Taking On TIFs

Painting themselves as David taking on Goliath, a group of citizen activists from Chicago’s North Side have filed a legal challenge against the city for what they see as another abusive use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

According to the suit, which was filed in Cook County Circuit Court Wednesday, the plaintiffs from Fix Wilson Yard coalition alleged that the city signed off on multi-million dollar project overruns at the Wilson Yard site without following through on the oversight required under state law.

The plaintiffs also argue that city officials, including Ald. Helen Shiller (46th), have been nothing short of sneaky in rolling out the $151 million redevelopment plan. They point to a rushed October decision that handed a golden parachute to developer Peter Holsten as evidence.

After five years of delays, Fix Wilson Yard members are hoping the courts will pull the plug on the mixed-retail and affordable housing project. Instead, they’d like to see the site put on the block for private development.

“The taxpayers are losing money every hour,” the coalition’s attorney Thomas Ramsdell told reporters yesterday. “And the school districts, parks, and other taxing bodies continue to bleed money.”

That may be true. As we noted earlier this fall, many see TIFs as putting a major strain on the city’s budget. In fact, County Clerk David Orr put a price on the of-the books tax revenue at $555 million last year alone.

What’s interesting about this suit is the angle that, as Ramsdell puts it, people of “moderate income” are taking on the city. In the world of Uptown real estate, these folks are hardly the underdogs. To many, they represent the gentrifying class.

In fact, many of community’s affordable housing activists—themselves ardent TIF abuse critics—are skeptical of the group’s intentions. This excerpt from the Fix Wilson Yard illustrates the crux of their disagreement:

The commercial and entertainment components at Wilson Yard have taken a back seat to 178 units of 100% low income housing … This plan recreates the failed housing model of the CHA projects currently being torn down all over Chicago: two towers of densely packed low income units which serve only to warehouse the poor. Residents of this failed housing model will be easy prey for the gangs and drug crews that terrorize Uptown today.

What's actually going up is 178 affordable units, of which 100 will be reserved for senior citizens. The remainder will be filled with people earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income, which includes moderate-income earners like teachers and nurses along with truly low-income folks. Federal tax credits for the housing component have been a cornerstone to financing the project.

"There are well-maintained buildings that are very successful," 35-year Uptown resident and Northside Action for Justice organizer Mark Kaplan told the Chicago Journal, referring to similar affordable housing buildings in the area. He added that local resistance to similar affordable housing projects is driven by the "myth of Cabrini Green."*

We'll keep you posted on further developments.

* The preceding two grafs were revised for clarity.

I live in Uptown. This project has morphed from Target and a movie theatres with mixed income housing to a Target with "affordable" housing. First, it is going to cost over $400,000 per unit to build this affordable housing. Luxury apts. don't even cost this amount. In the city, it is the land that costs the most. I'd like to know where this money is going. Alderman Helen Shiller has done everything in her power to avoid holding public meetings and provide information to the community who is paying for this boondoggle and paying Alderman Shiller her salary.

Finally, this is just a bad plan even if you are for it. As we've seen so far, they've built an Aldi that has no entrance on the street and is not pedestrian friendly. The entrance is facing the back just feet from the L tracks. We have a big blank wall facing Broadway. Our assumption is that they are trying to get around a law of selling liquor too close to a school...so by putting the door in the back, the entrance is no longer too close to the school...very shady! We ask questions, but our Alderman and Holsten Development do everything in their power to avoid answering questions for something that the community will live with for 40 years! It puts senior housing on a six corner intersection. How are seniors supposed to navigate the busy streets at this intersection to enjoy a walk, head to the gracoery store, or run errands is beyond me. In addition, they have added a family high rise next to the L on Montrose and Broadway. Where are these children supposed to play and run?

This is a bad project all around that Shiller, Daley, and Holsten Development are trying to cram down our throats and waste millions in taxpayer dollars.

Most residents are not against the development...just this horrible, badly planned development.

"What’s interesting about this suit is the angle that, as Ramsdell puts it, people of “moderate income” are taking on the city. In the world of Uptown real estate, these folks are hardly the underdogs.To many, they represent the gentrifying class."

Angela, who are these unnamed "many"? What do you know about who is behind this suit? Kind of a gross generalization, don't you agree? Have you performed a socio-economic analysis of the membership of "Fix Wilson Yard" which is not cited in your article?

"Painting themselves as David taking on Goliath ... "

Kind of a fanciful lede, don't you think? Did they put up with that kind of thing at the Southtown or Lerner?

" ... nothing short of sneaky ... "

It must be a relief to not have an editor!

"Fix Wilson Yard members are hoping the courts will pull the plug ... "

All secondary sources. That's not the Angela I know. I remember the salad days, pouring over stacks of primary docs. Did you read the complaint?

" ... affordable housing activists—themselves ardent TIF abuse critics ... "

Unnamed, again? You are a bright lady, do us all a favor and please try explaining to your new friends that they can't really criticize while they're cashing in.

"What’s actually going up is 178 affordable units, of which 100 will be reserved for senior citizens and another 26 for teachers, nurses, and other moderate-income folks"

Once again, Angela needs to enhance her fact checking before putting things to print.

The 100 units for seniors may be correct, but the remainder going to teachers, nurses and the like is highly debatable.

I'm fairly certain that Shiller has mentioned that CHA residents from around the city are already on a waiting list for WY.

I'm equally certain that the income range of possible residents varies along the lines of no, low-low, and low income.

When will Progress Illinois tighten their belts on journalistic integrity and ensure that the information they are providing is correct (remember the article regarding the Wilson Yard referendum that required a correction for lack of complete information)?

Also: “These are well-maintained buildings that are very successful,”

How does Kaplan know this? What crystal ball is he using as a source to make such a claim.

The housing hasn't been built, yet.

What has Shiller told him that she hasn't told the rest of the ward?

Maybe if Helen Shiller would be kind enough to do her damned job and keep EVERYONE in her ward updated on her plans, not just those people, like Kaplan, who are allied with her and her WY Legacy Dream; there wouldn't be so much rancor against her.

Point is, Shiller (along with Daley's complacency towards her in exchange for her support on his hair-brained budgets) has dug this hole all by herself.

Had she done her job, properly, there might not be this mess; but alas ... it seems that people not doing their jobs is a reoccurring theme on this site.

This lawsuit isn't one against low income housing, it's against the rampant abuse of tax dollars by the city. Such abuse has brought us underfunded schools, understaffed police, selling off of Midway, and most recently, the idiot-laden vote to lease out parking meters.

Anyone who tries to tell you differently needs to have their agenda question (and trust me, no one better needs to be questioned further than Marc Kaplan).,

What percentage of the Progress Illinois budget is provided by the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council?

Is this blog sponsored by the same organization that initiated the recent pro-affordable housing referendum - a referendum that essentially only allowed those already in affordable housing to vote on it?

Lisagor-nominated journalist to pamphleteer, it's a sad commentary on the newspaper biz

Teachers will not qualify for any housing at wilson yard because they make too much.

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