Lawmakers notify Mayor by letter that they’re seeking compromise that would salvage her campaign promise; characterize it as a ‘win-win’ opportunity for the city
With Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot already facing formidable odds in her quest to convince the Illinois Legislature to approve an increase in the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), 13 state lawmakers said Tuesday that they’re not prepared to vote for the measure unless it includes funds dedicated to alleviating homelessness.
In a letter that was submitted to Lightfoot, 13 members of the Illinois House of Representatives wrote, “It is our intention to support your proposed Real Estate Transfer Tax increase only if a significant amount is statutorily dedicated to homelessness, and we believe that at least 60% should go toward that purpose.”
The letter is signed by State Reps. Kambium Buckner (D-26th); Marcus Evans (33rd); Robyn Gabel (18th); Will Guzzardi (D-39th); Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th); Thaddeus Jones (D-29th); Theresa Mah (D-2nd); Aaron Ortiz (D-1st); Delia Ramirez (D-14th); Justin Slaughter (27th); Anne Stava-Murray (D-81st); Celina Villanueva (D-21st); and Maurice West (67th).
Their announcement threatens to place another hurdle in Lightfoot’s path, unless the Mayor is willing to revisit a proposal to allocate some of the tax funds to reducing homelessness – a concept that she repeatedly promised to support during her campaign for office.
While soliciting support on the campaign trail, Lightfoot touted a proposal to increase the RETT on higher-priced property sales to pay for programs that reduce homelessness and expand affordable housing. But in the wake of her election, she gutted those provisions from her plan and now is seeking legislative authorization to funnel all revenues from the tax increase into the city’s coffers to defray Chicago’s budget deficit.
On Tuesday, several of the lawmakers who signed the letter joined members of the Bring Chicago Home coalition – which has championed a measure akin to the one Lightfoot promoted in her campaign – at a news conference to say that they share the Mayor’s commitment to resolving the budget deficit, but also believe the 86,000 Chicago residents currently afflicted by with homelessness shouldn’t be a casualty to that effort.
“Chicagoans experiencing homelessness are already struggling on the margins, so we shouldn’t exacerbate their woes by leaving them stranded from the legislative support they were promised,” Rep. Ramirez said. “The proposed RETT increase is one mechanism in Mayor Lightfoot’s arsenal to rectify the budget deficit, and I would certainly favor using it for that purpose, in part. But we should do that in concert with, rather than at the expense of, Chicago’s homeless population. In fact, funding aid for the homeless is the one justification for the proposed RETT increase that has already garnered public support.”
In a 2018 public opinion poll, two-thirds of Chicago’s likely voters said they supported the proposal to increase the RETT on properties sold for more than $1 million if the money was legally dedicated to programs that relieve homelessness.
“What we’re proposing is a classic win-win scenario for the city,” said Rep. Buckner. “If they designate revenues from the RETT increase to both trimming the budget deficit and reducing homelessness, they can advance two very commendable policy goals. Let’s remember that money invested in combatting homelessness will yield economic benefits to the city, as families lacking housing gain stability and expand their capacity to contribute to the tax base. So, reducing homelessness also reduces the city’s recurring structural debt.”
Chicago currently ranks near the bottom of major U.S. cities in the amount of resources it spends to eliminate homeless, and Lightfoot has proposed an increase of only $5 million in her 2020 budget blueprint.
Meanwhile, in a study it conducted earlier this year based on an analysis of U.S. Census data, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless found that:
- 21 percent of all homeless Chicago adults are employed, but still can’t afford a permanent roof over their heads.
- 28 percent of all homeless Chicago adults had some college education or had obtained a degree.
- 24 percent of all homeless Chicagoans are children.
The report tallied a total of 86,324 Chicago residents experiencing homelessness.