If Mayor Rahm really wanted to stop poor people from leaving Chicago, he’d stop giving TIF handouts to corporations | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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If Mayor Rahm really wanted to stop poor people from leaving Chicago, he’d stop giving TIF handouts to corporations

Instead another TIF deal benefits a downtown building instead of neighborhoods in need.

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200 South Wacker Drive, already home to one TIF beneficiary, Ziegler financial services
  • 200 South Wacker Drive, already home to one TIF beneficiary, Ziegler financial services

When Mayor Emanuel recently returned from vacation to face questions about Chris Kennedy's criticism that he's whitening Chicago, he offered a response straight out of the book of Daley.

That is, the original Mayor Daley—Richard J., who ruled this city from 1955 to 1976.

When nettlesome independents dared to criticize the Boss, he was known to respond "How many trees have they planted?"

Mayor Rahm put his own spin on Daley's refrain. "It's easy to cast blame and point fingers," Emanuel told reporters. "Where are the ideas? Where are the solutions?"

Well, since you asked, Mr. Mayor . . .

If you really want to try to stop the exodus of poor black people from Chicago—which has lost 56,000 African-Americans since 2010 on top of about 180,000 over the decade prior to that—just stop doing what you're doing. Since what you're doing is clearly fueling the flight.

And that brings me to a couple of things that took place in City Council committee meetings on January 12.

But first, let me remind you of what Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for governor, said: "I believe that black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities being implemented by the city administration, and I believe Rahm Emanuel is the head of the city administration and therefore needs to be held responsible for those outcomes."

In the aftermath, Kennedy's been hammered by Rahm and other mover and shakers who are shocked—horrified, I tell you—that anyone might suggest race plays in a role in City Hall policies.

My position is—duh, of course Rahm's policies are intended to force out the poor. Inherited from both Mayors Daley, they're intended to fuel gentrification and force the poor to flee.

The mayor accomplishes this in two easy steps. First, stop funding programs that benefit poor people, such as neighborhood schools in poor communities, so they have no compelling reason to stay. Second, hike up property taxes so Chicago's too expensive for them to stay even if they want to.

That brings me to the council committee meetings on January 12. Let's start with one of my favorite topics, the tax increment financing program.

That's the program, funded by property taxes, intended to eradicate blight in low-income communities. But because of loopholes in the law, the TIF money largely goes to gentrifying communities. Thus, in one swoop, the TIF program helps the mayor make Chicago more expensive and less desirable for poor people. Consider it a twofer in the war to move poverty.

On Friday the mayor got the finance committee to approve a $5.5 million TIF handout to Presence Health, the state's largest Catholic health system. Presence will use the money to move its headquarters to an upscale skyscraper at 200 S. Wacker.

There are several reasons to oppose the Presence deal that have nothing to do with TIFs. For one, Presence has a strict anti-abortion policy at its hospitals and clinics. So effectively, Mayor Rahm, who's ostensibly pro-choice, is using his clout to subsidize an anti-choice facility. (And you thought Governor Rauner, with his HB 40 abortion-bill flip-flops was wishy-washy on reproductive rights.)

Now, I realize that in the world of TIF handouts, $5.5 million is relatively small potatoes. After all, the mayor set aside $55 million in TIF money to subsidize a DePaul basketball arena and Marriott hotel . . . (Actually, the money wound up going to Navy Pier, but I digress.)

Still, the Presence deal violates pretty much all of the principles of the TIF program. The money is going to a business in a high-end building on a flourishing Loop block that's definitely not blighted.

In fact, this is the second TIF handout the city has given to a tenant in this very tower. In 2007, Mayor Richard M. Daley got the City Council to fork over $2.4 million in TIF funds to help Ziegler financial services move to 200 South Wacker Drive. That's almost $8 million right there.

In contrast, the communities of Roseland, Woodlawn, and Austin received about $4.5 million in TIF money last year. So one upscale building in a flourishing downtown community has received more "anti-poverty" aid than three underserved south- and west-side communities. Please tell me how this is fair.

TIF money is diverted from taxing bodies including the Chicago Public Schools, which could use it to fund programs that, you know, might encourage poor people to stick around town. And that brings me to the second meeting that took place on Friday at City Hall, an education committee hearing on the deplorable underfunding of special education in CPS.

The hearing was held after years of pressure by teachers, parents, students, and the city's progressive aldermen. Lo and behold, about an hour before the meeting, CPS officials announced they'd discovered $2.6 million to fund hiring 56 special-education employees.

Isn't that something? It took years of protests before the mayor scraped up $2.6 million to help the poorest, most vulnerable children in the city. But in a heartbeat he has $5.5 million to help Presence move into a swank downtown skyscraper.

CPS officials said they suddenly freed up the $2.6 million after refinancing debt.

I think we can all agree that they could have just as easily have found that $2.6 million years ago. Unless underfunding special education is just another way for Rahm to basically tell low-income families to move to Harvey or Gary or Iowa. Just get out of Chicago.

There's an outside chance that aldermen, pressured by pro-choice activists, will vote down or at least delay giving Presence the TIF handout. But the $2.6 million for special education? That's too little, too late for the low-income kids of Chicago—once again.   v

Update: On Wednesday, January 17, the City Council voted 31-18 to approve TIF funding for Presence Health's downtown headquarters.

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