Chicago Looks to Ease Debt Burdens For Residents

The city of Chicago is taking a hard look at the impact that its rules are having on low-income residents, and how those rules may be forcing a disproportionate number of low-income residents into debt and bankruptcy.

All residents who lease or own a vehicle must purchase a sticker for that vehicle. The cost of the sticker is based on the weight of the vehicle, with the price for a sticker for a passenger car at about $90 per year. A number of reports have indicated that a disparate number of low-income residents are unable to afford the cost of the sticker, and when their vehicles start receiving tickets, the amount of debt escalates quickly. A ticket for not having a sticker can cost the vehicle’s owner $200 per violation. More than 200,000 tickets for not having stickers are issued by the city every year.

There were more than 10,000 bankruptcy filings in Chicago in 2017 that included a debt owed to the city, which usually means unpaid tickets. The average amount of debt owed to the city was $3,900 on those filings.

To help car owners, the city is now proposed an installment plan to pay for stickers. As well, two aldermen have proposed possible solutions, including limiting the city’s ability to suspend driver’s licenses for individuals with unpaid tickets, and creating a community service option for individuals to work off unpaid debts.

“Just know that, in this budget, we took steps to address the issue of equity and fairness while upholding, obviously, the law,” said Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, during a press conference after the budget was approved. “Across the spectrum of fees and fines, we have a way to address and reflect people of different means. And so we’re going to continue to work on that issue.”


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