Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations

In 2017, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles called “The Tax Divide.” In the series, the Tribune described significant inequities in Cook County’s assessment system under prior administrations. In many cases, these inequities were alleged to be more prevalent in Black and Latino communities, and among property owners of more modestly priced homes.

Since taking office in December of 2018, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and his staff have worked to create an assessment system grounded in three values: fairness, ethics, and transparency.

In addition to the ongoing reform efforts the Kaegi administration has undertaken within the operations of the Assessor's Office, our outreach team launched a series in early 2020 called “Racial Equity in Real Estate Conversations.” Some activities will be exclusive to staff while others are open to the public. Our program will include book readings, film screenings, and panel discussions with historians, practitioners, and authors who are knowledgeable about housing, real estate, and racial equity. 

The Cook County Assessor’s Office will be offering several opportunities to better understand the legacy of race on homeownership and wealth distribution in real estate. Knowing the history of real estate in Cook County puts a greater emphasis on the importance of fairness and equity in the property tax system. 

Have resources, ideas, or suggestions? Submit to Kelwin Harris at Kelwin.Harris@cookcountyil.gov

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The National Association of Counties (NACo) awarded the Assessor's Office a 2022 Achievement Award for this initiative. 

Racial Equity & Real Estate Conversations: The Black Tax Book

The Cook County Assessor’s Office has been working to transform a property tax system that many would contend has been unfair for decades. For years, assessor offices overvalued homes in Black and Brown communities while underassessing properties in White concentrated suburbs. This has not only been a Cook County problem but a national issue in many big cities. The underlying causes have their roots in structural racism and the inability of assessors to access quality data.

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi will be in conversation with scholars and practitioners to unpack these issues and discuss solutions. Professor Andrew Kahrl from the University of Virginia has released a new book called, The Black Tax: 150 Years of Theft, Exploitation, and Dispossession in America that traces inequitable assessments and land takings from Blacks to as far back as the Civil War and follows its legacy to predatory practices that impact communities today.

Learn about the panelists.

Seeking Equity in Property Assessment, Appraisal & Valuation

Fair Housing Month Event

Homeownership is the primary path for sustained, multigenerational wealth-building for families in the United States. And yet, biases engrained in how homes are bought, taxed, and sold create numerous barriers for Black and Brown families to realize this goal. While government at every level has helped perpetuate these discriminatory practices, it has also sought to address them.

On April 13, 2023, the Cook County Assessor's Office in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Midwest Regional Office, hosted a Fair Housing Month Event that focused on "Seeking Equity in Property Assessment, Appraisal & Valuation." This event brought together leaders in the field of housing, academia, research, and local government on a collective mission on how we can further address inequities in American homeownership.

Learn about the panelists.

Closing the Racial Gap in Property Appraisals

June 30, 2022
Why are appraisals for Black and White homeowners not always the same? Why do Black neighborhoods benefit from far less lending activity than White neighborhoods? Our expert panelists will explore these and other questions while looking at solutions to address these challenges.


  • Andre M. Perry, Senior Fellow, Brookings, and Author, Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America's Black Cities
  • Alden Loury, Senior Editor - Race, Class, and Communities, WBEZ
  • James Erik Smith, Secretary, Appraisal Institute
  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor (moderator)
  • Kelwin Harris, Director of Outreach, Cook County Assessor’s Office (facilitator)

Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations with Shermann "Dilla" Thomas

March 11, 2022
In the most recent edition of Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations, Assessor Fritz Kaegi has a candid conversation that focuses on historical connections to the work of property tax reform and the challenges and opportunities of getting it right. Chicago’s renowned TikTok urban historian, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas helps unpack themes such as addressing the racial wealth gap, disparities in homeownership, and how to keep people of color from leaving Cook County. 


  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor
  • Shermann "Dilla" Thomas, Chicago Urban Historian
  • Kelwin Harris, Director of Outreach, Cook County Assessor's Office (moderator)

Talk with Toni- Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi

September 15, 2021
On this episode of Talk with Toni, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle sits down with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi to discuss Racial Equity in the Assessor's office. This episode was part of Cook County's Racial Equity Week initiative. 

Closing the Racial Gap

April 22, 2022
Unfair property tax assessments can affect rates of homeownership and the ability to create generational wealth within neighborhoods. This has particular adverse impacts on families of color who rely on equity in their homes as a source of stability. Drawing from recent stories highlighting inequity in property tax assessments in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and others, this panel will discuss the consequences of inequitable assessment practices and explore who bears the burden when communities of color are overassessed. Panelists will also offer recommendations on how government, in partnership with the civic and business communities, can work together to repair our property tax system.


  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor, Moderator
  • Tonika Johnson, Social Artist, Founder of The Folded Map Project
  • Professor Christopher Berry, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
  • Professor Andrew Kahrl, University of Virginia
  • Nykea Pippion McGriff, President, Chicago Association of Realtors

Racial Equity & Real Estate Conversations: A focus on homeownership & economic development

August 12, 2021
With homeownership rates and economic development in predominantly black communities lagging far behind the rest of the county, the next panel in our series on racial equity and real estate focuses on homeownership equity and confronting our legacy of segregation and economic exploitation. The panel will discuss solutions and strategies to bring more investment and stability to communities of color and the myriad public policy interventions and market incentives that can improve outcomes in our neighborhoods.


  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor, Moderator
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Princeton University, Author of Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership
  • Frank Williams, President, F.J. Williams Realty LLC
  • Morgan Malone, Director of Development and External Affairs, Farpoint Development
  • David Doig, President, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives

The Color Tax Film Screening and Panel

April 22, 2021
On Feb. 18th we aired the film, The Color Tax: Origins of the Modern-Day Racial Wealth Gap for our staff. The Color Tax tells the story of how a system of predatory home contract sales during the 1950s and 60s plundered enormous sums of wealth from black families seeking the American dream of homeownership, but denied access to standard mortgages. In a compelling narrative format, The Color Tax documents who peddled the contracts, how and why they were allowed to do it, and what happened when black families organized to fight back--in one of Chicago’s most heart-wrenching and perilous campaigns for racial and economic justice.

The film was followed by a panel discussion that was recorded and included here.


  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor, Moderator
  • Bruce Orenstein, Duke professor, and filmmaker of The Color Tax
  • Beryl Satter, Author, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America
  • Courtney Jones, President, Dearborn Realtist Board (Oldest African-American Real Estate Trade Organization) 

Additional Resources



Radio & Podcast
Property Taxes
Suggested Books
  • Family Properties by Beryl Satter
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
  • The South Side by Natalie Moore
  • Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago (1940-1960) by Arnold Hirsch
  • Binga: The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker by Don Hayner 
  • Know Your Price by Andre Perry