Tuesday, the Chicago City Council approved a binding referendum, called Bring Chicago Home, which will appear on the March 2024 ballot. Voters will decide whether to authorize city council members to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end property sales to fight homelessness. The referendum was championed by North Side 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden.
“We really rely on federal support and funding, things that come direct from federal government or the state. It’s been woefully insufficient for years,” she said.
The referendum pits the real estate industry against those who say an increase to the city’s real estate transfer tax is the best way to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into programs to address homelessness.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is a proud BCH coalition member.
Chicago’s City Council greenlit the 2024 budget, allocating additional resources to respond to the city’s growing homelessness crisis. While the approved budget reveals targeted increases in critical services, much more is needed than these small increases subject to annual appropriations.
Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) estimates 68,440 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness at the beginning of 2022, the most recent data available. This reflects a 2,829-person increase from the previous year—up 4.30 percent. This estimate is inclusive of more than 44,000 Chicagoans doubling up.
While we are happy to see that some line items are growing—by about 15-percent in total, or a $7 million increase—much more is needed than these small incremental increases subject to annual appropriations. Let’s dive into the key aspects of this budget and understand where the city’s resources are allocated.
Imagine a person experiencing homelessness. You might picture someone sleeping in an overnight shelter or living in a tent encampment in an urban area. That image isn’t wrong, but that common perception overlooks a less visible, potentially larger group, advocates and researchers say. People experiencing “doubled-up” homelessness live in temporary situations in the homes of friends or family when they would otherwise choose not to. In fact, the vast majority of schoolchildren experiencing homelessness are in doubled-up arrangements.
People living doubled-up often move between houses frequently and could be asked to leave at any moment, said Julie Dworkin, who until recently served as director of policy at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. That challenges the notion that people experiencing literal homelessness are more vulnerable than people living doubled-up, she said.
Experts at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless helped write a new ordinance that will expand Chicago’s definition of homelessness to include people living doubled-up, people being released from prison, and people leaving rehab or mental health facilities. Funding will come from a proposed real estate tax increase, which would change the city’s flat tax rate to a graduated one, with the sale of buildings over $1 million taxed higher.
Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to ask voters about raising the real estate transfer tax to combat homelessness cleared the City Council on Tuesday, as aldermen placed the referendum on the March 2024 ballot and advanced a key campaign promise of the progressive mayor.
In a 32-17 vote, aldermen approved the “Bring Chicago Home” measure to create a citywide referendum on implementing a tiered tax rate on all property sales, which advocates have said is a critical strategy to generate much-needed revenue for the city’s homeless population.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is a proud coalition member of Bring Chicago Home.
It is unclear how many homeless U.S. citizens like the Wilsons are staying among the nearly 2,800 migrants awaiting shelter placement in Chicago police stations. A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication said it only tracks the number of asylum-seekers, and officials with the Department of Family and Support Services did not respond to a request for comment. The Chicago Police Department said they do not track how many U.S. citizens
Police stations, like hospital emergency rooms, have long been entry points for Chicagoans in need of social services. According to a report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, an estimated 65,611 people experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2020, an estimate different from that offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because it takes into account people living doubled up or temporarily staying with others.
The number is tens of thousands of people higher than the city’s annual point-in-time count because of how the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless defines homelessness, said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the organization.
For example, the 2021 point-in-time estimate from the city was 4,447 people experiencing homelessness. That figure doesn’t include doubling-up in shared living arrangements, Dworkin said. However, doubling-up is the way most people experience homelessness in Chicago, according to the report.
An August report from the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, a member of the coalition that crafted the Bring Chicago Home proposal, found that the number of Chicagoans who do not have a permanent home grew 4% between 2020 and 2021 to 68,440 people.
More than 80% of unhoused Chicagoans are Black or Latino, with Black Chicagoans making up 53% of those who are unhoused in Chicago, according to the coalition.
Mayor Brandon Johnson on Tuesday signed an executive order creating Chicago’s first chief homelessness officer position.
The person in the role will be tasked with providing solutions “for stable, permanent and affordable housing” for the unhoused in the city, Johnson said in a statement.
“By establishing a Chief Homelessness Officer for the City of Chicago, we will have a critical point of contact to coordinate efforts and leverage the full force of government to provide shelter for all people,” Johnson said.
During the 2023 mayoral runoff, a picture went viral on social media of an apartment with a Brandon Johnson sign in the window, above a giant Paul Vallas sign planted on the lawn by the building owner. As usual, a picture was worth a thousand words: renters for Johnson vs. landlords for Vallas.
Now, as the Bring Chicago Home campaign ramps up, we’re in yet another round of the battle between the renter and landlord classes. Bring Chicago Home would reform Chicago’s real estate transfer tax by creating a tax cut for property sales below $1 million and a progressive increase — higher tax rates on more expensive properties — on sales of properties valued at over $1 million, with the new revenue paying for affordable housing and essential services to end homelessness. With the referendum headed to the City Council for a vote to put it on the ballot in March, the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance has now published a survey saying that a majority of landlords would raise rents in response to the effort.
So when the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance starts wringing its hands and saying, “What about the renters?” you’ll have to forgive my skepticism. The alliance represents 600 members who own more than 180,000 rental units, an average of 300 rental units per landlord. These are not mom-and-pop landlords who rent their garden units. These are powerful political interests who for generations have raised rents, donated to landlord-friendly politicians and ferociously lobbied against any effort to tax any portion of their profits. They are not credible messengers on what’s best for renters like me.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Bring Chicago Home will not, in fact, result in rising rents for the overwhelming majority of Chicagoans. Because of the graduated tax structure, most property sales will actually experience a decrease in their transaction taxes, including 94% of all two- to four-unit, multifamily buildings. In fact, two-thirds of the projected revenue will come from properties worth more than $10 million — not mom-and-pop multifamily homes, but large buildings with hundreds of rental units. Sound familiar?
Bring Chicago Home is a carefully considered, soundly constructed policy that is good for the overwhelming majority of renters and homeowners in our city, but that’s not what matters to organizations like the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance and landlords. What matters to them is their ability to keep making a profit by raising rents, cutting costs, and pushing out poor and working-class people when we can no longer afford to live in their investment properties.
That’s why big landlords are attacking Bring Chicago Home, and it’s why we shouldn’t trust a single thing they say about it.
Anthony J. Perkins, a housing leader with One Northside and the Bring Chicago Home campaign, is a disabled senior citizen who currently lives in a Chicago Housing Authority senior housing building in Edgewater.
The Lyte Collective is a community rooted in their love of young people. Located in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood at 549 E. 76th Street, the Lyte Collective supports people impacted by poverty and homelessness.
Founded in 2016 by a group of social workers who wanted to create a more equitable system, the Lyte Collective works to end harmful practices such as lack of available low-cost housing, poor economic conditions, and insufficient mental health services that cause young people to experience homelessness. In 2021, an estimated 68,440 people experienced homelessness in Chicago with 11,885 being youth, according to a report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Despite Black Chicagoans representing 29% of the city’s population, 53% of Chicago’s unhoused community are Black.