas and that costs money. We are becoming spoiled."

Copyright 2015, Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune: "Project aims to place more homeless youths in private housing"

December 28, 2014
By: Tony Briscoe

Antwan Jones still remembers the feeling of disbelief when he and his mother were evicted from their West Side apartment, forcing him into homelessness at 16 years old.

"I was shocked. It almost felt unreal in the way that I thought, you know, it would be over in a few days," said Jones, now 24.

"I had no idea it would last as many years as it did."

With his mother "struggling with her own issues" and coed housing hard to come by, Jones became separated from her and dropped out of John Marshall Metropolitan High School.

He sought refuge in youth shelters, where he became accustomed to crowded quarters and 4 a.m. wake-up calls. But a bed wasn't always guaranteed. Sometimes the shelter would be full after he finished working shifts as a security guard, compelling him to find alternatives -- occasionally a friend's couch, usually a CTA train.

"You're not just going through homelessness," Jones said. "There are other things as well. You put your safety at risk, your sexual health and put yourself through all these dangerous situations.

"The run-ins with different stresses just click, and when you go through that, you're no longer normal."

To try to ease the burden on city youth shelters, the Windy City Times -- a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender newspaper -- launched an online fundraising campaign last month to provide privately funded housing options. This approach, known as scattered-site housing, offers homeless or low-income people affordable, private housing options rather than congregated living at local shelters.

The publication is teaming up with two nonprofit youth housing agencies for the 750 Club Apartment Adoption Project, aimed at providing homeless young adults, ages 18 to 25, and emancipated minors, with private apartments for two years.

"If the model works, scattered-site housing can alleviate the strain on shelters," said Tracy Baim, Windy City Times publisher, who is overseeing the project.

Without stable housing, studies show young people are at greater risk for assault, drug abuse, gangs and truancy. But getting a uniform count of this population is challenging because different agencies use different methods.

A City of Chicago count conducted in January found 1,644 people younger than 18 living on the streets -- nearly one-third of the homeless population -- but there are fewer than 400 beds dedicated to this group. The city count includes a tally of all people with temporary housing situations, including those living on the streets, in shelters, on public transportation, in parks and in cars.

Estimates by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless starkly contrast with the city's count.

The nonprofit, which releases annual data on youth homelessness based on Chicago Public Schools surveys and other factors, estimates there are 12,186 unaccompanied young people, ages 14-21, in 2014, a 33 percent increase compared with five years ago, at the height of the recession.

CPS classifies students who live with relatives or another family because of financial hardship, as well as those living in motels or shelters, as homeless.

The spike in youth homelessness has been hard to nail down, said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the coalition.

"The reasons youth become homeless are different than why adults become homeless, which is largely economic," Dworkin said.

In a survey of 400 homeless Chicago youth this fall, 33 percent said they had been thrown out of their home by a parent or guardian, according to Teen Living Programs.

In many instances, parents can't afford to take care of them. Other times, minors are kicked out by parents for becoming pregnant or for their sexual preference. Some run away after they are abused.

The 750 Club will focus on the LGBT community, which makes up a large portion of affected youths, but not exclusively, Baim said.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago's housing program will distribute the proceeds, and 750 Club partners La Casa Norte and Unity Parenting, which already provide scattered-site housing options, can apply for funds, Baim said.

"What's great about this is we're piggybacking a system that is already in place," Baim said. "They already do a great job, we just want to add more units."

Based on the average cost of a studio apartment, every $750 raised will pay for one youth to live in an apartment for one month, Baim said. She expects to have as many as five young people in apartments by early 2015.

So far, Baim has raised about $9,000 -- enough to house one youth for a year.

The project's first fundraising event, featuring live music and a raffle, will be Jan. 15 at Mad River Bar & Grille in Lakeview.

Amy Dworsky, research fellow at the University of Chicago's Chapin Hall, said freedom is part of the reason scattered-site housing is appealing. But that can also be a drawback if young people sacrifice access to support services.

While scattered-site housing has long been an option for youth, Dworkin said 750 Club is the first privately funded initiative she has seen, other than churches adopting families in the suburbs.

With only 374 beds in Chicago dedicated to homeless young people, including shelters and scattered-site housing, their options are limited, Dworkin said.

"Many times, we saw youths going to adult shelters, where they really didn't feel safe," Dworkin said.

After eight years on the streets, Jones is a success story. In late November, he obtained a one-bedroom apartment in Austin through La Casa Norte's scattered-site housing program.

"Moving around, place to place, your thoughts crowded with people and things," he said. "It's hard to be a successful adult. It's helped a lot to not focus on housing."

In less than two weeks at his new home, he found a job as a health counselor at a West Side nonprofit, where he assists the homeless.

He contributes 30 percent of his paycheck to rent as a part of the program. With a portion of the rest, he said he plans to save to enroll in a local community college in January, where he wants to study social services to continue to help those in positions similar to his.

"I thought it's only right," Jones said.

Donations for 750 Club can be made at http://tinyurl.com/ApartmentAdopt.

Landlords interested in donating the use of an apartment at no or low-cost are asked to contact Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim at editor@windycitymediagroup.com.

Copyright 2015, Chicago Tribune

Commissioner Bridget Gainer's Holiday Donation Drive for Women in the Cook County Jail

Happy Holidays,

As we celebrate the end of another year and get ready for the holidays with family and friends, it is also a time when our thoughts go to those for whom 2014 has brought hard times. 

As a Commissioner on the Cook County Board, I see the lives of detainees at the jail - what brought them to 26th Street, what happens to the rest of their lives while they await their court date and what they return to in the months or sometimes years later. I have spent the last five years advocating for the women in our jail system not only because most are non-violent offenders or most are mothers, but because there is so much to be done. 

As I continue to work on systemic policy changes for women in the criminal justice system, it is important to remember there are many ways to help right now. One of the needs for Women's Justice Programs at the jail are travel size toiletries like shampoo, soap and lotion. So if you are like me - come home from travel and find these bottles in drawers, suitcases and around the house - please consider donating them. 

We will collect at ward and community offices from Friday, December 12, 2014 to Friday, January 30, 2015. We will do one pickup on December 19, 2014 and another on January 30, 2015. If you have any questions or ideas of others that may be interested in donating, please don't hesitate to reach out to me at 312-603-4210 or email Info@BridgetGainer.com.

Sincerely,

Bridget Gainer
Cook County Commissioner - Tenth District

  Cook County Bridget Gainer - Holiday Donation Drive.jpg

Cook County Board of Commissioners begins 2014-2018 term

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On Monday, December 1 - I joined Board President Toni Preckwinkle and fellow Cook County Commissioners to take the oath of office for our new term. I am honored and privileged to serve my second full-term on the County Board as Commissioner of the Tenth District. 

New York Times' Chicago Life Section: "Waste Not Want Not in Chicago"

The November issue of the New York Times' Chicago Life magazine features the contributions of Cook County's Demolition Debris Diversion Ordinance to the overall improvements in recycling efforts in Chicago and Cook County. 

"When it comes to recycling construction and demolition debris, the picture is more optimistic. When you drive down a street and see a building being torn down, have you ever wondered what happens to that stuff--of which there is a lot? According to Bryant Williams, "In 2013, there were 496,000 tons of demolition and construction debris. This includes wood, concrete, asphalt, rubber membrane from roofs, glass, aluminum siding, carpeting (which is tough to recycle), and bricks." 

Traditionally, forty percent of the material went to landfills. In 2012, though, the Cook County Board passed an ordinance requiring more recycling of construction and demolition materials in the county. According to Williams, "The ordinance was driven by President Toni Preckwinkle and was intended to face the issue that Cook County is running out of space for landfills." The ordinance sets the goal of diverting at least 70 percent of construction and demolition debris into reuse. A surprising amount of this stuff can be repurposed. Williams said, "People reuse lumber for furniture. Metals have high value. Bricks can be reused. Bricks made now have hollow cores, but the traditional Chicago bricks are solid, and there's a big market for them." Other goodies that can be reused include light fixtures and kitchen cabinets--if they're in good condition. Builders can also reuse floor joists and lumber for new projects. Williams said, "We're hitting about 88 percent of waste reuse now in suburban Cook County."

To learn more, click here.

Chicago Tribune: "Cook County holds Transportation Policy Open Houses"

November 30, 2014
By: John Hilkevitch

It's back to work and school after a holiday weekend, and there is plenty going on in the world of transportation. 


Cook County will host open houses starting Tuesday to gather public input on setting priorities to develop a long-range transportation plan for the county that emphasizes the role of expanding economic growth. The goal is to produce a Connecting Cook County plan that links transportation to jobs and economic development, supports more livable communities and addresses infrastructure needs for the next 25 years, officials said. A key part of the initiative will focus on eliminating "transit deserts" that lack fast, frequent bus and train service to job centers elsewhere in Cook and collar counties, officials said. About 1 out of every 10 people in Cook County -- roughly 438,500 residents -- live in transit deserts, according to a study that the Tribune reported on in August (2014). 

The analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology found that four of the Chicago area's five big employment areas are in suburbs that are not well-connected to high-quality transit. Those four job centers make up the northwest corridor past O'Hare International Airport, Lombard, Naperville and Oak Brook.Cook County officials are asking residents, business owners and community leaders to attend the open houses to review preliminary plans that were introduced over the past nine months and provide feedback and recommendations. 

The open houses will be from 4 PM to 7 PM as follows:
  • Tuesday, December 2: Franklin Park Police Department, 9451 W Belmont, Franklin Park IL
  • Wednesday, December 3: Northbrook Village Hall, 1225 Cedar Lane, Northbrook IL
  • Thursday, December 4: DePaul University's Chaddick Institute, 14 E. Jackson Blvd, 16th floor, Chicago IL 
  • Tuesday, December 9: Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 Ravinia Ave, Orland Park IL
  • For more information is at ConnectingCookCounty.org

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle & Commissioners Announces New Funding for Restorative Justice Programs


December 4, 2014
County Building, 118 N Clark St, Chicago IL
Board President Toni Preckwinkle with Cook County Commissioners Jerry Butler, Bridget Gainer, Jesus Garcia and Robert Steele.

Effort is praised by faith and community leaders from the Reclaim Campaign

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle together with Cook County Commissioners Jerry Butler, Bridget Gainer, Jesus Garcia and Robert Steele today announced a significant investment of $500,000 for community-based restorative justice programs. Faith and community leaders from the Reclaim Campaign, a coalition calling for reforms to the Cook County criminal justice system, hailed this major commitment to restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a community-based strategy that aims to restore relationships, repair harm, and create healing in situations of conflict. As Cook County continues to face devastating levels of violence, the Reclaim Campaign and President Preckwinkle are seeking innovative ways to address violence through faith and community institutions.

"Restorative justice seeks to find solutions to disputes that might otherwise contribute to family upheaval, school expulsions, and other detrimental consequences, particularly in communities that are already struggling with violence," Preckwinkle said. "This funding will allow for important new collaborations with local organizations which are using the restorative model to reduce violence in their communities."

Community leaders maintain that the investment will help stem violence and save tax dollars by reducing violence and supporting community and church-based programs.

"In our parish, we face some of the highest levels of violence in the city," said Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago's West side. "But we have already seen in our community how when we bring people together in peace circles and provide support for young people in trouble, we can interrupt the cycle of violence, restore broken relationships, and rebuild our families and community."

The half a million dollar investment by the Cook County Board signals a commitment from President Preckwinkle and the Reclaim Campaign to continue to work for broader reforms of the criminal justice system to improve fairness and efficiency.

Cook County Board honors Jackie Robinson West

On Wednesday, September 10 - I had the honor & privilege to meet the best baseball players in Chicago: Jackie Robinson West! The national little league champions visited the Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting where we congratulated them for their impressive championship season & thanked them for inspiring the people of Cook County.

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Crain's: "One solution to flooded basements? Foreclosed Homes"

August 25, 2014
By: Danielle Braff

Flash flooding has become commonplace in the Chicago area, and that means wet basements. Now, entire cities and communities are finding new and creative ways to plug the floods.

One key? Foreclosed homes.

Instead of flipping the homes for a profit, some organizations are using them as sponges. "We have a really active and valuable real estate market, but we have a huge issue with flooding," says Bridget Gainer, Cook County commissioner and chair of the Cook County Land Bank. "We want to stop being reactive, and we also want to take the challenge of vacant land and turn it into an opportunity." It's a particular issue in older communities; newer subdivisions have anti-flood plans in place.

Despite Deep Tunnel, the $4 billion project to collect storm runoff, flooding has become a major problem in Illinois. That's due to the type and frequency of the storms here, says Kevin Hebert, rain garden consultant, stormwater storage specialist and owner of Kevin's Rain Gardens in Barrington. Until a few years ago, 90 percent of storms in Illinois produced less than 1 inch of rain, but there has been an increase in the occurrence of 2- to 3-inch rainstorms in the past couple of years, Mr. Hebert says, citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which he compiled.

"We could handle those storms if it was spreading out over two or three hours, but it's happening over one hour," he says.

Many municipalities have 40- to 50-year-old systems to handle the rainwater. They continue to add subdivisions and the pipes can't handle the additional hardscape, Mr. Hebert says.

So within the next three months, some foreclosed properties in Chicago will be razed to convert the land into "rain gardens," or deep holes filled with native plants that allow stormwater to soak into the ground as opposed to letting the water rush into the streets. The goal is that the rain gardens ease the flooding that's been ravaging Illinois.

If Cleveland's experience is a guide, the foreclosure experiment should help the problem significantly. Officials there found in a 2011 study that 75 million gallons of water are running off the city's vacant land, Ms. Gainer says. Cleveland officials also are considering using vacant land to handle runoff.

There are 45,000 to 55,000 vacant parcels in Cook County concentrated in Chicago's South and West sides that account for about 10 percent of county property, she says. Some of the foreclosed properties targeted for the project are simply pieces of open land, and others are buildings in poor condition.

They're all in areas of Illinois that flood frequently, says Brent Denzin, attorney at the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority in East Hazel Crest. "We're not talking about properties with a major resale value," he says. "You look at the value of that parcel (and figure out) whether it's more valuable to be rebuilt as a home and sold, or whether it will save the county money over time because they're strategically addressing a stormwater problem."

Milwaukee has been looking for innovative flooding solutions and turned to foreclosed homes as well. But officials believe the key is leaving the basements of the homes intact so that they can collect water.

"The city had been demolishing most houses, and it occurred to me that we could demolish the house but keep the basement and use it for flood management," says Erick Shambarger, Milwaukee's deputy director of environmental sustainability. "The idea is that you'd leave the lot vacant and put in community gardens."

Properties with foreclosed homes aren't the only unused land being claimed for stormwater. Chicago officials are looking to use yards at public schools as fancy sponges. They broke ground in mid-July to make four schoolyard surfaces super-permeable using everything from rain gardens to permeable pavement. The project will cost $1.5 million per school, with primary funding coming from Chicago Public Schools, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the city's Department of Water Management. Each is contributing about $500,000, says Jaime Zaplatosch, education director at Openlands, a Chicago conservation organization.

CPS, with 730 acres of impermeable surfaces, is the best candidate for a project like this, she says. "Just one schoolyard in one community around the schoolyard should be able to significantly alleviate basement flooding," she says. Her group expects to convert six Chicago schoolyards a year for the next six years.

THERE'S NO MAGIC WAY
Elmhurst officials are looking into lowering sports fields so they can be used as temporary stormwater retention areas. They'd essentially replace the regular soil with fast-draining sand and soil so the fields would be usable for their original purposes within a day or two after the storm.
"You have to store it somewhere. There's no magic way," says Chris Burke, a Rosemont-based civil engineer specializing in water resources. "The idea is, where do you put the water when you have a community that's already developed?"
While cities and states are experimenting on a multimillion-dollar level, homeowners can pursue their own solution: digging rain gardens.

Harriet Festing's Highland Park basement flooded five times. She solved the problem by channeling the water away from the foundation and into a rain garden on her property.

Harriet Festing's Highland Park basement makes up a third of her living space. After it flooded five times, she'd had enough. "We shifted the level of the ground so it falls away from" the foundation, Ms. Festing says. The project, which cost $4,000, ended the flooding by channeling the water into a rain garden. Ms. Festing dug the garden herself, but many homeowners hire landscapers to do it.

If 70 percent of residents added a rain garden or rain barrel to their property, they could make a significant impact on flooding, says Julia Bunn, owner and designer of the Spirited Gardener, a landscape design and installation firm in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

Ms. Bunn's rain gardens start at $1,990 for 100 square feet and go up to $2,400, depending on plants and features such as retention walls.

If a homeowner diverts one or two downspouts toward a rain garden, it can reduce the amount of runoff by 5 to 20 percent, says Bob Kirschner, curator of aquatic plant and urban lake studies at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

"Five to 20 percent might not sound like a lot, but usually it's that last 5 to 10 percent of the stormwater that makes the difference," Mr. Kirschner says. "If a whole neighborhood does it, you significantly reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that (causes flooding) in the first place."

Copyright 2014 Crain's Communications, Inc

Tenth District Constituent Tracy Poyser's PhotoArt featured at Cook County Treasurer's Office

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Tracy Poyser of Chicago's Edgewater community is this year's featured solo artist of the Cook County Treasurer's Office. The public August 7, 2014.   

2014 Art Display & Featured Artist Gallery Locations: 
  • June 10 to August 7, 2014: 118 N. Clark #212, Cook County Treasurer's Office
  • June 10 to August 7, 2014: 5533 N Broadway, 48th Ward Office Art Wall

For more information, visit her official website.

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