CHICAGO – A judge has granted the City of Chicago’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights on behalf of Grassroots Collaborative and Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education over the creation of a new TIF district for the Lincoln Yards luxury development and the systemic racial inequity caused by the City’s administration of the program.
“We are disappointed with today’s ruling,” stated Aneel Chablani, Chief Counsel for Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. “Although our complaint was dismissed based on legal standing, the ruling did not actually address the substance of our arguments that Chicago’s administration of TIF is discriminatory and illegal and that the Lincoln Yards TIF should never have been approved. We will be evaluating all legal options to address today’s court ruling and continue this challenge.”
Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative added, “Nothing about today’s decision will stop our decades-long fight to end the racist abuse of the TIF program by the City of Chicago. We are going to continue to pursue both our legal and legislative options to stop the abuse of the program. We hope that the Lightfoot administration will join with us in the push for TIF reform instead of fighting us. We continue to call on her administration to hold hearings on the TIF program in the low-income neighborhoods that the TIF program was originally intended to help.” “The $1.3 billion mega-TIF for Lincoln Yards is a perfect example of how our broken TIF system takes public funds away from families in under-resourced communities who need the most support, particularly hurting people of color,” stated Jennie Biggs with Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. “Our public schools can’t afford for these abuses to continue. Inaction on this issue is not an option.”
For the past decade, Chicago has displaced and over-policed Black and Brown families, and starved the city’s working people of the resources they need to live and thrive. Black, Brown and working families overpay through a discriminatory use of fines, fees, and property taxes while corporate developers receive massive handouts for projects that displace residents.
Which is why community and labor organizations have come together with progressive aldermen to release a series of proposals for the 2020 city budget calling for $1.9 billion in new spending, $700 million in divestments, and $4.9 billion in new progressive revenue from requiring the wealthiest and large corporations to pay their fair share.
The proposal comes on the heels of ten aldermen pledging to vote only for a budget that invests in public services, divests from developers and failed policing, and taxes the rich. Working together, aldermen and community groups have prepared concrete proposals, a month before Mayor Lightfoot will deliver her budget address to City Council and are prepared to bargain together to win a budget that serves working families.
A new report released on Wednesday by the Cook County Clerk showed a record breaking $1.2 billion in TIF funds collected this year.
TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money comes from property taxes in designated areas of the city. Originally the program was intended to help blighted neighborhoods struggling to attract investment – areas like Garfield Park and Englewood. However, for decades, our elected officials have found it more lucrative and politically advantageous to use the program as a slush fund to dump more money into downtown and other affluent parts of the city like Lincoln Yards.
The City creates TIF districts in wealthier and wealthier parts of the city, and the TIF fund increases accordingly.
The shockingly high amount of money that the TIF program took in this year, if used correctly, could still do some real good for the city. On Monday, Mayor Lightfoot made a commitment to greatly expand the number of nurses and social workers in Chicago Public Schools, but did not specify how she would pay for it. Lightfoot could immediately declare a TIF Surplus and could use that $1.2 billion to pay for the critical support staff that parents and teachers have been demanding for their students.
Putting TIF money back into our schools would be a great first step but we can’t stop there. The ever increasing size of the TIF funds should be a giant red flag that needs to be addressed. We need our new Mayor and City Council to take a good hard look at the TIF program and why $1.2 billion was sitting in a slush fund to begin with. We need to address the stark racial and economic inequality that is happening as a result of the misuse of the TIF program. And we need to focus on solutions that help Black and Latinx families across the south and west sides thrive.
Grassroots Collaborative has filed a lawsuit against the city over the misuse of the TIF program and the violation of the civil rights of our residents. You can support our efforts to reform the TIF program by making a donation here.
CHICAGO – On Tuesday, the Illinois House passed the Fair Tax Constitutional Amendment. The following is a statement by Grassroots Collaborative Executive Director Amisha Patel.
“The passage of the Fair Tax Amendment in the House is great news for Illinois working families that have for far to long been burdened by the state’s outdated regressive tax system. It is fundamentally unfair for teachers and service workers to pay the same tax rate as Hedge Fund managers and CEOs. Addressing the unfairness and inequality of Illinois’s tax system has been a priority of Grassroots Collaborative’s membership for years. The Illinois House is correct to move the amendment forward and we strongly believe that Illinois voters will support the ballot question and finally create a structural fix to our broken tax system.
“Giving a tax break to working families and generating new substantial revenue from the wealthy paying their fair share will help create jobs, fund vital programs and services, and reverse the current trend of working families being pushed out of the state.”
The following is an open letter to Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago City Council:
Dear Mayor-Elect Lightfoot & Chicago City Council,
We, the undersigned community organizations, are committed to working to pass policies to help low-income and working-class communities of color whose needs have long been ignored in favor of the wealthy and politically connected. Like so many Chicago voters we are deeply disappointed by the corruption that has come to light in recent months.
We appreciate the promises many of you made during the recent election to end practices that allow politicians to profit from elected positions and moving Chicago towards the racial and economic equity our residents deserve.
Towards this end, we write to submit our recommendations to you about the criteria you should use in your selection of Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs. As you know, the Chair and Vice Chair for each Committee hold tremendous power. We ask your Administration to take steps to ensure that Committee Chairmen and Chairwomen:
- Wield their power in the interests of the public,
- Are insulated from corrupting corporate influences and donations from special interest groups
- Are accessible by average members of the public, and
- Make a commitment to center the needs of Chicago’s most marginalized and vulnerable people and communities
Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs must commit to center questions of racial and economic equity in how they run the Committee
Residents want a Chicago a where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny. We urge Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs to make a commitment to centering the voices and needs of Chicago’s most marginalized, vulnerable and under-supported constituencies. This includes using Racial Equity Impact Assessments to evaluate whether proposals in front of their Committee will benefit or burden people of color, low-income and working class people, people with disabilities, and other protected and vulnerable classes. We urge the Lightfoot Administration to make a bold statement about its commitment to racial and economic equity and ask Committee Chairs to do the same in their role as Chairmen.
Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs must reject donations that present conflicts of interest with their leadership role
We urge that the Lightfoot Administration and Chicago City Council to adopt a policy that Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs must make a commitment not to accept donations from for-profit business sectors or corporate lobbyists whose money may present a conflict of interest in how they run the Committee over which they have power. Specifically, we urge that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Housing Committee and the Zoning Committee commit not to accept donations from developers or real estate companies who seek zoning changes or financial benefits from the City in their development deals. We also urge that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee commit not to accept donations from any kind of private detention center or sector with a financial interest in the enduring criminalization and over-incarceration of people and communities of color. We urge that your Administration further instructs the Office of the Inspector General to assess potential conflicts of interest with Chair and Vice Chair roles for each committee, publish a list of prohibited donors, and then audit Chair and Vice Chair compliance with avoiding potential conflicts of interest every 4-6 months.
Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs must make themselves accessible to members of the public across the entire city, not just from their own wards
In addition, we urge that Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs make the commitment to hold public office hours and times and locations accessible to members of the general public from any neighborhood in Chicago. The Chair and Vice-Chair role is one ideally responsible and accountable to the interests of residents across all of Chicago, not just residents from the specific ward the Chair and Vice Chair were elected from. In holding open office hours at regular and posted times, the Chair and Vice Chair of each committee will be available to receive input about how to govern in the interests of constituents from all across Chicago.
Similarly, we urge the Lightfoot Administration to adopt a commitment that Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs should hold public comment at every Committee Meeting, in line with the Open Meetings Act.
Questions or follow up regarding this letter can be directed to Amisha@grassrootscollaborative.org. Thank you for considering these recommendations.
American Friends Service Committee Midwest Region
Alliance of the Southeast
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Centro Trabajadores Unidos
Chicago Housing Initiative
Chicago Community Workers Rights
Chicago United for Equity
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Jane Addams Senior Caucus
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Organized Communities Against Deportations
Raise the Floor Alliance
Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education
The People’s Lobby
We need to transform Chicago into a city that works for everybody through targeted community investment, expansion, and protection of affordable housing, police accountability, jobs programs, and progressive revenue. Read the full#ReimagineChicago platform here.
Below are five stories from residents across the city about why it is so important that we #ReimagineChicago. The testimonies in these stories were shared with Mayor-elect Lightfoot during at #ReimagineChicago Mayoral Forum in January. Graphics by Danbee Kim.
Reimagine Healthy Communities:
Reimagine Community Investment:
On Wednesday, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a lame duck City Council approved the $2.3 billion dollar taxpayer handout to mega-developers Sterling Bay and Related Midwest. This action reinforces what many of us have been saying for years – we have to fundamentally change the way that Chicago utilizes TIF dollars.
As City Council moved to pass the Alderman-elects Daniel LaSpata (1st Ward), Mike Rodriguez (22nd ward), Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th ward), Andre Vasquez (40th ward), Matt Martin (47th ward), and Maria Hadden (49th ward) stood with community members blocking LaSalle St. to call for a stop to the creation of the two megaTIFs.
Chicagoans are fed up with the continued handouts to politically connected developers for their pet projects and luxury developments. In the case of Lincoln Yards, community residents, union members, and small business leaders opposed this project every step of the way.
Chicago has 149 TIF districts, as many as the other nine largest U.S. cities combined. The problem with TIFs is that the majority of TIF districts that have significant funds are located in parts of the city where development is already happening – namely on the North side, downtown, or near downtown. This means that instead of eliminating blight, or even reducing it, TIFs in Chicago serve to exacerbate inequalities. For example, between 2011 and 2015, 60% of TIF funds went to the downtown area and the north side. By contrast, the Westside only received 9% of TIF funding; the South Side received 16% and the Far South Side 4%. Yesterday’s votes reinforce the truth that the TIF system is broken.
We need a new way forward with economic development in this city.
Once Lightfoot is sworn in as Chicago’s mayor, she should immediately hit the pause button on the TIF program and hold public hearings on the economic priorities of the city. She must build an approach that centers investment in low-income neighborhoods on the South and West sides, not maintain the current status quo where our communities are at the margins. And, she should support revenue solutions that make the wealthiest of our city pay their fair share. Instead of subsidizing Sterling Bay, we should be taxing them.
At the Grassroots Collaborative Reimagine Chicago Mayoral forum, Lightfoot committed to, among other things, the reopening of the City’s mental health clinics, free city college tuition for all Chicago residents, and a more equitable funding formula for Chicago Public Schools. All of these policies would be critical investments in our neighborhoods that have languished under the Emanuel administration.
If we made these investments and prioritized neighborhoods instead of luxury developments, we would not only be able to improve the lives of Chicago residents but create the sort of vibrant city that will make more businesses want to set up shop here – without us handing them billions of our property tax dollars.
On Wednesday, despite an outpouring of public opposition, Chicago City Council voted to approve two new megaTIF districts that will impact Chicago for decades to come. Grassroots Collaborative has worked for years to stop the abuses of the TIF program and helped lead a diverse coalition in opposition to the Lincoln Yards and the 78 megaTIFs. The following is a statement from Grassroots Collaborative Executive Director Amisha Patel.
“The decision to move forward these megaTIFs epitomizes a legacy that has been a disaster for working families. Throughout his administration Mayor Emanuel has governed as the mayor of two cities. In one he closed schools, shuttered clinics, and nickled and dimed residents with fees and tickets. In the other, he rolled out the red carpet for the corporate elite, all at the expense of working families.
“Grassroots Collaborative will continue to work towards ending the abuses of the TIF program, and the racial and economic inequality it produces. We will continue to organize for a vibrant city that attracts good jobs and economic development without handing out billions of our tax dollars to the wealthy.”
Chicago, IL 60605
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