More than a hundred boisterous activists rallied outside the City Council chambers Wednesday morning, dancing and clapping their hands to “Let’s Talk About TIFs,” a song set to the tune of Salt-n-Pepa’s "Let’s Talk About Sex.”
What they really wanted to talk about was the way the city spends the roughly $500 million a year generated by its TIF program. They're calling for 20 percent of it to be set aside for affordable housing.
“We have to do something in the city of Chicago,” said 27th Ward aldermen Walter Burnett. “The only way to get people into empty houses is by subsidizing these houses with TIF dollars.”
A couple hours later Burnett introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would mandate the 20 percent set-aside. By the end of the meeting, 17 other aldermen had signed on as cosponsors.
Burnett and other affordable housing advocates say the TIF money could be used to turn foreclosed properties into housing for struggling families. Chicago has been hit hard by housing foreclosures, including 2,581 [PDF] in January alone.
"It's only fitting that the city of Chicago use the tools at hand to not only put foreclosed properties back on the tax rolls but also create more affordable housing," Burnett said. "It's time we created our own stimulus program."
The City Council's housing committee is actually scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday morning on foreclosures and the city's use of federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds meant to rehab emptied properties.
But there's little reason to think Burnett's ordinance will move forward quickly. Mayor Daley and his council allies spent years swatting away the last attempt by Burnett and his colleagues to spur more affordable housing. They finally reached a compromise of sorts in 2007, when the mayor agreed to make developers set aside more space and resources for affordable housing as long as "affordable" meant it was aimed at families making $75,000 a year. Aldermen pointed out that in many of their wards the median income is about a third of that.