Abstract: Profiting from Other People's Property: Tax Lien Speculation in 1960s and 1970s Chicago

Andrew W. Kahrl


This paper traces the emergence of a tax lien speculative market in 1960s and 1970s Chicago. Reforms to the Illinois tax sales law in 1951 gave rise to predatory tax buyers who reaped millions through fees, interest payments, and in some cases, acquisition of real estate for the price of a single property tax bill. As a result of systemic patterns of over- and under-assessment of property throughout the city, certain neighborhoods suffered from predatory tax lien buyers more than others. Tax buyers employed novel legal devices and exploited changes in the city's racial and class geography to reap millions. It also gave rise to grassroots movements for progressive property tax reform in Chicago and the nation. By excavating the history of this shadowy industry, this paper offers a new perspective on taxes and business in the age of urban crisis.