Cook County

Community Groups File Suit Against Assessor's Office Over Allegations of Racial Bias

Two community organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Cook County Assessor’s Office after they alleged that the office “systematically” shifted the burden of residential property taxes onto minority property owners.

According to the complaint, which was filed by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association, 46 percent of residential properties that sold between 2011 and 2013 in Brighton Park were over-assessed by at least 20 percent. Seven percent of properties in the neighborhood were assessed at more than double their market value, the groups say.

Properties in Hermosa, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side, were overassessed by 24 percent on average, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, properties in the Lakeview neighborhood were 11 percent under-assessed, and that number dropped to 15 percent on appeal, according to the complaint.

The groups also allege that the assessor’s office refuses to disclose its methods of evaluating properties, and that the office engages 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,” Nancy Aardema of the LSNA said.

Berrios' re-election campaign fired back at the accusations, calling them "politically driven" and saying that the claims involved weren't based on research or studies. 

"This lawsuit is politically motivated and coordinated with other efforts to support the candidacy of Assessor Berrios' Wall Street-connected opponent," Berrios' campaign said. "We are confident that when all facts ultimately come to light and all the technical aspects of this complicated matter are presented by actual assessment and appraisal experts in court and elsewhere, the Assessor's Office will be found to have done a fair and equitable job." 

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios has been under increased scrutiny ever since a report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois revealed that the office failed to estimate the value of thousands of properties in the county, or just carried over one number from one year to the next.

Numerous officials, including Governor Bruce Rauner and gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy, have called for Berrios to resign, but he still has the support of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and has filed petitions to run for re-election.  

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