There are many, many things wrong with Mayor Daley’s pet economic development tool, tax increment financing, but what tops my list is that while it’s intended to benefit poor, blighted communities, it ends up funneling hundreds of millions of dollars a year into wealthier ones. And there’s no better snapshot of how that happens than the LaSalle/Central TIF District, gerrymandered around one of the wealthiest chunks of real estate in Chicago: the Loop. The district was approved in 2006 by the two bodies that are supposed to provide oversight of the TIF program—the Community Development Commission and the City Council—where no one so much as asked a question, much less raised an objection. So far it’s diverted about $54 million in property taxes from the schools, parks, county, and other taxing bodies and committed about $78 million to help the likes of the Willis Holding Group (chief tenants of the Willis Tower), United Airlines, and MillerCoors. By the time the TIF expires in 2030 it will have diverted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, which the mayor will almost unilaterally get to decide how to spend. To get the full picture of what kind of areas are really benefiting from this program, I suggest taking a walking tour of this TIF district–the boundaries run roughly from the Chicago River on the west to Dearborn on the east and from Washington on the north to Van Buren on the south. Drop me a line if you see any blight.
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