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Tax revenue should go to affordable housing, not megadevelopments, aldermen say

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A group of progressive aldermen are calling for TIF reform and a fairer distribution of its revenue

A row of brick houses with Victorian embellishments.
Home in Chicago.

The mayor isn’t required to increase property taxes or double the restaurant tax, although those are reliable ways to raise revenue for the city’s budget deficit. Chicago should have the political courage to tax the rich, at least that’s what a group of aldermen are calling on Lightfoot to do.

This idea was the main talking point at a town hall in Pilsen Thursday night with 22nd Ward Alderman Mike Rodriguez and 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. The two aldermen are part of the progressive caucus and are fighting to make sure more public dollars go towards affordable housing.

This month, eight of the city’s aldermen associated with the political organization United Working Families are holding six town halls across the city to raise awareness and support for their proposed alternatives to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2020 budget.

“There are ways for us to not only balance the budget but to put in structural solutions for the longer term,” said Sigcho-Lopez. “We can raise progressive revenue instead of continuing to nickel and dime the working-class residents of this city.”

Part of Lightfoot’s budget relied on establishing a graduated real estate transfer tax (RETT), but that option is off the table after the state legislature refused to approve it earlier this week. Now, the mayor is including a $65 million property tax levy increase—a measure she said she resisted and most Chicagoans did not want.

“These town hall meetings are an opportunity to make sure that our neighbors know what’s being offered in this budget and what we will be fighting for in the weeks ahead,” said 33rd Ward Alderman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez in a statement.

What the Progressive Caucus is fighting for includes reform of the tax-increment financing (TIF) districts so that the estimated $840 million collected in 2019 would be more fairly distributed. TIF is a funding tool that is meant to encourage development in “blighted” areas of the city by paying for infrastructure improvements. Most notably TIF districts were established for megadevelopments Lincoln Yards and The 78.

“We need to do make sure that TIF dollars and our public dollars go towards the creation of affordable housing, not to benefit luxury development like Lincoln Yards and The 78,” said Sigcho-Lopez.

The alderman and UWF is also advocating income sources such as a $35-per-employee corporate head tax for companies with 50 employees or more estimated to bring in $100 million annually, and a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) fee targeted at non-profit hospitals who reportedly avoid $200 in local taxes a year despite making between $740 million and $2.1 billion in profits.

There are two more UWF town halls scheduled: Thursday, November 21 at Sherman Park with 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor and a Saturday, November 23rd at Rogers Park Public Library with 49th Ward Alderman Maria Hadden.