TIFs can’t be re­formed, and it’s time to abol­ish them al­to­gether

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

The Sun-Times Ed­i­to­rial Board is edg­ing closer to the CivicLab’s po­si­tion on tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing (TIFs) in Chicago.

The Au­gust 24 ed­i­to­rial agreed with our 2019 TIF anal­y­sis that there was $1.8 bil­lion in the TIF ac­counts at the start of 2020. The board also agreed that the use and re­port­ing of TIF funds is mys­te­ri­ous and an “in­sider’s game,” and that TIFs hoard bil­lions of pub­lic dol­lars in wealthy, mostly white com­mu­ni­ties while starv­ing poorer com­mu­ni­ties of pub­lic re­sources.

The board comes right up to our po­si­tion of abol­ish­ing TIFs al­to­gether. They use the term “hop­scotch­ing” to sug­gest that funds from cash-flush TIFs in the Loop and South Loop be moved to ne­glected and di­vested Black com­mu­ni­ties.

So close! We’d like to cor­rect the record and also urge the board to re­con­sider its po­si­tion.

First, we re­ject the as­ser­tion that TIFs “en­cour­age new in­vest­ment in parts of Chicago in dire need of re­de­vel­op­ment.” The op­po­site has been the case. The CivicLab has doc­u­mented over $840 mil­lion in TIF gifts to Loop-area prop­er­ties. We have doc­u­mented that the most TIF’d ward is one of Chicago’s poor­est and most di­vested places.

We have doc­u­mented the piti­ful TIF crumbs doled out to Black and Brown neigh­bor­hoods, while wealthy and clouted de­vel­op­ers pocket hun­dreds of mil­lions in sub­si­dies. We have doc­u­mented nu­mer­ous con­flicts of in­ter­est where TIF re­cip­i­ents do­nate lav­ishly to al­der­manic and may­oral can­di­dates and in­cum­bents.

We also firmly re­ject the tau­tol­ogy that jus­ti­fies giv­ing the Lin­coln Yards and Project 78 mega-de­vel­op­ments bil­lions in pub­lic TIF sub­si­dies. The to­tal $2.4 bil­lion to those two projects in­cludes $800 mil­lion in fi­nance fees.

We say, let those bil­lion­aire de­vel­op­ers build their projects with­out pub­lic sub­sidy, and, in­stead, lever­age an impact fee on them to cover the cost of any new in­fra­struc­ture re­quired. To do oth­er­wise em­pow­ers pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to drive city plan­ning. The re­sult is, once again, poorer com­mu­ni­ties will not get parks, li­braries or a mass tran­sit stop, even if they need them much more than the new mega-de­vel­op­ments. This is only fair and is a stand sup­ported by the World Bank and the Amer­i­can Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion.

Fi­nally, the board as­serts that “the most re­spon­si­ble strat­egy is to spend TIF rev­enue more fairly and eq­ui­tably.” Com­mis­sions, in­spec­tor gen­eral re­ports, watch­dog re­port­ing (in­clud­ing our own) have called for this rea­son­able mea­sure for years.

TIFs are a slush fund and are far too tempt­ing a prize for any Chicago mayor to tam­per with. The fact is, TIFs are racist and be­yond re­form. They are part and par­cel of Chicago’s long march of shame­ful poli­cies that have harmed com­mu­ni­ties of color and in­clude seg­re­ga­tion, red-lin­ing, con­tract home pur­chase scams, block-bust­ing, through­way rout­ing, preda­tory lend­ing, school clos­ings, over-polic­ing, red-light cam­eras, and dis­crim­i­na­tory prop­erty tax charges.

We should be about en­gag­ing our neigh­bors in a height­ened and sustained con­ver­sa­tion about what they want to make their com­mu­ni­ties great and their lives se­cure, healthy, and pros­per­ous. First, let’s abol­ish TIFs and lib­er­ate the $1.5 bil­lion in TIF ac­counts for im­me­di­ate pub­lic ser­vices use in our hard­est-hit com­mu­ni­ties.

Tom Tresser, CivicLab Chicago

Send let­ters to let­ters@suntimes.com.

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