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The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

‘Bring Chicago Home’ referendum rallies support and sparks concerns among developers

Maya Oclassen

Chicago voters will have the chance to vote in the March 19 primary for the “Bring Chicago Home” referendum, first introduced in 2018, which would raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end properties worth more than $1 million.

The consistent revenue from this tax raise would be used to create quality affordable housing and other services for Chicago’s 68,400 people experiencing homelessness.

In November, City Council voted 32-17 to place the referendum on the ballot, giving Chicago voters the final say.

Vanessa Alvarez, director of communications of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one of the organizations supporting Bring Chicago Home, says that this proposition is a viable solution to a longstanding homelessness crisis in Chicago.

“We recognize that there are many needs and many solutions,” Alvarez said. “We view creating a dedicated revenue stream in the city of Chicago as one of those solutions.”

The Bring Chicago Home proposition would restructure the tax that is paid when property owners sell their properties. 

If passed, property sales under $1 million would be taxed at 0.6%, a decrease from the existing 0.75%. Property sales between $1 million and $1.5 million would be taxed at 2%, and high-end properties over $1.5 million would be taxed at 3%.

According to Bring Chicago Home, nearly 95% of properties would see a tax decrease. If enacted, the proposition would only apply to about 4.2% of properties sold every year. 

Alvarez says this tiered system shows how the ordinance would only impact a small group that is in the margins to withstand a tax raise. 

“We are asking individuals that can, to pay what they can,” Alvarez said. “The reality is that this is a tax for a very specific group of individuals that have the capacity to pay.”

The Bring Chicago Home ordinance is supported by progressive alderpeople such as Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) has been one of Mayor Johnson’s campaign promises.

Despite the advancement of the ordinance in the City Council in November, Bring Chicago Home’s position on the March ballot was met with concerns, and even a lawsuit, by real estate and development groups such as the Chicagoland Apartment Association and the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance. 

In early January, the coalition of real estate and development groups filed a lawsuit against the Cook County Circuit Court to block the question from appearing on the ballot in March’s election. 

The groups argue that the language used in the referendum is too “vague,” and the ordinance is unconstitutional because they claim it utilizes “log-rolling.” 

This tactic has been deemed illegal by the Illinois Supreme Court, as they say popular legislation, such as lowering taxes cannot be combined with typically unpopular policy, such as raising taxes in order to gain voter support.

The Women Construction Owners and Executive’s Chicago Caucus (WCOE) is one of the groups participating in the lawsuit.

Theresa Kern, the board chair for WCOE, worries that if passed, the ordinance would discourage developers from pursuing construction projects in Chicago, directly impacting the union construction workers that make up the WCOE. 

“Right now, there is hardly any work going on (downtown) at all,” Kern said. “It’s chasing work from downtown for one thing, and if you chase work from downtown, then you’re going to chase work from the rest of the city.”

Many supporters of Bring Chicago Home understand this fear. They include Jaclyn Rassner, a social worker and a supporter and volunteer with the group since 2020.

“Change is scary, and if your income is dependent on this industry, I could understand why this is scary,” Rassner said. 

The Mayor’s Press Office released a statement Jan. 5 in response to the lawsuit, restating Johnson’s support for Bring Chicago Home and his belief that it would create “even more much-needed resources to address homelessness in our city.”

Alvarez said, if passed, the ordinance would bind the city to use this revenue for homeless services. 

“The city cannot use it for other things,” Alvarez said. “This is truly to address homelessness in the city, it’s creating quality affordable housing so it’s maintained, and providing wrap-around services.”

But Cornel Darden Jr., chairman and founder of the Southland Black Chamber of Commerce, a business organization standing in opposition to Bring Chicago Home, expressed concern that the city has yet to release information about where this revenue would be allocated. 

Darden worries that this will cause the city to use the money for unintended purposes.

We don’t want to have a situation where we think these funds are going to a very honorable cause and to help us tackle our ongoing homelessness problem, and those funds are diverted and used for something else,” Darden said.

Kern and Darden believe that if passed, the ordinance will cause more harm than good, specifically for future property development and those who rent apartments.

Kern says that if landlords are forced to pay a high transfer tax in order to acquire an apartment building, these costs will be passed on to renters. 

“It’s pretty clear to see how residents are going to be impacted, landlords can’t pay this transfer tax themselves, and you know where that’s going to show up,” Kern said. 

Alvarez identified the lack of “clear and precise” language in the ordinance as well but says that this leaves much-needed room to continue to address the changing needs of those experiencing homelessness.

“The need today might not be the same need five years from now,” Alvarez said. “I think that affords Bring Chicago Home the opportunity to be nimble and listen to those who need the support to understand what is truly needed to get them housing and have a place to thrive.”

Close collaboration with those with lived experiences of homelessness would be a priority in crafting and executing the specifics of the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, according to Rassner and Alvarez. 

This will ensure that services for those experiencing homelessness are being addressed as well, not just focusing on the goal of creating housing.  

Rassner explains that homelessness is often a “symptom” of greater causes, such as domestic violence, mental health challenges or substance abuse issues. 

Investing in these wrap-around services would give attention to these symptoms, not just focus on obtaining the physical home, says Rassner.

“I think having our streets safer because people have a place to go, having our schools performing better because students are well rested improves the city in ways that feel good, and in ways that will raise the value, so to speak, of a city.”

— Jaclyn Rassner

Those opposing the ordinance believe that more attention should be focused on communicating with real estate and development groups to form a more comprehensive plan, according to Kern from WCOE.

“When you talk to builders, developers, real estate companies and apartment owners, they really know a lot more than the city of Chicago knows about the economy, property, the whole ball of wax,” Kern said. 

Darden calls the proposed ordinance a “great idea” but believes that the solution to homelessness shown through Bring Chicago Home “causes harm to everyone.” 

But Rassner says that Bring Chicago Home will show great improvements to the city in many areas. 

She points to the one in seven Chicago Public School students who experience homelessness, resulting in poor performance due to a lack of rest and a secure place to study. 

“I think having our streets safer because people have a place to go, having our schools performing better because students are well rested improves the city in ways that feel good, and in ways that will raise the value, so to speak, of a city,” Rassner said.

Rassner says that Bring Chicago Home would help ensure people have the resources they deserve.

People deserve dignity, they deserve to have the ability to get clean when they feel dirty, people should have a place that is safe for them to go and escape from the world,” Rassner said.

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    Mark FFeb 19, 2024 at 10:13 am

    If you cut back on all the corruption and bureaucracy involved in construction in the Chicago area you would have a lot more affordable housing. If this law passes expect it to drive people with money out of the city.

    • M

      michaelFeb 20, 2024 at 11:58 am

      Yep, I just sold my place and I have a music festival that filled a hotel for three days. I am ending that as well. I do not have a ton of extra money because I pay salaries. I work my ass off and for what? So some blue haired who watches netflix half the day can take more money from me.