Chicago’s tax increment financing, or TIF, program is intended to spur economic development and create jobs in neighborhoods that need it most.
But more than 50 South Side residents questioned the program's impact upon learning this weekend that millions of property tax dollars were diverted from local schools and other units of government and awarded to private companies.
“Even though they’re for blighted areas, we find that places in the city are using TIF money, like the Central Business District and LaSalle Street,” Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab, said at a TIF town hall meeting Saturday at Chicago State University.
There are 163 TIF districts in the city and an additional 280 in suburban Cook County.
A portion of property tax dollars in those districts is funneled to companies planning development projects within TIF boundaries.
The more than 400 TIF districts in Cook County collected $729 million in property taxes in 2011, according to the CivicLab’s data analysis.
“That’s almost a billion dollars in property taxes,” Tresser said. “No wonder our finances are so messed up.”
And at the end of 2011, $1.7 billion was sitting in Chicago’s collective 163 TIF accounts, the CivicLab found.
Tresser said it’s not clear whether the unspent money is earning interest.
“Would you be surprised, would you be offended if Bank of America was holding that money,” Tresser asked, to which audience members nodded their heads. “It sort of makes you wonder. How can we be broke?”
Eight TIF districts fall inside the 8th Ward, which diverted about $3.7 million from property taxpayers in 2011, according to the CivicLab.
The ward’s main TIF district, Stony Island Commercial/Burnside Industrial, collected $2.3 million in 2011.
The district took in nearly $25 million since its inception in 2000 through 2011, the CivicLab found.
In 2006, the city authorized a $4.5 million TIF subsidy to the potato chip maker Jays Foods Inc. for the expansion of its manufacturing and warehouse facilities in the Stony Island/Burnside district at 825 E. 99th St.
But the company ended up permanently shuttering its South Side plant in December of 2007 after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier that year, according to Crain's Chicago Business. More than 200 people were fired and the pretzel maker Snyder's of Hanover acquired the company. It's not clear whether any of the TIF money was paid out.
Also in 2006, Midway Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of WVON/1690 AM, was authorized to receive $1 million from the city to redevelop an office and resource center in the TIF district at 1000 E. 87th St.
Other TIF projects funded in part by 8th Ward property tax dollars included the relocation of A. Finkl & Sons steel company, construction of the South Shore International College Prep High School, the development of a senior citizen residential facility and an office center, according to the CivicLab’s analysis.
“I hope everyone gets a discount on steel, because you paid for it,” Tresser said.
The city authorized more than $20 million in 2011 for the Finkl steel company to move its facility from the North Side at 2011 N. Southport Ave. to 1355 E. 93rd St. in the Stony Island/Burnside TIF.
One 8th Ward resident expressed her frustration at the meeting about the relocation, calling A. Finkl & Sons a “major polluter.” She also added there was little community input on the project.
“Welcome to Chicago,” Tresser responded. “Nobody’s asking you. Nobody cares. So you have to organize and demonstrate your power to the alderman, to the mayor, or you will continue to be treated this way. They will put whatever they want wherever they want.”
There are six TIF districts weaving through the 9th Ward, which took $1.2 million in taxes from property owners in 2011, the CivicLab’s data revealed.
The ward’s biggest player, the Roseland/Michigan TIF district, took in nearly $896,000 in 2011. It has collected a total of $5.6 million since its inception in 2002 through 2011.
Carmen Palmer with the 9th Ward Greater Roseland Community Coalition said the city’s aldermen should keep communities informed about how TIF money is being used.
“This money is supposed to be for blighted communities,” she said. “(Property taxes) are supposed to be for schools. They are closing schools in our backyard. This is not acceptable.”
The city awarded a $2 million TIF subsidy to the Keebler Foods Co., owned by Kellogg Co., in 2003 for construction of a manufacturing facility at 750 E. 110th St. in the 9th Ward’s Lake Calumet Industrial TIF.
Another private developer, Crown Commercial Real Estate and Development Inc., was promised $5 million to start construction in 2011 for a shopping mall at the corner of South Michigan Avenue and East 115th Street in the Roseland/Michigan TIF.
But the site is currently a vacant lot, and the retail facility, which is supposed to house an Aldi grocery store, is not built, Tresser said.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) attended the second half of the meeting and said the shopping center would be completed by the fall.
But some community members asked the alderman why Aldi was part of the project, pointing out there are other Aldi locations already in the area.
“When you have a food desert, there’s never enough,” Beale responded. “If you‘re in the desert, and you starve and somebody needs some water, you want more don’t you? So you ask for more. So there are more grocery stores we need to bring into the area.”
The TIF Illumination Project heads to the 46th Ward next on April 11.