Chicago's Community Development Commission (CDC) unanimously approved a controversial plan Tuesday to provide a $15.8 million tax increment financing (TIF) subsidy for an upscale apartment complex in Uptown, despite opposition from some local low-income housing advocates.
The $125 million luxury housing development, proposed for the former Columbus Maryville Academy site near the city's lakefront, still needs Chicago City Council approval.
A group of about 30 community activists spoke against the proposal outside of City Hall's council chambers before attending the CDC meeting. The protesters toted signs reading, "No Public Funds For Private Profit." They saw support from Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey and TIF activist Tom Tresser.
"I stand with my Uptown neighbors ... to demand that Mayor Emanuel's rubber stamp not be used one more time by the Community Development Commission to rob the taxpayers of Chicago and send millions of public dollars into private pockets," Tresser, with the TIF Illumination Project, said during public comment at the CDC meeting.
After approval of the project, the group chanted, "No TIF for the rich!" and "Shame on Cappleman!" The long-proposed housing development is located in Ald. James Cappleman's 46th Ward.
In an interview after the meeting, Cappleman called the project's CDC approval a "win for the community."
"At the same time, I want to thank those people who protested," he added. "We need to hear their voices. And we heard their voices today."
Marc Kaplan of Northside Action for Justice said the outcome of the CDC meeting was "very expected," because the panel's commissioners are appointed by the mayor. He said protesters will now press aldermen to vote against the project.
"Just to think about giving $15. million in public funds -- at a time when they're talking about laying off 5,000 teachers, at a time when we have homeless people a block away from this [proposed project] living under viaducts because there is not affordable housing and programs being severely cut -- is absolutely insane," Kaplan told Progress Illinois after the meeting.
A few Uptown residents spoke before the CDC in support of the project.
"This eyesore has been there for 10 years," one resident said of the vacant Maryville site. "It is a concern for security .. and we really need this."
The developers, JDL Development and Harlem Irving Companies, are seeking to build a residential complex with 381 units, 20 of which would be affordable. The building would also include commercial space on the ground floor.
As part of the plan, the developers would pay $5.7 million into the city's low-income housing fund to cover additional affordable units as required by the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). Another $4.6 million provided from the developers would be put toward the Clarendon Park Community Center's renovation.
The city's ARO requires that TIF-funded housing projects designate 20 percent of the units in the complex as affordable. Developers also have the option of paying into the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund to cover some of the required affordable units instead of building them all onsite.
TIF is an economic development program that depends on property tax dollars.
The project is located in the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district, which currently incorporates tax-exempt land, including the former Maryville site and Clarendon Park. As such, the TIF district does not currently have any accumulated funds.
Under the proposed agreement, the $15.8 million TIF subsidy would not be provided to the developers before the project is completed and has started to generate property tax revenue.
"This was an extensive community process that involved many people, and I'm very pleased with the outcome," Cappleman said. "We now have a chance to have the Claredon Park Community Center rehabbed, and this is so desperately needed for residents. Without this TIF, it would just languish, and that was the sad, sad part of all this."
Cappleman also spoke to the concerns of protesters who cited a lack of affordable housing in Uptown.
"The city is seriously lacking in affordable housing, and we have to address it," Cappleman said. "If we want a safe community, we have to address affordable housing, and it is not there in the city. And every community needs to step up. So it's a fight."
The alderman stressed the importance of bringing down the cost of building affordable housing in the city.
"Right now, it is much, much more expensive to build affordable housing than market rate," he said. "That's a problem. And the other issue is we have a lot of people leaving the South Side, coming up to the North Side for housing. As a city, we need to be focused on developing the South Side and West Side, where there's extreme poverty and a lack of affordable housing. It's a sad state in many regards for the entire city. But, this [proposed Uptown housing complex] is going to contribute tax revenue that's gonna help move the city forward and this community."