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Diana Novak/MEDILL

Supporters of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance hoped to send a message to the City Council with their presence at the vote.

Sweet Home Chicago delay may protect city war chest

by Diana Novak
Feb 09, 2011


Diana Novak/MEDILL

Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. said the mayoral election shouldn't have anything to do with Sweet Home Chicago's approval.

When the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance failed to come to a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, some familiar with the plan said the delay has much to do with the upcoming election and its potential to limit city coffers.

Sweet Home Chicago would have designated 20 percent of all revenues collected through Tax Increment Financing to building affordable housing. Tax Increment Financing is an economic development subsidy diverted from property taxes. Currently, TIF money is used at the discretion of the mayor and the council.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), sponsor of the ordinance, said affordable housing, economic development, jobs and job training all deserve a share of the subsidy.

“Why can’t we divide it up so a part of it would go to each one of those?” Burnett said. “Give everybody their piece.”

Rachel Weber, a city planning and policy expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Chicago is relatively unique in its centralized control over its TIF program. This makes ordinances like Sweet Home Chicago more necessary for constituents to have their voices heard about how TIF money is spent.

Burnett said his feeling was political interests have gotten in the way of constituent interests in the TIF program.

Referencing both the vote delays -- spearheaded by Ald. Ed Burke (14th) -- and a competing ordinance sponsored by Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Burnett said the aldermen involved were “just carrying the water for the mayor.”

“I think Ed Burke’s stalling was due to the mayor asking him to stall, basically,” Burnett said. “Also, I think O’Connor’s ordinance was introduced because the mayor asked him to introduce it.”

Daley has come out against Sweet Home Chicago since Burnett introduced it in March.

Weber said it is possible the mayor and some aldermen have opposed the ordinance because of the limits it would place on projects funded with TIF money.

“It will probably mean that there is less funding available for more market-rate types of mixed use projects, commercial developments and all of the other things the city likes to use TIF for,” Weber said.

Weber suggested designating a chunk of TIF funding for affordable housing could limit the earning potential of the funding, cutting money flowing into TIF funds.

“The underlying mechanism of TIF works very well when there is a big spike in property values, and with affordable housing you’re likely to get an increase, but the increment probably won’t be as much as if you put in market-rate development or some form of commercial development,” said Weber.

“It’s sort of putting the brakes on a policy that got kind of out of hand with the last construction boom,” she said.

Much is up in the air with the TIF program until after the Feb. 22 election when a huge turnover of aldermanic seats is expected. Burke, Burnett and O’Connor are all seeking re-election.

Weber said the election is a factor in many aldermen’s decisions to delay the Sweet Home Chicago vote.

“There’s probably too much uncertainty about the future and what is going to happen to the TIF program in general,” Weber said. “It’s just another way of kind of passing things down to the next generation.”