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DePaul community braces for tax hike

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Days after the Chicago City Council voted 35-15 in favor of the highest property tax hike in the city’s history, DePaul students and faculty living in Lincoln Park and elsewhere await their own fate in how they will deal with a more expensive neighborhood — if they decide to stay.

Residents across the city will now pay their portion of a $588 million property tax levy that will be implemented over four years. The money will go towards police and fire pensions, which have been massively underfunded for years. In tandem with the property tax increase is a $9.50 per month garbage collection fee and increased taxes on e-cigarettes and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

“Hopefully people will stick around in DePaul and the city,” said Padraic Swanton, director of marketing and communications for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not surprising that people in Wisconsin and elsewhere are marketing themselves as a cheaper alternative.”

The plan focuses on raising city taxes, instead of cutting city services, to pay for some of next year’s budget of $7.8 billion, according to the city clerk’s website.

Yet no one knows for certain how expensive property taxes will be, and how much they will end up paying. Property is assessed every three years to determine its value, which is then used to forge the amount of tax one is required to pay.

As a not-for-profit institution that uses its property for educational and religious purposes, DePaul is exempt from city property taxes, according to DePaul Financial Aid. This means that the rent students pay for university dormitories will not increase because of the tax hike.

To cushion the hefty taxes residents will soon have to pay, Mayor Rahm Emanuel requested that Gov. Bruce Rauner and state legislators double the current tax exemption from $7,000 to $14,000 for residents who own homes valued at less than $250,000. For the rest of Chicago homeowners, especially those who live on the lakefront such as in Lincoln Park, property taxes may be robust.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward), whose ward includes DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, supported the tax increase only after the City Council approved her resolution that exempts homeowners from paying the full tax for those who have lived there for a long period of time.

“I voted yes because I got a commitment from the mayor that we would, in all events, provide relief for these people,” Smith said.

Smith’s colleagues Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward), James Cappleman (46th Ward) and Ameya Pawar (47th Ward), all North Side aldermen that count DePaul students as constituents, voted yes.

On the other hand, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), whose wards are close to DePaul’s campus, voted no. In addition, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), whose ward includes DePaul’s Loop campus, voted no.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th Ward, who voted against the proposal, had different ideas.

“It’s a sad day when we can’t look at cutting our own six-figure salaries. It’s a sad day when we can’t look at meaningful TIF (tax increment financing) reform,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “It’s easy to go to those with the least power and say ‘give me more out of your pocket.’”

Ald. John Arena of the 45th Ward emphasized the homeowner exception as a reasonable option.

“We have to look at how big the relief package is,” Arena said. “We want to make sure it affects mostly those lower-income family households and senior households.”

So far, Rauner has dodged Emanuel’s request, an act recently highlighted when the governor produced a tuna steak from a bag in playful reference to when the mayor sent a dead fish to a pollster years ago. The disagreement could have its roots in Emanuel’s restraint to oblige Rauner’s own request for Democratic votes in the state legislature to pass the 2016 budget.

Under the current plan landowners will receive their first bill on February 2017, which if they lease, will in turn funnel down for tenants to pay.

With a higher price of living in the city, DePaul students and faculty may be prompted to move to cheaper places.
Jake Weiss, a DePaul graduate student who rents in Lincoln Park, said that the taxes might be worth it.

“I mean, they do a lot for the community,” Weiss said of Chicago police and firemen. “So paying a couple dollars a month would be a good sacrifice.”

“But if I were to pay $40, $50, $60 a month more, it wouldn’t be worth me staying in the neighborhood,” he added.

Christian Ing, a DePaul junior who lives near the Roosevelt ‘el’ stop, seemed to have the same mindset in regard to the tax hikes.

“It may affect my decision to live in the city. I don’t want to live here if property taxes increase every year,” Ing said.

On the other hand, Dorothy DeCarlo, a DePaul professor of communications who owns a home in Lincoln Park, said she is against the tax hike.

“I’m paying for their inability,” she said of city legislators. “When you don’t have enough money you go to somebody else.”

Instead, DeCarlo said legislators “should change the pension laws for people who are coming in.”

Samantha Wilson, a freshman who lives in Sanctuary Hall, said she is considering moving to a cheaper place because of the tax hike.

“It seems like a good idea at first, but people need to live here,” she said. “Most people here are students and they can’t afford to pay more.”

Sophie Giroux, a freshman who lives in University Hall, is looking for a cheaper place as well.

“As a freshman I’m looking for an apartment next year. $800 a month for an apartment is a lot for a student in college.”

The sad reality is that everyone will have to pay something, Swanton said.

“I think the most important thing for DePaul students to know is that we appreciate their business,” he said. “Everyone knows how much DePaul is an economic driver.”

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DePaul community braces for tax hike