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Lawsuit targets Berrios over biased residential assessments in Cook County

A group of public-interest lawyers filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that embattled Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios violated state and federal civil rights and housing laws by knowingly producing inaccurate assessments that punished poor and minority homeowners across the county.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, contends the county's "residential property tax scheme is neither accurate nor uniform" and is "perpetuating institutional racism" by shifting the tax burden from wealthier, majority-white neighborhoods to poorer, minority neighborhoods.

The lawsuit also alleges a lack of transparency in the office, contending the "secrecy is antithetical to democratic accountability and undermines public trust and confidence in the residential property tax system."

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that county assessments overvalue low-priced homes while undervaluing high-priced ones. Known as regressivity, that flaw leads to deep inequities in property taxes that break down along racial and ethnic lines, with poor, black and Hispanic homeowners paying more than they should while wealthier and white residents pay less.

As a result, the lawsuit argues, the county violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act, equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions, and the federal Fair Housing Act.

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