A progressive property transfer tax would help fight homelessness

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On September 6, a woman and her partner visited the 49th Ward Service Office. They were staying with a friend near their 7-year-old daughter’s school and feared they would have nowhere to live in two weeks when their friend’s tenancy ended.

This was not their first experience of housing instability. Just months earlier, they had stayed in one of the city’s emergency shelters, but left abruptly after being sexually harassed. The adults had jobs but had fallen on hard times. One recently had a hysterectomy for ovarian cancer and spent hundreds of dollars on rental application fees, only to be turned down due to poor credit.

Their story is not unique, but rather an all too common occurrence in our city. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that nearly 66,000 Chicagoans were homeless in 2020 — ranging from neighbors on the street and in shelters to those living with a friend or family member — and notes that this number represents a significant increase from previous years. Additionally, people from historically marginalized groups are particularly at risk of becoming homeless: 13% of our homeless neighbors were survivors of domestic violence in 2019, 22% are under 18, and 75% are people of color. , according to the coalition.

Above all, homelessness is no longer an impending crisis; we are in the middle. The Economic Roundtable predicts that chronic homelessness will increase by 49% over the next few years if we do not act.

Chicago can do better for its residents in need, and many of the next steps are clear. For our neighbors with ongoing health needs, permanent supportive housing programs are often ideal, as clients not only receive affordable housing, but also services ranging from mental health support and job training assistance with transportation and groceries. And for neighbors who need short-term support, a rapid relocation program can be a good choice, with easy access to several months of housing, as well as childcare, moving expenses and assistance with public services.

Last year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Council began to act with the urgency required when we passed a budget of $65 million for supportive housing and an additional $20 million for rapid rehousing. . When the federal dollars that funded these investments dry up, however, the municipal government must be ready with a permanent funding source in hand. Fortunately, we have the right tool with Bring Chicago Home.

Currently, nearly all property sales in Chicago are subject to the same real estate transfer tax, or RETT, whether it’s a $250,000 bungalow or a multi-storey downtown high-rise. millions of dollars. The Bring Chicago Home Coalition is proposing a graduated rate structure for the RETT in which the tax rate would be higher for property sales over $1 million. The proposal could bring in more than $160 million a year, with most of those funds coming from the sale of skyscrapers and residences in buildings such as Trump Tower.

Every property sale that happens in Chicago while we wait for Bring Chicago Home to pass is money that’s left on the table – money that could be used to close our budget shortfall and address major issues facing the people of Chicago. Google’s recent purchase of the Thompson Center is an example. As part of the Bring Chicago Home proposal, this sale alone would have generated $2 million that could have gone directly to providing housing and services to our homeless neighbors.

And the proposal is popular. Indeed, in a 2021 survey commissioned by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 72% of respondents agreed that RETT should have a graduated rate structure. During the 2019 municipal election cycle, Lightfoot and many city council members endorsed the real estate transfer tax proposal, and earlier this year more than 80 religious leaders signed a letter demanding that city leaders adopt the Bring Home Chicago plan.

With the city’s annual budget season upon us, City Council and Lightfoot can make up the shortfall in next year’s budget forecast and more. We can also house our homeless neighbours. All we have to do is fulfill our 2019 pledge to bring Chicago Home success.

Chicago Ald. Matt Martin represents the 47th arrondissement. Aldus. Maria Hadden represents the 49th arrondissement.

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