Community Organizations Sue Cook County Assessor’s Office for Discrimination Against Hispanic and African-American Homeowners in Property Tax Assessments

Two community organizations based in Chicago’s southwest and northwest sides, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association, have filed a lawsuit in circuit court alleging that the office of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios conducts assessments that systematically and illegally shift residential property tax burdens from Whites to Hispanics and African-Americans and from the rich to the poor.  The community organizations are represented by a team of lawyers from Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, and Miner, Barnhill & Galland.

According to the complaint, property owners in majority-Hispanic and majority-African-American neighborhoods are twice as likely to be over-assessed, by a rate of 20 percent or more above market value, when compared with majority-White neighborhoods.  The complaint further alleges that as the percentage of White residents in a census tract increases, the ratio between the assessed values and actual market values decreases.

“It is fundamentally unfair that families in this community are required to pay artificially inflated taxes for their homes and bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden in Cook County,” says Patrick Brosnan of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

According to the complaint, 46 percent of residential properties that sold between 2011 and 2015 in Brighton Park were over-assessed by at least 20 percent; and 7 percent of residential properties were assessed at more than double their market value.  Moreover, the Cook County Assessor’s office performs its assessments using methods that it refuses to disclose to the public, allowing the office to engage in “taxation without explanation.”
“What I find so dishonest and unfair is that if you’re a property owner just looking at your own tax bill, there’s no way to tell that you’re being under-charged or over-taxed based on the demographics of your neighborhood,” said Nancy Aardema of Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA).  “That’s why this outrage has gone on for so long.”
Hermosa, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood served by LSNA, is the third most over-assessed neighborhood in the county.  Data regarding homes sold between 2011-2015 shows that the Hermosa neighborhood properties were over-assessed by 24 percent on average and that even following individual homeowner appeals, the neighborhood was still over-assessed by 23.5 percent on average.  In contrast, properties in the predominantly-White Lakeview neighborhood were 11 percent under-assessed on average before appeals and 15 percent under-assessed on average after appeals.
“What we see in this case is the perpetuation of a system that disproportionately impacts communities of color and continues to strip capital from already struggling neighborhoods,” said Aneel Chablani of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
“It’s the same type of institutional racism that gave rise to Chicago’s extreme housing segregation through racial steering, discriminatory zoning and restrictive covenants.”

The complaint asks the court to declare the Cook County Assessor’s assessment system unlawful, and to order Berrios’ office to adopt and implement a fair, accurate, transparent, lawful, and nondiscriminatory system. It also seeks the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the process.

Fair HousingTimna Axel