The Challenge 
For decades, Illinois’ delinquent tax sale system has trapped underserved communities in a downward spiral of disinvestment, vacancy and blight. The historic system to collect on delinquent property taxes has severely limited how counties, local governments, land banks and community development partners could intervene to revitalize abandoned properties in communities with high vacancy rates and historic rates of disinvestment.

For example, Cook County is home to 50,000 vacant or abandoned properties — primarily concentrated on the South and West sides of Chicago and the south suburbs.

Rather than be redeveloped for purposeful community use, these properties have been locked in a cycle of tax sales and foreclosure for years, left abandoned and deteriorating, closed off to reinvestment and development to the detriment of neighboring properties. 

The Chicago Community Trust engaged Culloton + Bauer Luce to develop the public affairs and communications strategy to build support for legislation in Springfield that would dramatically reform the delinquent property tax sale system in Illinois and spur invest in communities with high concentrations of abandoned properties. 

Our Approach 
Our team created the narrative and key messages to translate a highly technical and complex policy issue into relatable terms to attract media interest and more easily communicate the importance of this measure to lawmakers. We then identified local residents and small residential developers who could speak to the media about the challenges in trying to redevelop abandoned properties in their neighborhoods.

We then deployed an aggressive media relations program that secured coverage in key media markets, including Chicago, Rockford and Peoria, and we generated on-the-ground support in key communities where this legislation will be most impactful. We also prepared local officials and the residents and developers to participate in a public hearing to convince legislators to support the bill. 

During a legislative session that saw a record number of bills proposed, the proposal passed out of both chambers with an overwhelming majority of support in May 2023. After passage, our team continued to earn media coverage, including a Crain’s Chicago Business op-ed by Trust CEO Andrea Sáenz, which the lobbying team used to point to in urging the Illinois Governor to enact the legislation. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure into law in August 2023.