Chicago Sun-Times, Opinion: If you’re selling a mansion, you should be taxed more to pay for affordable housing

By Daniel Kay Hertz and Marisa Novara

Daniel Kay Hertz is the Research Director at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Marisa Novara is Vice President of Metropolitan Planning Council.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shot down several proposals for creating a graduated real estate transfer tax,  claiming it would treat “homeowners as an ATM machine.”

Here’s how such a tax would work and why the mayor got it wrong.

First, consider today’s reality: Chicago has a real estate transfer tax of $5.25 per $500 of property value. This tax is not graduated, meaning someone who buys or sells a home for $150,000 pays the same rate as someone who buys or sells a home for $1.5 million. The current tax generates $160 million annually, a third of which goes to the Chicago Transit Authority.

Next, consider the vision: In the Metropolitan Planning Council’s “roadmap to a more equitable future,” a document released last spring, the MPC and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability recommend a graduated real estate transfer tax to generate desperately needed funds for affordable housing. Because the tax is pegged to property values, only the highest-value transactions would cost more. In most cases, the buyer and the seller would pay less than they do now.

What’s actually needed: Most Chicagoans may be surprised to learn just how little of the city’s budget is allocated for affordable housing. Take a guess: Ten percent? Five? One? Try just about three-tenths of one percent in 2017, or $24.5 million out of $8.3 billion.

Tax increment financing revenue — local funds that get spent outside the normal budget process — contributed another $16.9 million in 2017 toward affordable housing. But even that represented less than three percent of the $660 million raised by TIF districts.

Rather than spend its own money on affordable housing, Chicago has depended overwhelmingly on resources passed down by the state and federal governments through programs such as public housing and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. In 2017, Chicago spent 36 times more of its own money on policing than on affordable housing, and three times more on legal settlements.

While all cities are struggling with a decline in federal support for affordable housing, there’s more Chicago can and must do to support this need locally.

Finally, here’s what is possible: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and other groups have proposed a plan to generate $150 million a year for affordable housing and services for some 80,000 homeless people. The plan calls for increasing the city’s real estate transfer tax on high-value property. An ordinance seeking to put this proposal on the Feb. 26 election ballot, as a referendum question, has been presented by Ald. Walter Burnett.

This is one of many versions of a proposed progressive real estate transfer tax that could get us over the finish line.

Chicago suffers from a shortfall of 120,000 affordable housing units. That alone is reason enough to consider a progressive real estate transfer tax, just as there is in San FranciscoBaltimore and New York City. Such a tax was approved in Evanston on Tuesday.

A graduated real estate transfer tax to cover some of Chicago’s most pressing affordable housing needs would not be breaking new ground. Chicago would simply be catching up — both to other cities and to our own profound shortfalls.

Read more about CCH’s Bring Chicago Home campaign!

WTTW: Advocates propose tax on high-end real estate to address homelessness

By Kristen Thometz

A Chicago nonprofit seeking to end homelessness is proposing a substantial increase in the real estate transfer tax on high-end properties to fund services for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

As part of its Bring Chicago Home campaign, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is proposing a transfer tax of $9.75 per $500 on residential and commercial properties that cost $1 million and up. (The current rate is $3.75 per $500.) The extra funds generated from the tax increase – $12,000 per property, at minimum – would go toward support services for the homeless, according to Julie Dworkin, the group’s policy director.

CCH estimates the plan could generate $150 million per year and would impact just 5 percent of real estate transactions in the city and 3 percent of homeowners. That extra revenue “could decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness by 9,000. In 10 years, it could decrease by 36,000 people,” said Dworkin.

“In the city, more than 80,000 people are homeless, and one in four who are homeless are children,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about that. They think of the person on the street. They don’t think of children living doubled up.”

CCH is seeking to get a referendum placed on next year’s Feb. 26 ballot asking voters if they would support the measure. Dworkin said 31 of the city’s 50 aldermen are in support of putting the question on the ballot. CCH plans to present its proposal before the City Council on Wednesday.

City officials declined to comment on the proposal.

According to a CCH-commissioned poll, two-thirds of 600 would-be voters in the February election said they would support the proposal. Nearly 80 percent of those polled said homelessness should be a top priority for the mayor and City Council, and that not enough has been done to address the issue.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration announced a $1.1 million investment in the 2019 budget to support homeless residents, including $705,000 for the continuation of a pilot program to assist those living in encampments.

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler said the pilot program is not a cure for homelessness in Chicago, but a tool. “In a city this size where we do have encampments, it makes sense to have some special effort for them,” she said.

In April, city officials began making frequent visits to encampments in the downtown business district, which they say house about 200 people. Rather than visiting an encampment once every few weeks, “we tried to be really intensive and consistently be there every day for two weeks,” Butler said. Not only did officials conduct outreach during the day, but they also piloted overnight outreach. “If you don’t have dedicated efforts overnight, you’re often missing people when they come back,” she said.

DFSS worked alongside the Chicago Police Department, Department of Streets and Sanitation and Department of Public Health during the pilot. Butler says that after learning why some people resist going to shelters, they opened their own low-barrier shelter that allowed people to bring their pets, partners and belongings with them. The city will increase the capacity of the low-barrier shelter from 30 to 40 beds in next year’s budget.

Officials move on after each two-week period, even when residents reject city services and opt to stay put. “That is their right and we respect that,” she said. “We’re trying to achieve the right balance between respecting the rights of the individuals and at the same time … doing everything we can when we engage them to hopefully make taking services the choice that they would make.”

Tents set up in a homeless encampment along DesPlaines Street north of Roosevelt Road. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)Tents set up in a homeless encampment along DesPlaines Street north of Roosevelt Road. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Tax on high-end real estate could help people at other end have a place to live

By Mark Brown, columnist

Chicago voters could soon be asked to more than double the tax on sales of million-dollar-plus real estate to pay for an ambitious new effort to reduce homelessness.

A proposal backed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, community groups and other advocates anticipates generating $150 million a year that would be dedicated to providing affordable housing and services for homeless individuals.

An ordinance seeking to place a referendum on the Feb. 26 election ballot is expected to be introduced at next week’s City Council meeting.

The referendum would ask voters to increase the city’s real estate transfer tax by 160 percent on properties that sell for more than $1 million; that would make the tax $9.75 per $500 of sales price, up from the current $3.75 per $500.

For a home selling for $1,000,001, the increase would require the buyer to pay the city an additional $12,000 in transfer taxes. On the purchase of a $100 million downtown office building, the buyer would owe the city an extra $1.2 million.

By targeting the tax increase at more expensive properties, organizers of the Bring Chicago Home campaign are hoping to win the support of average Chicagoans who would not be charged the additional amount.

But the effort is expected to face major political opposition from real estate and business groups who see transfer taxes as a barrier to property sales and an added disincentive to business.

Instead of arguing self-interest, however, the Chicago Association of Realtors will oppose the tax hike on the basis that wide fluctuations in annual transfer tax collections make it an unpredictable — and therefore unreliable — funding source for homeless services, said Brian Bernardoni, the group’s senior director of government affairs.

Bernardoni also argued there is no guarantee the city won’t just take the money that now pays for homeless services and use it to pay for other expenses.

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said a reserve fund will be created to guard against revenue fluctuations.

A provision in the ordinance will also seek to prohibit the city from using the new funds to supplant current funding, she said.

If approved, the added funding would allow the city to launch a much more aggressive effort to stem homelessness. By comparison, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s current city budget touts his commitment to invest an extra $1.1 million on programs for the homeless in 2019.

The primary focus of the Bring Chicago Home effort will be to create permanent housing with support services to meet a goal of reducing homelessness by 36,000 households in 10 years, Dworkin said.

Advocates say they have commitments from 31 of Chicago’s 50 aldermen to support the measure. The Emanuel Administration has not taken a position.

The lead sponsor is Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who has been at the forefront of most of the city’s major affordable housing initiatives over the past decade.

Burnett said the dedicated tax would help bring Chicago’s efforts to fight homelessness more in line with other major U.S. cities at a time when the state and federal governments are pulling back support.

“Homelessness is not going away. Poor people are not going away,” Burnett said. “It’s our duty to help these people.”

Another supporter, Ald. Joe Moore (49th), said he likes the proposal because “you’re not hitting the little guy.”

Based on sales data from previous years, supporters of the tax say it will impact about 5 percent of all real estate transactions in the city.

Under state law, voters must give advance approval to any increase in the real estate transfer tax.

The requirement grew out of an aborted attempt in 1996 by the late Cook County Board President John Stroger to increase the county’s transfer tax by 15-fold. Stroger withdrew the proposal after a buzzsaw of opposition from home buyers and sellers.

If voters approve the referendum, aldermen would still need to pass an ordinance to enact the tax increase, which would take effect July 1, 2019.

The city pegs the local homeless population at 5,450 individuals based on an annual count of people living in shelters or on the street on one night in January. That’s down from 5,657 in 2017.

The coalition argues the true picture of homelessness in Chicago is closer to 80,000 people over the course of a year, counting those who live doubled up with family or friends because they can’t afford a home of their own.

Homeless community under Michigan Avenue

Some people who are homeless live under Michigan Avenue; this photo was taken in February. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Chicago Tribune: Oak Park board repeals panhandling ordinance; one trustee suggests ‘giving meters’

By Steve Schering

Amid pressure from numerous organizations, the village of Oak Park has officially repealed its seldom-enforced panhandling ordinance.

Ordinance 17-1-26 had been in effect in Oak Park since at least 1981. It was officially repealed by the village board during a unanimous vote Oct. 1. With the vote, the line “it shall be unlawful to beg” has been officially removed from the village code.

“For about 30 years, the village has had this language, but it has been consistently determined by the courts that it really isn’t the right way to handle begging and panhandling,” Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said. “The American Civil Liberties Union has been consistently working with municipalities to remove the language.”

In late August, the ACLU, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sent letters challenging ordinances against panhandling to 15 Illinois municipalities, including Oak Park.

“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” National Law Center attorney Eric Tars said in August. “But until all their basic needs, food, healthcare and housing, are met, they have a right to ask for help.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Oak Park spokesman David Powers said the village attorney began reviewing the ordinance in preparation for a revision.

Pavlicek said the ordinance was rarely enforced by police in recent years, with officers choosing to deal with panhandling cases in a more sympathetic way.

“As staff, we are happy to recommend to the board that we repeal the language,” Pavlicek said. “The police department has really not enforced this in a number of years because of concerns of free speech. They really work to provide services and approach the situation much differently in a proactive way.”

In voting to repeal the ordinance, Oak Park Trustee Dan Moroney offered a suggestion to help potential donors ensure their money is going to a reputable cause. He noted some towns have installed “giving meters” in their downtown areas.

“One line of thinking is money given to the homeless is better given to an organization like Housing Forward or Pads,” Moroney said. “It provides services to the homeless, and there’s a lot of people who want to give but want to give to the right source.”

A message left with Housing Forward seeking comment about Moroney’s suggestion was not immediately returned.

Other trustees appeared to favor Moroney’s idea, which he felt could be a win for local charitable organizations and people looking to get rid of their spare change.

“These are parking meters that would be converted to something that delineates them from a normal parking meter and [people] can put money directly into the meter,” Moroney said. “Those meters can be given over to [those organizations] and that organization is in charge of collecting the money and seeing what is best to do with the money they collect. It could be as easy as the village drilling a little hole in the ground and the arts commission making it look fancy.”

The village board approved the repeal of the village’s begging ordinance by a 6-0 vote. Trustee Andrea Button was absent.

Chicago panhandler
A panhandler solicits for money at the intersection of North Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway. After facing pressure from outside agencies, Oak Park trustees repealed its ordinance that prohibited panhandling within the village. (David Klobucar/Chicago Tribune)

NPR Illinois: State boosts monthly aid to needy families

Maxica Williams, pictured with three of her children, appeared before a state legislative committee to speak to the need for an increase financial help for needy families.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An increase in TANF assistance for impoverished Illinois families was secured through advocacy by CCH, The Shriver Center, and Heartland Alliance.

By Maureen Foertsch McKinney

Illinois recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families – also known as TANF – will see an increase in the amount of their monthly grants in October. A $22 million boost was negotiated in the budget this year. Advocates for the poor say the difference may mean more families will be off the streets.

Maxica Williams was  struggling to make ends meet as she juggled two part-time jobs. Then, three years ago, the Chicago resident was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She endured chemotherapy and other treatments that left her unable to work.

Her family ended up homeless for eight months because she couldn’t meet the costs related to raising her four children – even though she had aid, known as TANF. She says she was appreciative of the assistance.

“I don’t want to sound bad and negative. But the amount was just not enough to survive and be able to take care of every basic need that I had with the family,” the 40-year-old said.

LINK to hear the radio report

The approximately $400 TANF grant she received for herself and her three minor daughters wasn’t enough to rent a modest apartment because she couldn’t meet the landlords’ rental guidelines. Williams also has an 18-year-old son for whom she no longer receives assistance.

Niya Kelly, state legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said it’s not uncommon for TANF recipients like Williams to become homeless. Families have had to make really difficult decisions about what is paid and what is sacrificed, she said. Do they buy shoes and clothes? Pay for transportation? Or buy diapers and formula?

“In talking to families, they’re saying that this means that they may be able to pay another bill this month, making sure that they keep the lights on, making sure they can pay their rent – things that other folks take for granted,” she said.

This year, in Illinois, the amount of money set aside for grants was the smallest in all states but Arkansas.

The last increase in Illinois grants was a decade ago. The previous boost was 22 years back. A family with a single parent and two children will get about $100 more a month, raising the grant to $520. Families with four to six members will get as much as $250 more a month.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat, says the bipartisan agreement was negotiated in the budget. A Senate measure that drew votes from Democrats and Republicans would have had increases over three years.

“I’m happy that folks decided that they wanted to make a difference in poor people’s lives and try to address the poverty issue here in the state of Illinois,’’ Hunter said. “Everybody decided to work together to negotiate this issue and, as a result, our families have a few more dollars on the table that they can work with.”

One of the opponents to the increase was state Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican. He said, “It wasn’t the biggest priority compared to others. …  I thought would it would those dollars would get served better.

Maxica Williams testified before lawmakers in Springfield this spring. She says she tried hard to convince legislators of the need for a TANF hike.

“It meant a lot for me to get out there and let legislature know what was going on with us,” said. “You need TANF because of real serious issues.’’

NPR Illinois: Homeless student numbers rise

By Maureen Foertsch McKinney

The Illinois State Board of Education reports that the number of homeless students has climbed over the last few years.

There were 53,733 homeless students counted throughout the state in fiscal year 2016. That number grew by 56,881 by the end of this fiscal year (two years later).

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says it’s hard to tell why the increase occurred .

“The problem in tracking homeless people, in general, is it’s very hard to say there is evidence that the problem is growing or that it’s shrinking because there are so many factors that can impact the numbers.”

She says the numbers can be affected by how well the schools are staffed in programs for homeless students. Still — knowing the numbers can help determine what resources are needed to address the problem.

Dworkin says, for homeless students who end up moving frequently, falling behind academically is possible … and the odds of dropping out and having emotional and behavioral problems are increased.

Chicago Tribune: ACLU, homelessness advocates call on Illinois cities to repeal laws prohibiting panhandling, citing First Amendment

By Ese Olumhense

Laws prohibiting panhandling not only criminalize those who are homeless, but are unconstitutional, said a coalition of civil liberties and homelessness advocates on Tuesday as they launched a campaign to end the bans in 15 municipalities in the state, including Chicago.

The push is part of a larger national effort orchestrated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which is working with advocates in almost 240 cities in more than a dozen states to press for repeals of panhandling prohibitions. In Illinois, where the D.C.-based nonprofit worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the ACLU of Illinois, officials in Aurora, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, Cicero, Danville, Decatur, East St. Louis, Elgin, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Peoria, Rockford and Urbana were sent letters challenging their panhandling ordinances.

“The ordinance serves no compelling state interest,” the coalition said in its letter Tuesday to Chicago officials. “Distaste for a certain type of speech, or a certain type of speaker, is not even a legitimate state interest, let alone a compelling one.”

The groups say the U.S. Constitution is on their side, citing a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court ruling that calls on governments to closely review laws that regulate speech based on its content. Since the high court’s decision, each of the 25 times an anti-panhandling ordinance has been challenged in court it has been found unconstitutional, said Diane O’Connell, community lawyer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless — an “overwhelming batting average.”

“Everyone has the right to ask for help,” O’Connell said. “It’s really kind of shocking that (communities) would outlaw such a thing.”

READ MORE: Fence goes up at ‘Triangle’ and homeless move — to another part of Lower Wacker Drive »

Panhandling ordinances have been struck down or repealed in Springfield, New York City and Tampa, Fla.

In Chicago, where an estimated more than 80,000 are homeless, panhandling is legally defined as “any solicitation made in person upon any street, public place or park in the city, in which a person requests an immediate donation of money or other gratuity from another person.” The city bans panhandling in various places, including CTA property, and in certain circumstances, such as doing so in a way “that a reasonable person would find intimidating,” including touching people, asking for money when someone’s standing in line, blocking someone’s path or using profanity or abusive language.

“The city of Chicago is dedicated to ensuring all residents have a place to call home and that incidents of homelessness are rare and brief,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department. “The city has made strategic investments to support and improve the circumstances of this vulnerable population, and while we are still reviewing the letter, we look forward to continuing the city’s ongoing dialogue with homeless advocates.”

At the entrance to the Pedway at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue during rush hour Tuesday evening, some who were panhandling voiced discontent with the city’s policies.

“I think it’s wrong, really,” said Bud Wilson, 60, who’d been seated at the top of the Pedway entrance’s steps for four hours.

As commuters raced by to catch homebound trains, Wilson, clutching a cane, pleaded for change. On a typical day, he makes about $20 to $30 panhandling, he said. He has been homeless for seven years.

Violations of Chicago’s ordinance carry a $50 fine for the first or second offense within a year. The fine doubles for a third or subsequent offense within a 12-month period.

WBBM Newsradio: Advocacy groups warn cities about unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

By Mike Krauser

More than 200 cities, including 15 in Illinois, are being warned that their panhandling ordinances are unconstitutional and need to be repealed.

Diane O’Connell, a lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said, “panhandling laws are used to unfairly criminalize people experiencing homelessness for exercising their First Amendment rights. Every person has the right to ask for help.

“There are notable similarities between all of them, but the problem is that they target a particular type of speech and that’s called a content restriction and that’s unconstitutional.”

Since a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in 2015, panhandling ordinances in 55 cities have either been repealed or struck down by courts.

The letters are a first step. Legal action will follow, O’Connell said.

Locally, the letters went to Chicago, Oak Park, Cicero, Elgin and Aurora.

Chicago Tribune: Catholic Charities unveils showers for homeless in Chicago

Following the example of Pope Francis, who opened a shower room and laundry facility for the homeless in Rome three years ago, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago unveiled similar services inside its downtown headquarters Monday.

Services also include access to a clothing donation closet and a variety of social services. The agency also will continue to serve meals to the homeless five days a week out of a renovated and upgraded kitchen.

“Our guests will have comfort of a warm shower, toiletries, bedding, clothing,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities. “These small mercies which most of us take for granted can help preserve health and restore hope to those who live at the margins of society. They can be a first step toward a life of self-sufficiency.”

For more than 17 years, Catholic Charities’ headquarters has been home to an evening supper program that serves sit-down dinners and to-go meals to more than 250 individuals and families five days a week.

Guests who come for a meal on Tuesday night have a chance to sign up for a 30-minute shower slot between 10 a.m. and noon the following day. Each shower client receives a towel, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a razor, shaving cream, deodorant and a change of clothes. They also will be able to use the laundry services to wash and dry their clothes and bedding.

Up and running for the past two weeks, showers have been booked solid with a waiting list each Wednesday. The agency hopes to expand the program to more hours and days, but that capacity depends on volunteers.

The program at Catholic Charities is modeled after a similar ministry on Tuesday afternoons at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue. Unlike shelters, both ministries offer bathing opportunities to clients who don’t live there.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there are 80,384 homeless Chicagoans, including people who are relying on friends or loved ones for temporary residence.

“Thousands of people are experiencing homelessness in our city,” said Mary Tarullo, the coalition’s associate director of policy. “So we certainly have a long way to go in making sure everybody is housed. Showers are a great step in the right direction.”

“It’s serving a great need for places where people can take care of themselves in dignity,” she said.

Matthew Shay, 27, a substance abuse counselor who handles the intake for the pilot program, said the washrooms offer hope to people struggling with homelessness — both symbolically and practically speaking. Not only does water symbolize rebirth in rituals such as baptism, he said, but hot showers can also bring about a life-giving transformation.

Shay speaks from experience. He struggled with addiction and homelessness for about 18 months before receiving the help he needed from Catholic Charities.

“When they give up hygiene, they’re mentally giving up and feeling hopeless,” Shay said. “So when you provide that to somebody who doesn’t have it, it provides a sense of normalcy that common Americans take for granted. It’s a simple pleasure for us — simple pleasures that are really a privilege.”

Catholic News Agency: ‘Catholic Charities provides showers for homeless people’