development – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 SE Side wants to benefit from USX development http://www.newstips.org/2013/09/se-side-wants-to-benefit-from-usx-development/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/09/se-side-wants-to-benefit-from-usx-development/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 22:16:10 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7672 With nearly $100 million in TIF funds being spent on the first phase of a massive development on the south lakefront, a community summit on Saturday will discuss strategies to win a community benefits agreement for the project.

The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA meets Saturday, September 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Partnership for Working Families will discuss how community benefits agreements (CBAs) across the country have won opportunities for local workers and communities, and Tom Tresser of CivicLab will present an analysis of all TIFs in three local wards.

The Coalition will also release results of a new survey of Southeast Side residents.

Site developer McCaffrey Interests has been granted $96 million in TIF support from the city for the first phase of a vast new redevelopment of the former site of US Steel’s South Works (USX) plant, dubbed Chicago Lakeside.  Ultimately McCaffrey plans over 13,000 units of housing, 17.5 million square feet of retail, 125 acres of parks and a 1,500-slip marina.

The TIF subsidy will cover one-fourth of development costs for the first phase of the project, which will include 1 million square feet of retail and restaurants and 848 units of housing.  The first phase is planned for the northwest corner of the 530-acre site, which runs south from 79th Street along the lakefront to the Calumet River.

Concerns about displacement

A major concern is that development could cause displacement in the adjoining area, as it has in other communities, with property tax increases as home values rise forcing longtime residents to leave, said Amelia NietoGomez of the Alliance of the South East, an organizer of the coalition.

The coalition wants property tax relief for longtime residents as part of a CBA, she said.  According to the new survey, families on the Southeast Side have lived in the community for an average of 32.6 years; in South Chicago and the East Side, the average is 50.1 years, she said.

“Our people have lived here and worked here,” said Sylvia Ortega, a 37-year resident who is president of the Bush Homeowners and Tenants Association, directly across from the site.  “We survived the closing of the steel mills, the unemployment, the gangs and the blight.  We want to stay here.

“Our tax dollars are paying for the development,” she said.  “Our community needs to benefit from the development.  We don’t want to be left behind.”

Housing is another issue that organizers hope a CBA will address.  While the TIF provides for 20 percent of new units to be affordable, the affordability standard is based on the six-county area median income rather than the immediate area, where it’s much lower.  That means even affordable units could be out of reach of local residents without extra protections, NietoGomez said.

“You don’t want an artificial line between the new development and the existing residential community, and one way to prevent that is to make sure new affordable housing is on-site and fits the profile of neighborhood income,” commented Kevin Jackson of the Chicago Rehab Network.

Quality jobs

The Coalition is also calling for training programs and employment of local residents in the new development — and for partnerships with local schools focusing on science and technology.

“This development is going to take decades, so we want education and training for kids who are in school now so that when they graduate, they can qualify not just for construction jobs but as project managers, engineers, and for green jobs,” said NietoGomez.

“Development is great, we are looking forward to it, but there needs to be a balance with community needs,” she said.  “The families that live here deserve to be able to stay, and they deserve to benefit from the development.”

Tresser said that of the $96 million allocated for the first phase of the project, just $1 million is set aside for job training.  “I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to reach the grassroots.”

He added: “If we’re going to be spending public money, we should be getting high-quality, good-paying jobs.”

Two TIF districts — Chicago Lakeside and South Works — cover the site.  According to a McCaffrey brochure, the city has committed to spending $60 million on a new high school and $20 million for a new marina, among other projects.  The Chicago Park District has committed $120 million to new park development on the site, according to the brochure.

Currently work is being completed on the extension of Lake Shore Drive and Route 41 to serve the site, funded by $30 million in federal and state funds.

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‘Invest in Englewood’ campaign launching http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/invest-in-englewood-campaign-launching/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/invest-in-englewood-campaign-launching/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 21:27:24 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7504 Beautification of a gateway lot and a walking tour of historic and architecturally significant sites on Saturday will launch the Invest in Englewood campaign of the new Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 1, Englewood residents will install landscaping at the northwest corner of 63rd and Yale, an entryway to the community from the Dan Ryan Expressway.  Neighborhood Housing Services is partnering with GECDC on the project.

At 10 a.m. a guided tour will take off from 63rd and Yale — including a section of old mansions — to “show another dimension of what Greater Engelwood has to offer the city,” said Eric McLoyd, executive director of the group.

Invest in Englewood aims at marshalling community resources — including the efforts of scores of community organizations — to “rebrand, rebuild, and revitalize the community” in a resident-led project, said Sonya Marie Harper, an organizer with Residents Association of Greater Englewood.

GECDC was founded in 2011 after the economic development work group of RAGE realized a community development corporation was needed to addess the “stalled economic development” in Englewood and West Englewood, she said.

The first step is to broaden the perception of the community on the part of residents as well as outsiders, she said.  While most press coverage focuses on violence — and the community has among the highest rates of unemployment, vacant properties, and population loss in the city — there is also a wide range of positive efforts by community residents, including 500 local businesses.

“We have to get the word out that residents are doing great things,” Harper said.

One strategy involves putting more energy behind an existing Green and Healthy Neighborhood plan, which calls for establishing an urban agriculture district and encouraging the growth of food production, processing, distribution and service businesses, along with workforce training.

The group also plans to step up monitoring of four local TIF districts to increase access to financing for local initiatives, Harper said.

A recent presentation on Englewood TIFs by Civic Lab identified only one private project that has been funded by the four TIFs, in addition to small-scale small business grants.

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In Benton Harbor, ‘Occupy the PGA’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/in-benton-harbor-occupy-the-pga/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/in-benton-harbor-occupy-the-pga/#comments Sat, 26 May 2012 01:33:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6302 Hundreds of Benton Harbor residents are expected Saturday for a march on the Senior PGA Championship tournament at the controversial Harbor Shores golf course, demanding the PGA donate 25 percent of tournament profits to the city and publicly acknowledge the new golf course’s “theft of public parkland for private profit.”

They’ll dress in black for a “death march” – symbolizing “the death of democracy in Benton Harbor,” according to local civil rights leader Rev. Edward Pinkney – and fly hundreds of kites bearing the words, “Occupy the PGA.”

The march from City Hall, 200 Wall Street, to Jean Klock Park Beach starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. Benton Harbor is about 100 miles from Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Three holes of the golf course were built on 23 acres of the city’s lakefront park by a nonprofit development company backed by Whirlpool, which has its corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor.  Dunes were excavated and hundreds of trees were removed to assure golfers a view of the lake.

Ultimately it’s supposed to be the centerpiece of a $500 million development with condos and high-end retail.

Major manufacturing operations by Whirlpool – and thousands of jobs — were moved overseas starting in the 1980s. Today Benton Harbor, which is 92 percent African American, is one of Michigan’s poorest cities.

Critics say Whirlpool wants to drive out blacks and convert Benton Harber to a resort town for wealthy weekenders.

City commissioners rescinded approval for the project in 2010.  But that year Benton Harbor became the first city in Michigan to have local governance suspended by an emergency manager appointed under a new law.

“The city is $5 million in the red,” Pinkney said.  “Whirlpool doesn’t pay any taxes, Harbor Shores doesn’t pay any taxes” – both the corporation and the development got longterm tax-abatement deals in recent years – “and the PGA is getting all the benefits and is not going to pay any taxes.”

 

For more:  Occupy the PGA

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Affordable housing for Lincoln Park http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/affordable-housing-for-lincoln-park/ Sat, 05 May 2012 15:06:17 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6120 Lakeview Action Coalition will unveil plans for Lincoln Park’s first affordable housing initiative in decades at its annual assembly Sunday.

More than 700 members of churches and other LAC affiliates are expected to meet with elected officials — including Congressman Danny Davis, State Senate President John Cullerton, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and several aldermen — on Sunday, May 6 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church, 2335 N. Orchard.

Ald. Michele Smith and McCafferey Interests, developers of the Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton and Halsted, have agreed to include affordable housing requirements beyond the legal minimum in a planned development agreement for the property, LAC organizers said.

How far beyond remains under discussion.  LAC is pushing for 200 units with rents ranging below 40 percent and up to 120 percent of the metropolitan median, in order to house seniors as well as  neighborhood teachers and retail workers.

The best way to maximize affordable housing is to use the Nellie Black building at Orchard and Fullerton, an organizer said.  The 1931 red brick and masonry structure, built in 1931 to house nurses and interns, is one of six historic buildings on the site that Preservation Chicago has called for preserving.

In addition to affordable housing, LAC and the Children’s Memorial Redevelopment Coalition have called for an open planning process, adaptive reuse of historic structures, and sustainable design.

McCafferey has described the 6-acre project as creating a “town center” with multi-income housing, retail, and open space, and has been meeting with neighborhood groups.  Children’s Memorial Hospital is moving to a new facility in Streeterville this summer.

Other topics on Sunday’s agenda include legislation to close corporate loopholes, which LAC has been pressing Cullerton to back, and to require charity care at nonprofit hospitals, which Preckwinkle is endorsing.  Local aldermen will address police accountability for mistreatment of transgender detainees.

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Wicker Park pushes for transit-oriented development http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/wicker-park-pushes-for-transit-oriented-development/ Tue, 20 Sep 2011 20:20:58 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4756 UPDATED – A four-year effort by community and business groups around Wicker Park in favor of mixed-use, transit-oriented development at a major intersection seems to be paying off.

Developers who’ve purchased the former site of a Pizza Hut on the southeast corner of Ashland and Division were planning a one-story bank drive-through – the antithesis of the vision on the 2009 Wicker Park-Bucktown Master Plan.  That community-driven plan called for greater density, transit-oriented development, expanded pedestrian districts, and “a mixed-use development providing a street wall of activity” at the intersection, which surrounds a public square known as the Polish Triangle.

After the East Village Association expressed its disappointment – and began posting letters to the alderman from a wide range of community and business groups on its website – developers came back with a two-story, all-commercial concept.  EVA “reiterated our interest in seeing something more suited to the site,” said Scott Rappe, an architect who cochairs EVA’s committee on planning, preservation and development.

Last week developers came back to EVA with a proposal which meets many of the goals set by the group for the site: a signficant presence with maximum density and mixed use that’s oriented to pedestrians and transit users.  (The intersection houses a CTA station and is served by several bus lines.)

There’s still the bank with a drive-through in the back, which residents fear will increase congestion and risk to pedestrians.  But developers are now proposing five stories of rental housing atop two stories of commercial, and they’re hoping to get parking requirements for the housing waived.

While EVA hasn’t taken a position, Rappe said he was impressed with the transit-oriented housing component.  “It’s a big commitment, a big challenge,” he said. [EVA has posted a letter listing some remaining concerns.]

He thinks the cavalcade of letters made the difference in demonstrating community support for a more ambitious project.

There are letters from chambers of commerce for Wicker Park-Bucktown and West Town, the latter expressing concern that a one-story stand-alone structure will contribute to “generic structures, chain stores and satellite banks” proliferating on commercial corners.  There are letters from realtor Carol Mrowka and from neighborhood activist Marjorie Isaacson, who recalled that objections to the Pizza Hut were “met with contempt” at City Hall 20 years ago.

There are letters from architects located in the area, including Patrick and Judith Danaher and Jeanne Gang (whose studio is across the street), arguing that “low-density, stagnant islands encircled by concrete do little to connect or contribute to the life of the neighborhood.”

There are letters from Wicker Park-Bucktown emphasizing the community’s master plan, from the Wicker Park Committee, from the Center for Neighborhood Technology stressing the importance of transit-oriented development in reducing emissions, and from Near North Montessori, which is trying to promote “green choices” and sustainable lifestyles for its students.

Local First Chicago wrote to underscore another recommendation of the community’s master plan – “protect local businesses and discourage global retailers.”  The group called on Alderman Joe Moreno to negotiate a community benefits agreement with developers guaranteeing 50 percent of retail space goes to local independent businesses.

There’s still a way to go before anything is built, but so far the story shows how a community united around a vision can influence development decisions in a positive direction.

 

Note: Marjorie Isaacson was misidentified in the original post.

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On TIF reform, Bronzeville has ideas http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:57:47 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4639 Bronzeville residents turned out in impressive numbers for last Thursday’s public forum of the Mayor’s Task Force on TIF Reform, which was held at the Bronzeville Chicago Military Academy.

Other communities were represented, but more forums in additional communities would certainly offer the task force greater breadth of public input.  But last week’s was the only hearing that is planned.

Bronzeville is one of the city’s most heavily TIFed communities, with thirteen TIF districts covering 80 percent of the area, many created to finance CHA redevelopments – with more in the works had Mayor Daley won the 2016 Olympic games, according to Housing Bronzeville.

Sheila Carter testified on behalf of the group that TIFs have “failed local taxpayers” in their lack of transparency and accountability.  It’s been “virtuallly impossible for local residents to understand how TIF monies were being raised and spent in our area,” she said, suggesting “this confusion and lack of documentation was intentional.”

She slammed Daley’s skimming of $10 million from the King/47th TIF to help fill last year’s budget gap, saying it was done without community consultation.  “No TIF money is ‘surplus’ in Bronzeville when our development needs are so great,” she said.

And TIF projects driven by outside developers and downtown planners have ignored long-range planning by local organizations, she said.

A housing plan for Bronzeville

In referendums held in 2004 and 2008, Housing Bronzeville won overwhelming voter support for a proposal to create a Bronzeville Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing on 500 of the nearly 2,000 city-owned vacant lots in the area.

The group was in discussions with the city over a pilot project along those lines, possibly using TIF funds to cover some costs, but talks are on hold since the new administration entered office, Rev. Jeffrey Campbell, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, told Newstips.

Among many other Bronzeville residents who spoke, Sandra Bivens of the 51st Street Business Association proposed using neighborhood business groups which serve as delegate agencies for the city to monitor TIFs and conduct outreach to residents. “The community has yet to see a report on the number of jobs and small businesses created by TIF,” she said

Bernard Loyd, a local entrepreneur who’s getting TIF funding for a commerical development at 51st and Prairie, pointed out that Bronzeville TIFs have heavily favored residential projects and done little to create local jobs.  The program is geared toward large corporations, and approaches aimed at small businesses should be included, he said (more below).

Pilsen, Englewood, Austin

Other communities were represented.  “In Pilsen, TIF has been used as a tool to eliminate affordability and displace working-class families,” said Rosalie Mancera of the Pilsen Alliance.

“In Pilsen, TIF has not benefied the larger community; it has benefited private developers.,”  she said.  “We are subsidizing our own displacement.  This is wrong.”

Cherice Price of the Residents Association of Greater Engelwood called for training elected officials so they can promote TIF opportunities to district residents.  “People in our community may not even know there’s a TIF, and they don’t know how to go about applying,” she said.  “It’s people outside our community who are taking advantage of the opportunities.”

She called for a single advisory committee that would provide local oversight for several TIFs in Englewood.

Dwayne Truss of the South Austin Coalition challenged task force chair Carole Brown’s assertion that “TIF collections do not come at the expense of other taxing bodies.”  (In fact, as all readers of Ben Joravsky know, TIFs freeze property tax revenues going to the city, county, schools, and parks, and divert any additional revenue to a separate development fund.)

“We know that the money you give to corporate welfare comes out of our communities,” Truss said.  He called for an emphasis on jobs, pointing to a $3 million subsidy to Coca Cola to move a bottling plant from Little Village to Austin (AustinTalks recently reported the plant employs only 28 residents of the Austin area).  “How many teachers, how many park district jobs, would that money have saved?” he asked.

Community leaders representing the Albany Park Neighborhood CouncilLakeview Action Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now in Englewood – and Melody McCorey, a young homeless mother of four small children, for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – testified in favor of Sweet Home Chicago‘s proposal to devote $100 million in TIF funds for rehabbing foreclosed properties as affordable housing.

Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative called for shutting down the LaSalle Street TIF district, calling it an “egregious misuse of public funds.”  The city should declare a TIF surplus and return $200 million from downtown TIFs to the tax base, she said.

She called for dedicating $100 million to affordable housing and pulling CPS out of the TIF program.  “Given the economic crisis that we are in, it makes no sense that the city holds on to over $850 million in tax dollars, while our communities are struggling,” she said.

TIF funds “shouldn’t be going to make rich corporations richer” while class sizes are increasing, said Kristine Mayle of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand Coalition expressed disappointment that, despite promises of reform, the city just approved $7 million for an upscale grocery store in Greektown. CPS’s share of that money would have provided music or language programs for 50 elementary schools with 25,000 students, she said.

“Our schools are in dire need of the tax money that is being diverted from them, and our children can no longer afford to lose teachers and programs,” she said.

Katten called for sunsetting TIFs “that have served their purpose” and restricting new TIF designations to blighted areas.  She urged the task force to consider removing CPS from the TIF equation.

In the 47th ward, where she lives, “we have million-dollar homes and six TIFs diverting money from schools,” she said.  “It’s a shame.”

One size doesn’t fit all

Bernard Loyd’s Urban Juncture is developing a “culinary destination” in a large turn-of-the-century building at 51st and Prairie – four restaurants, each featuring different aspects of black cuisine, and a produce market, with 140 jobs projected.  TIF funding has been approved to cover $3 million of the project’s $9 million cost.

As a former partner at McKinsey and Co., a major management consulting firm, he’s become well-versed in the differences between big and small business.  The way the TIF program is structured and administered is fundamentally geared toward large corporations and developers, he said.

Businesses don’t operate that way, he points out.  “When GM is selling to Avis or to an individual consumer – they want to make the sale in either case – but everything is different, the sales effort, the terms – even the car will be different.”

With TIF, it’s the same application process, the same basic deal structure.  “In the vast majority of projects outside of affordable housing, a developer or a corporate entity has brought it to the city, and the city is reacting,” he said.  “That reactive posture puts the onus on the community to generate opportunities, and that’s part of the reason you have very skewed usage of TIFs.”

In Bronzeville that means five TIFs with nearly $100 million in revenues have generated only nine projects, seven of them residential, and only one (Urban Juncture’s) commercial.

The city needs to develop “a much more proactive and streamlined approach” to promote community economic development, he said.  “There’s a huge need to educate business folks and residents about what [TIF] is and how it can be used.”  (At this point, the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development “doesn’t have the resources to do a lot of outreach,” he said.)

Capital rich, capital poor

And while corporations have easy access to capital and residential developers can tap a range of public funding sources, getting private financing for a commercial project in a neighborhood like Bronzeville is a very tough climb.  There may need to be flexibility in the proportion of costs TIF will cover — and in the way deals are structured.

The typical TIF deal is back-end loaded. “For a corporation it’s a sweetener, and they have a hundred other places they can go for cash.  We’re in Bronzeville, virtually cut off from capital,” said Loyd.  “We need money up front.  But the city tells us, hey, great project, we’re going to help, and by the way, when we get a certificate of completion, then you’ll get payment.”

City development staff “really worked with us” to get a TIF note which Urban Juncture could borrow on, “but it was a whole long negotiation,” Loyd said.  And some of the funding is still being held back.  (Loyd’s group has invested $1.5 million in the project and is working with nonprofit lenders.)

“The city is used to working with huge corporations,” said Loyd.  “But a process that will work for United is almost certainly not going to work well for us.”

“We need to realign our thinking as a city to invest in neighborhoods, because it is not trickling down from downtown,” he said.  “Many of our neighborhoods are in bad, bad shape, and we have to do a lot better creating jobs for residents. We’re not capturing the opportunities.”

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Development 101: Giordanos, Oreos — and Wal-Mart http://www.newstips.org/2011/04/development-101-giordanos-oreos-and-wal-mart/ Thu, 21 Apr 2011 21:13:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3690 People used to get confused when Jim Capraro would deny that a new supermarket in a blighted community — which he’d worked years to open — was a win for economic development.

He explains it, in a fascinating post for the blog of a new community development institute, in terms of a neighborhood’s “trade deficit.”  A grocery store recirculates some of the money spent by residents into local paychecks, but most of the money leaves the community to pay for the food.  Actually growing a local economy requires exporting something – goods, services, labor – that brings new money into the community.

Capraro, who retired last year after 35 years at the helm of the Greater Southwest Community Development Corporation, now consults around the country on creating sustainable communities for LISC’s Institute for Comprehensive Community Development.  (The Boston Globe recently caught up with him training local leaders in the hometown of one of his heroes, Jane Jacobs.)

He writes about the lessons learned over his years of work in Marquette Park, helping a hole-in-the-wall joint with great pizza grow into Giordanos, working with the CTA to build the Orange Line, and convincing Nabisco to modernize its Southwest Side plant where Oreos are made – the largest bakery in the world – rather than moving the operation to Mexico.

Meanwhile, Lakeview business leaders and residents are holding a press conference today (Thursday) to underscore community opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart at Broadway and Surf and share information on the mega-retailer’s negative impact on jobs and small business.

At a recent community meeting, residents spoke overwhelmingly against the proposal for a Wal-Mart.  The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, Local First Chicago (which promotes locally-owned, independent businesses), and Chicago Jobs With Justice are participating in the press conference.

Working In These Times reports on a new study that undercuts Wal-Mart’s claim that raising wages for its workers would force it to abandon its low prices.

An increase to $12 an hour for Wal-Mart workers across the U.S. who make under $9 would cost Wal-Mart about 1 percent of the its annual sales, according to a new study by the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of California-Berkeley.

If borne entirely by shoppers, that would average out to $12.50 a year, or 46 cents per shopping trip, according to the study.  That’s the price of a pack of gum, points out Jennifer Stapleton of UFCW’s Making Change at Wal-Mart.

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Time for TIF reform? http://www.newstips.org/2011/03/time-for-tif-reform/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/03/time-for-tif-reform/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2011 21:44:56 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3521 Chicago teachers and community groups will call for an end to big business TIF giveaways which are draining the CPS budget at a rally tomorrow (Saturday, March 19, noon) at Jenner Elementary, 1119 N. Cleveland.

After the rally they’ll march to a number of businesses around the Gold Coast that have received TIF funding, said Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union.  TIF funds (including subsidies to developers) have benefited such corporations as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, he said.

The TIF program diverts about $250 million a year from the CPS budget to “wealthy developers, well-connected businesses, and Wall Street bankers,” while 160 CPS schools have no library, teachers are being laid off, education programs are cut and class sizes are growing, he said. CPS is projecting a $700 million deficit for the coming year.

The protest’s slogan is “TIFs Are For Kids.”  It comes at a time when TIF reform seems to be under serious consideration in Springfield, and a new mayor-elect is saying he wants reform too.

It’s not yet clear what Rahm Emanuel means by “reform.”  He began his campaign calling for greater transparency on TIFs – for one thing, including them in the city budget – and also for skimming TIF funds to hire more police, a move many think is probably not legally feasible.

Since winning election Emanuel has said “we need to return [the TIF program] to its original purpose,” as “a tool for blighted communities” rather than “for high-rent areas.”

Corporate welfare

That echoes the long-standing criticism of community groups, who say TIF has diverted property tax revenues to politically-favored areas and businesses that don’t need it, and that open-ended rather than project-specific TIF plans have accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars for Mayor Daley to use for his friends, at his whim.

Building on years of coverage at the Chicago Reader, recent reports have confirmed this view.  According to reporters from Chicago Talks, nearly half of the $1.2 billion in TIF money designated for private sector projects since 2000 went to some of the area’s most profitable corporations.

According to the Chicago Reporter, $1.2 billion in property tax dollars were siphoned from the city, county, schools, and parks to the development projects in the Loop and Near South Side – just two of Chicago’s 77 community areas getting 55 percent of all TIF money spent between 2004 and 2008.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that they have been abusing it,” said Carolina Gaete of Blocks Together.  “They’re starving the taxing bodies.  TIF has really been used as corporate welfare — and a tool for gentrification.”

If Emanuel is serious about returning TIF to its original purpose, the first thing he should do is sunset the LaSalle Central TIF, said one long-time observer.

Created in 2006, the LaSalle Central TIF has funneled millions of dollars to major corporations – United Airlines, Miller Coors, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group among others – in many cases to renovate corporate offices.

The LaSalle Central TIF has over $36 million in available funds this year.  It’s expected to collect $1.5 billion over its 23-year life – about half of which will come from property tax that would otherwise go to CPS – for use in an area that comprises some of the city’s most prime real estate.

“There should never have been a TIF in that area,” said David Merriman of UIC.

Movement in Springfield

Meanwhile, a number of measures reforming TIF have been introduced in Springfield, including proposals to return uncommitted TIF funds to taxing bodies annually, exempt CPS revenues from TIF diversions, and require audits of Chicago TIFs and stepped-up disclosure (Progress Illinois has a list).

These are likely to be combined with other proposals into a single consensus bill by a group of legislators and advocates convened by Rep. John Taylor (D – Marion).  And prospects for passage this session look good, said Jonathan Goldman of Parent PAC, a new group that advocates for public school parents, which includes veterans of campaigns against the diversion of school funds to TIFs.

Growing momentum for reform reflects growing popular awareness about TIFs — as well as the mounting financial challenges faced by CPS and Chicago, Goldman said.  “And part of it is that Daley is leaving; he won’t be there to defend it,” he said.  Previously “people were afraid to go there.”

Housing Action Illinois, which helped push through earlier TIF reforms a decade ago, has compiled a list of TIF reform principles and submitted it to Bradley’s working group, Bob Palmer said.

These include: tightening up the definition of “blight” used to qualify TIF plans; limiting the land area in a municipality that can be TIFed; requiring explicit goals and purposes, with a process for returning revenues to taxing bodies when goals are met; requiring governing boards of taxing bodies to approve participation in a TIF, allowing them to limit their participation, and limiting TIF diversions to property value increases above the rate of inflation; and setting a process for declaring a surplus and returning unused revenues to schools districts and other taxing bodies.

Similar points are made in a memo to the working group from the Better Government Association.

Another proposal backed by Housing Action, designed to facilitate the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, would allow TIF funding to cover 100 percent of the cost of construction of low-income housing.

More sunshine

In Chicago, reform could mean fuller implementation of the TIF Sunshine Ordinance approved in 2009.  Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), coauthor of the measure, described his disappointment with its implementation to Chicago Talks – including the city’s claim that documents that should have been posted couldn’t be located.

Community activists monitoring neighborhood TIFs say it’s still hard to get information.  Gaete, who works with the Chicago Central Park TIF advisory council, says it’s not clear how officials come up with financial projections and other numbers.

Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance, who holds an annual town hall meeting reporting on seven TIFs around North Lawndale, said its impossible to learn how many community residents have gotten jobs or what minority contracts have been awarded.

Special programs which are supposed to provide TIF support for residents – including home improvements, small business support and job training – use TIF money but aren’t listed in TIF budgets, making them impossible to track, she said.

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