Sweet Home Chicago ordinance shelved as Daley pushes his own plan
Affordable housing switch-up
03/30/2011 10:00 PM
After a long and unsuccessful battle, Ald Walter Burnett (27th) said he will wait until Mayor Richard Daley leaves office to resuscitate the “Sweet Home Chicago” ordinance, legislation that requires Tax Increment Finance money go to affordable housing.
“I will just deal with the new mayor about it,” Burnett said, referring to Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. “[Emanuel’s] a different person with hopefully a different philosophy.”
But Daley has introduced his own ordinance to use TIF money toward housing. Like Sweet Home Chicago, the proposal — called the Vacant TIF Purchase and Rehabilitation ordinance — aims to repair neighborhoods destabilized by widespread foreclosures. But it does not help low-income renters nor require TIF money go to affordable housing.
Like most legislation proposed by the mayor, the rehabilitation ordinance could quickly become law — before Emanuel becomes mayor. Advocates of Sweet Home Chicago, though, must wait to negotiate with Emanuel and a City Council that could have up to nineteen new members.
“We expect Mayor Daley’s ordinance to pass in April [during that month’s City Council meeting],” said Julie Dworkin, part of the Sweet Home Chicago coalition of labor groups and community organizations. “We believe that ordinance would never have happened without the work of the coalition, but we do not see it as a substitute for Sweet Home.”
The Emanuel transition team did not say whether they supported either ordinance. Emanuel did say in an emailed statement that, “TIF money should be spent as part of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate blight, improve quality of life and promote sustainable economic development.”
During the campaign, Emanuel was the only mayoral candidate not to support Sweet Home Chicago, arguing in a debate that TIF reform came first.
In the TIF program, significant property tax revenue — $520 million total in 2009 — stays within one of the now-166 TIF districts designated by the mayor instead of going toward the overall city budget.
TIF money is intended to spur economic development in blighted communities. At this point, though, many TIF districts are located in now-affluent communities, including the South Loop and West Loop.
Daley introduced the rehabilitation ordinance during the March 9 City Council meeting.
The ordinance lets someone who has not owned a home in the last three years and makes no more than 100 percent of the metropolitan area median family income ($75,100 in 2010) use TIF money to buy and rehabilitate a foreclosed property. The property must be in a TIF district and it has to require at least $25,000 worth of repairs.
A prospective homeowner can get a TIF grant of up to 25 percent the cost of the home. However, according to Molly Sullivan a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, the city council must approve each grant.
“There is no money attached to this,” Sullivan said. “The ordinance is a mechanism to set this program up.”
The ordinance looks solely at making foreclosed properties owner-occupied, as opposed to renter-occupied. “We feel that owner occupancy brings stability to neighborhoods,” Sullivan said.
By contrast, Sweet Home Chicago most targets renters.
The version of Sweet Home that passed a joint city council committee in November stipulated that 20 percent of all TIF revenue go to affordable housing, with the idea that much of this housing would refurbish foreclosed properties. Of this money, 40 percent would go to rentals for residents with less than 30 percent of the area median family income ($22,500 in 2010).
Sweet Home was the rare ordinance to pass out of committee despite Daley’s opposition. It would radically reshape a TIF program where only about 4 percent of the revenue is directed to affordable housing.
But Burnett hit a roadblock in negotiations with the Daley administration, City Council members loyal to the mayor, and also colleagues in the City Council’s black caucus. Burnett resigned as head of the black caucus last month, partly over controversy surrounding Sweet Home.
Burnett said he is optimistic that Emanuel will look at affordable housing ordinances like Sweet Home that help blighted communities, partly because those communities helped elect Emanuel. “He recognizes the fact that the communities that need development are the communities that got him over the hump,” the alderman said.
Burnett added that he provisionally supports the Daley rehabilitation ordinance. “I think it’s fine,” he said, “If it builds up distressed communities, the whole city benefits.”