As Lightfoot touts poverty initiative, ideas from people actually experiencing poverty were left out, groups say

On Wednesday, groups led by people living in poverty and pushing for bold solutions to tackle Chicago’s affordable housing crisis and the lack of investment in its neighborhoods, said that Mayor Lori Lightfoot neglected to take their views into account during a much-heralded Poverty Summit she held last week purportedly to address their needs.  

Pointing to Lightfoot’s four-part poverty plan unveiled at the summit, the groups called attention to the fact that the ideas that people experiencing poverty have been promoting for months were absent from the conversation. 

“The people who know what solutions will work to end poverty are those that have been living it every day,” said Colt Seidman, a leader with ONE Northside. “We have been trying to work with Mayor Lightfoot on concrete solutions since last May, but the mayor has neither embraced them nor responded to requests to reach a middle ground.”

Since the beginning of the mayor’s term, community groups and aldermen have been pushing for solutions to address poverty which ensure that those who can afford it, pay their fair share to tackle the city’s problems.  Mayor Lightfoot has ignored, watered down, or outright opposed many of these solutions. For instance, the Bring Chicago Home Coalition has an offer on the table that would give the mayor all the revenue that she is seeking from the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), but she has yet to agree to strike a deal with the coalition, despite supporting the coalition’s proposal during her campaign for mayor. Bring Chicago Home is working to raise the RETT on properties over $1 million to generate dedicated funds to address homelessness.

“Our mayor says she wants to end poverty in a generation and collaborate with community groups,” said Craig Nance, a grassroots leader with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “But the day before her poverty summit, she came out clearly against a compromise proposal that would both close a hole in the city’s budget and significantly reduce the number of Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. She claims it is too much money to spend on one issue. However, if the mayor truly wants bold solutions to poverty, it will require a deep investment in addressing homelessness, an extreme symptom of poverty. She should be jumping on board.” 

In addition, many groups have been working to reform the city’s TIF program to stop giving handouts to big developers and continuing to drive dollars into downtown development, an area that is clearly not blighted.  The Grassroots Collaborative wants to see downtown TIFs shut down and resources spent in neighborhoods where jobs that can lift people out of poverty are lacking. However, there is concern that the mayor’s proposed reforms would loosen restrictions on downtown spending and hand control over decisions about TIFs to a politically connected corporation.

“Ending poverty requires a significant commitment of resources, but when the mayor was asked about this at the summit, she brushed it aside and said it was just a matter of greater fiscal responsibility,” said Veronica Rodriguez of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “We strongly disagree. If we want to tackle big problems like the lack of affordable housing and the racial disparities in health in the city, we need progressive revenue solutions and we need to reclaim our property tax dollars in TIF districts for investment in schools and communities that need development.”

The Lift the Ban Coalition is advocating to abolish the state law that bans rent control, a measure that could greatly increase housing affordability in the city.  At a speech at the City Club of Chicago just prior to the summit, Lightfoot affirmed her opposition to this effort claiming it was not the right tool.

The Obama Community Benefits Agreements Coalition has been working for years with community members in the neighborhoods surrounding the Obama Presidential Center. After the coalition introduced a community vetted proposal, the mayor responded by introducing her own watered-down ordinance that ignores the grassroots solutions proposed by those most impacted by the new development.

Members of the community groups present were clear that they stand ready to work with the mayor on solutions to poverty.  But they also were clear that real inclusion of the voices of people living in poverty and paying attention to the solutions they propose were both necessary to getting the job done.

Groups in Attendance:

Brighton Park Neighborhood Council

Bring Chicago Home Coalition

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Chicago Democratic Socialists of America

Communities United

Grassroots Collaborative

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

Lift the Ban Coalition

Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition 

ONE Northside

Southside Together Organizing for Power

United Working Families