For the last year and a half, a group of activists led by former Lakeside Community Development Commission Director, Brian White, and a community organization, A Just Harvest, have demanded that I support Mr. White’s proposal to impose a ward-wide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that would provide grants to landlords for low income housing in the 49th Ward. Mr. White and his allies call their brand of TIF a RIF (Residential Improvement Fund).
I refrained from taking a position on the RIF/TIF proposal until it had undergone thorough study and Mr. White and his allies had an opportunity to demonstrate broad-based community support for the idea. A study of the proposal commissioned by Mr. White’s former organization was released last Friday.
After careful deliberation and review of the study, I have decided to OPPOSE the RIF/TIF proposal.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Mr. White is currently running for alderman of the 49th Ward, having announced his candidacy last October. That fact has not influenced my decision. As I set forth in great detail below, the RIF/TIF proposal falls short on its own merits, regardless of its sponsor.
A TIF district is a designated geographical area where a portion of property tax revenue from that area is set aside for certain specified purposes, in this case, grants to landlords for low income housing. As noted above, Mr. White’s organization commissioned a “Pre-Eligibility Study” of the proposed ward-wide TIF. The study, released last week, determined that the the 49th Ward as a whole did not meet the very lenient statutory eligibility criteria for a TIF (only three out of thirteen “eligibility factors” need be present to establish a TIF). Instead, the consultants suggested two smaller areas in the ward may qualify for a TIF.
For a copy of the Pre-Eligibility Study, click on the attachment below:
Undeterred by the decidedly mixed report of their consultants, Mr. White and his allies remain bound and determined to TIF well over half the ward. Mr. White is now demanding that I find $450,000 to fund yet another eligibility study, this time for a revised proposal that calls for a TIF district in the portion of the 49th Ward delineated as Area A on the map below:
I cannot in good conscience commit taxpayer money to study a TIF proposal that may just barely, if at all, satisfy the state’s lenient TIF eligibility criteria.
THE BASIS FOR MY DECISION
Even if it meets the statutory criteria, the threshold question remains: Should we TIF over half of the 49th Ward and limit the TIF proceeds to one use only? After careful deliberation, I have determined the answer to that question is “NO” for the following reasons:
- At a time when vital government services are being cut, the proposed RIF/TIF will take away up to $44 million of our tax dollars from schools, parks, libraries and critical city services, such as police and fire protection, and give it to landlords.
Mr. White’s consultants estimate as much as $44 million in tax revenue will be set aside in the “Area A” RIF/TIF for grants to landlords. This is tax revenue that otherwise would go to our schools, parks, libraries, and critical city services, such as police and fire protection. Instead, that revenue would be given to landlords to fix up their buildings for low income housing.
I’m not convinced that taking away $44 million from other important priorities and giving it to landlords is the best way to create affordable housing, especially at a time when our taxing bodies are suffering severe budgetary shortfalls and cutting back services, and when other ways exist to achieve the same goal.
- The RIF/TIF would deprive our community of the flexibility to decide how millions of tax dollars could be spent in the future.
Though Mr. White claims his RIF/TIF could expire earlier than the customary 23-year lifespan for TIFs, there is no guarantee this will occur. Unlike most TIFs where the revenue can be used for many purposes, Mr. White’s RIF/TIF is limited exclusively to funding low income housing. What if our community in the years to come wishes to use some of that RIF/TIF money for other needs, such as job training and creation, business development, infrastructure repair and capital improvements? Mr. White’s proposal prevents use of RIF/TIF funds for those purposes.
- The proposed RIF/TIF offers no specific measures for transparency and accountability.
TIFs have been criticized justifiably for lacking transparency and accountability. Mr. White alleges his RIF/TIF would be different, yet he offer precious few details. He states that an unidentified locally controlled board will oversee and administer tens of millions of dollars in TIF funds. Who would be appointed to this board and who would do the appointing? Is it Mr. White’s former agency, the Lakeside CDC, or his close ally, A Just Harvest? What safeguards would be in place to guard against favoritism and/or misappropriation? Mr. White and his allies are silent on these issues. I cannot support a proposal that allows some amorphous, unelected board to oversee and award tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to landlords when basic elementary questions of transparency and accountability have yet to be answered.
- There are better ways to support affordable housing in our ward.
There are other ways to support affordable housing that do not require landlord giveaways and the diversion of scarce funds from our schools and other taxing bodies. Just yesterday in Huffington Post and my City Council Report, I wrote of my active support for the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance, which requires 20% of all existing TIF funds citywide to be dedicated to the creation of affordable housing.
I also co-sponsored the Affordable Housing Set-Aside Ordinance, which requires developers to set aside for affordable housing 20% of all new housing units. Both those measures have the potential to bring hundreds of new units of housing to our community without creating yet another TIF and taking money away from our schools and other taxing bodies.
- Contrary to the false claims of Brian White and his allies, the proposed RIF/TIF has garnered little community support, even among affordable housing advocates.
As regular readers of my e-mail know, any land use proposal in my ward–whether it is a zoning change, a special use permit or a TIF–must enjoy broad community support before it earns my approval, especially something as significant as imposing a TIF on more than half the ward. Mr. White and his allies have utterly failed to win broad-based community support for their RIF/TIF proposal, even among organizations that have been longstanding advocates of affordable housing.
I repeatedly invited Mr. White and his allies to sit down with other community organizations and leaders in a task force to examine their proposal. They expressly refused to do so.
They falsely claimed to have the support of most of the neighborhood non-profits–the Organization of the Northeast, the Rogers Park Community Council, the Rogers Park Community Development Corporation, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance. Yet each and every one of those organizations has emphatically denied supporting the proposed RIF/TIF.
They also claimed the support of the Rogers Park Builders Group, but that organization also does not support the RIF/TIF, even though their members stand to benefit from it, because it takes money away from other critical needs, such as schools, parks, libraries and police and fire protection.
They claimed last summer to have gathered signatures of support from over 800 Rogers Park residents, and yet to this day they have failed to publicly produce those petitions.
Finally, they allege that I at one time pledged to support the RIF/TIF. Like their other false assertions of support, this claim is patently untrue. Though I pledged to keep an open mind on the proposal and work with Mr. White, I made it abundantly clear that he and his allies needed to first demonstrate community support for their proposal.
As one who has consistently supported affordable housing developments, I take a back seat to no one in my commitment to maintain our neighborhood’s diversity. Throughout my tenure as your alderman, I have supported developments that have created and preserved over a thousand units of affordable rental and ownership housing for low and moderate income individuals and families in our community. But there is a right way and a wrong way to create and preserve affordable housing. I respectfully submit that the proposed RIF/TIF, though noble in its objectives, is the wrong way.