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Quick Hit
by Ashlee Rezin
Wed Jul 10, 2013

Group Unveils Plan To Tackle Privatization, Increase Government Transparency

The push back against privatization, or putting public services and assets in the hands of private entities, has become more organized. Last week, a public interest group released a legislative agenda to combat privatization, which they say too often contributes to the downward spiral of local economies and the growing wage gap in the U.S.

The newly-released “Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda” is a package of policy recommendations intended to assert taxpayer control over public resources. Unveiled by In The Public Interest (ITPI), a resource group focused on privatization and contracting, the agenda is being introduced to lawmakers across the country in the hopes of making government contracting processes more accountable and transparent.

“We wanted to introduce a set of proactive public protections aimed at defending our communities from the often detrimental effects of privatization,” said Shahrzad Habibi, research and policy director for ITPI.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
Wed Jun 26, 2013

Emanuel Introduces Assault Weapons Ban, Student Safety Measure At Busy Council Meeting

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance at Wednesday’s city council meeting that looks to ban the import, sale, transfer and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the city.

The move comes in response to the concealed carry legislation the Illinois General Assembly passed last month that is currently awaiting action from Gov. Pat Quinn.

State lawmakers are required to come up with new legislation by a July 9 deadline following a federal court ruling back in December that struck down Illinois’ concealed carry ban. The deadline was extended from June 9 to July 9 to give Gov. Quinn more time to consider the bill once it passed.

Under the proposed statewide concealed carry legislation, HB 183, sponsored by State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), Illinois municipalities will have 10 days after the bill is signed to pass a new or updated assault weapons measure.

The Chicago Police Department is making a “strong effort” to bring down gun-related crimes and violence in the city in part by putting more police on the streets and getting “kids, guns and drugs” off of them, Emanuel said in remarks after the meeting.

“It is essential that we make sure we do everything to bring safety to all our communities and neighborhoods throughout the city,” Emanuel said. “The assault weapon ban, and making sure it’s comprehensive, is part of that overall strategy — bringing safety throughout our streets.”

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
Thu Jun 6, 2013

TIF Program Angers Bridgeport, McKinley Park Residents

Residents of Chicago's 11th Ward were outraged upon learning that $57.4 million in property tax money was sitting in their tax increment financing (TIF) districts' collective bank accounts at the end of 2011, according to data unveiled by the CivicLab.

One resident suggested at least one way that money could have been put to use at the CivicLab's TIF Illumination Project meeting Wednesday night.

Maureen Sullivan with Bridgeport Alliance said she has been pushing the city to renovate the Ramova Theater at 35th and Halsted streets for years, to no avail.

The city currently owns the property, which has been closed since 1986, Sullivan said.

“It could be a thousand-seat performance space and the largest economic generator on Halsted Street, and it's sitting there empty," Sullivan said in remarks after the meeting, held at the McKinley Park library. "And I'm so angry, because when I talk to the city, they dangle (TIF) in front of you, like 'we may be able to get you some TIF funds for this.'”

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
Tue May 14, 2013

Chicago's 4th Ward Residents Call For More TIF Transparency, Accountability At Town Hall Meeting

The 11 tax increment financing, or TIF, districts in the 4th Ward took $5.6 million in property taxes from those living within the boundaries in 2011, the CivicLab revealed at TIF town hall meeting Monday night.

Four of those districts fall nearly 100 percent inside of the ward and had extracted about $42 million from property taxpayers since the start of the TIF program back in 1986 through 2011, said Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab and leader of the of volunteer-based TIF Illumination Project.

Monday’s TIF town hall was the CivicLab’s eighth community meeting. Tresser and other “TIF illuminators” are holding meetings across the city in an effort to raise awareness about Chicago’s economic development program. The CivicLab's project sets out to find what wards are TIF "winners" or "losers."

Craig Coleman, a 10-year resident of the 4th Ward, said Monday night was the first time he heard exactly how much property tax dollars local residents had kicked into the program. He raised concerns about the TIF program’s lack of accountability and transparency.

“I think it’s money off the books that should be put back on the books,” Coleman said in remarks after the meeting, held at Room 43 in Kenwood. “How do you change it, and does your alderman control this or ... who controls the law to change this? When it’s time for the mayoral elections, does it get swept under the rug like everything else?”

Quick Hit
by Ashlee Rezin
Thu May 9, 2013

Tenants Accuse Residential Community Company Of 'Unfair Rent Increases', Abusive Practices (VIDEO)

Residents of the nation’s largest corporate owner of manufactured home communities, Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), say the company is engaging in abusive practices and general disinvestment in its properties.

Wednesday, a group of more than 20 residents from across the country gathered outside ELS’ annual shareholder meeting in Chicago and demanded to be heard by the company’s founder and chairman, Sam Zell.

While a few demonstrators attended the meeting, several protesters rallied outside and urged Zell and other ELS executives to stop “unfair rent increases” that push residents, most of them retirees on fixed incomes, out of their homes and into poverty.

The demonstration was part of an ongoing battle between ELS and residents who want better living and renting conditions.

“My lot rent is more than half of my Social Security,” said Carla Burr, a 59 year-old resident of an ELS property in Chantilly, Virginia.

Burr pays a monthly lot fee of $945 and makes an annual income of $42,000. But, when she turns 65 she stands to lose an employer disability payment that will cut her income almost in half.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay in my house,” she said, noting her lot fee has increased $30 to $40 every year since she moved in, in 2006. “(ELS’) main goal is to win money for their investors at any cost, and they don’t care who they hurt.”

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
Mon May 6, 2013

Englewood Residents Question TIF Program, Call For More Community Mobilization At Town Hall Meeting

Property taxpayers in Englewood were furious upon learning at a town hall meeting Saturday that their tax dollars had contributed at least $44 million to the Englewood Neighborhood Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District since it rolled out in 2001. According to data from the CivicLab's TIF Illumination Project, some $44 million of taxpayer dollars had funneled to the TIF district between 2001 and 2011.

In 2011 alone, the TIF district siphoned $5 million from property taxpayers in the area, which would have normally gone to local units of government such as schools and parks, according to the CivicLab. 

“The original concept is that (TIFs are) designed to have an impact on blighted areas, and just looking out the window, we know that a blighted area is all around us,” CivicLab's Bill Drew said at the TIF discussion, held at the Chicago Public Library's Hiram Kelly Branch. 

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
Fri Apr 12, 2013

CivicLab Highlights Questionable TIF Projects In Uptown

The city’s tax increment financing, or TIF, program is an economic development tool, but it should really be called a Chicago bailout for private companies, some Uptown residents said at a town hall meeting Thursday night as part of the CivicLab’s TIF Illumination Project.

“Why don’t we call (TIF) Chicago welfare,” 46th Ward resident Ryne Poelker asked at the meeting held at the Peoples Church of Chicago. “Why don’t they call it a bailout?”

Property taxpayers in the 46th Ward paid out about $87.6 million for TIF projects in the area since the inception of the program under former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington through 2010, according to the CivicLab’s data analysis.

More than half of that money went to private developers for projects such as the Wilson Yard, a retail space at 4400 N. Broadway Ave., that houses a Target, Aldi grocery store and low-income housing units. The project received more than $50 million in TIF funds, according to the CivicLab.

Quick Hit
by Ashlee Rezin
Thu Apr 11, 2013

49th Ward Hosts Community Budgeting Meeting Geared Towards Latino Community

Rogers Park residents gathered for the final installation of the 49th ward Participatory Budgeting Project Expo last night and listened to proposed infrastructure projects for their community.

The meeting, which was entirely in Spanish, was geared specifically for Rogers Park’s Hispanic residents.

Project organizers said they hoped the Spanish-language meeting would boost civic engagement from the community’s Hispanic population.

“It’s been a challenge to get the Latino community to participate, and the idea was that if we provided them with a space where they could dialogue about the projects it would be easier for Spanish-speakers to participate,” said Jose Melendez, a volunteer mentor to the Participatory Budgeting Spanish Language Committee and member of the Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee.