About 7% of Chicago's 2016 operating budget—nearly $264 million—came from traffic and parking tickets. To get that funding, the city is forcing thousands of poor, disproportionately black drivers into bankruptcy, ProPublica Illinois found in a deep dive into a decade's worth of tickets. About 1,000 Chapter 13 bankruptcies in 2007 in Chicago included debts to the city, mostly for unpaid tickets; that had ballooned to 10,000 by 2017. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made collecting on unpaid tickets a priority in 2011. Two years after that, Chicago started using automated speed cameras. Now, thanks to ticket debt, Chicago leads the country in Chapter 13 filings. “If you’re a city government that has a policy of basically balancing the budget by issuing huge numbers of traffic tickets, you have to expect this response,” says an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.
Laqueanda Reneau, 25, had $6,700 in unpaid tickets, late fines, and impound fees. A city payment plan required a down payment of $1,000 or 25% of her debt. She could't afford it, so she turned to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. “I know I’m putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” Reneau says. “But right now, my immediate need is to get a car so I can get to work and get my son to school.” It's a problem that is disproportionately affecting Chicago's black residents. Over the past decade eight of the 10 ZIP codes with the most ticket debt per adult are majority black. Those eight neighborhoods hold 40% of all ticket debt despite accounting for only 22% of all tickets. In addition Chapter 13 is rarely successful in erasing ticket debt. Read the rest of the story here to find out why one community organizer says Chicago "is shooting itself in the foot" with its policies on ticket debt. (Read more Longform stories.)