Blocking Chicago From Bringing It Home

When the Bring Chicago Home coalition—consisting of various local anti-homelessness groups—first sought City Council approval for a ballot referendum that would ask voters to weigh in on whether to increase the real estate transfer tax and use the money to combat homelessness in Chicago, they were hoping to get the question on the 2019 municipal elections ballot. But aldermen stalled the vote past the December 10 deadline, forcing Bring Chicago Home to set its sights on the 2020 ballot instead. Last week, at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Finance, a procedural mess engineered by mayoral ally Alderman Patrick O’Connor once again pushed back the vote.  

Bring Chicago Home is proposing a 1.2% tax for any buyer of property worth over $1 million, which the coalition says will generate $150 million to be used for housing and services for homeless people. Chicago voters are required to approve updates to the real-estate transfer tax; if a majority votes in favor of a change, the City Council must enact it into law. When the matter went before the Finance Committee last week, Alderman Brendan O’Reilly argued that it really belonged in the Rules Committee. (For what it’s worth, O’Reilly represents the 42nd Ward, which includes parts of the Loop, Streeterville, River North, and Gold Coast and, according to the Sun-Times, has the most $1 million-plus homes sold of any ward.) Finally, the committee voted 11-10 to table the resolution. The vote had to be called twice—according to the Sun-Times, that’s because “aldermen were confused about what they were being asked to vote on.” Bring Chicago Home argued on Facebook, however, that Finance Committee Chair O’Connor erroneously tabulated the vote, forcing a recount and allowing late-arriving Alderman Matt O’Shea to slip in and make the deciding vote to table the resolution.

We know the City Council can move fast when it wants to (see: controversial North Side megadevelopment Lincoln Yards), so it’s clear that some aldermen have a vested interest in preventing policy that could have a big impact in combating homelessness. We wish we were surprised. Several South Side aldermen voted to advance the resolution, including Leslie Hairston, Toni Foulkes, George Cardenas, and Pat Dowell. Anthony Beale, Patrick Daley Thompson, Howard Brookins Jr., and Carrie Austin were among those voting to table it.

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