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Aldermen Propose Tax On Sale Of Property Worth $750K+ To Replace Lead Pipes In Chicago Homes

Aldermen are set to consider a measure Monday that would add a 1 percent tax to the sale of any Chicago property worth $750,000 or more.

The lead testing kit Chicago residents can request.
City of Chicago
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CITY HALL — Aldermen are set to consider a measure Monday that would add a 1 percent tax to the sale of any Chicago property worth $750,000 or more to fund an effort to replace lead pipes in Chicago homes that could be polluting water.

However, it is not clear whether the ordinance — which will be introduced on the floor of the 10 a.m. Monday meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Finance — has the votes to win final approval from the Chicago City Council on Wednesday.

In addition, the measure — authored by Aldermen Gilbert Villegas (36), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) and Chris Taliaferro (29) — also requires the approval of voters in a referendum vote. That referendum could be part of the Feb. 26 municipal ballot.

“If this is not the right vehicle, tell me what is,” Villegas said. “No one has addressed this issue, so I am addressing it.”

The funds raised by the lead abatement transfer tax would be earmarked for a special fund, which would pay to retrofit and remediate the city’s water delivery pipes and infrastructure, according to the measure.

When properties are sold in Chicago, the buyer and seller pay $3.75 per $500 of the sale price to the city. In 2008, the City Council approved and voters ratified via referendum an additional $1.50 per $500 to fund the operations of the Chicago Transit Authority.

Waguespack called the issue a health crisis that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has so far refused to acknowledge. The city considers water delivery pipes — or service lines — to be the responsibility of the property owner. His office did not return a request for comment from The Daily Line.

“Every person out there that has kids wants clean water in this city and almost every home in the city is affected, every business,” Waguespack said, adding that the tax would only apply to the sale of high-value properties to help middle and working class Chicagoans avoid another tax hike.

All 50 aldermen are for re-election on the Feb. 26 ballot.

For nearly 100 years, city law required that lead pipes be used to funnel water to single-family homes and small apartment buildings. Federal law banned the use of lead pipes in 1986, when it was discovered that they could cause brain-damaging toxins to leach into the water.

The city bears some responsibility for existing contamination because home builders installed lead pipes to comply with city law, Villegas said. Most cities moved away from lead water-supply piping by the 1920s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Chicago is a world-class city,” Villegas said. “It deserves a world-class water delivery system.”

The funds raised by the lead abatement transfer tax would be earmarked for a special fund, which would pay to retrofit and remediate the city’s water delivery pipes and infrastructure, according to the measure.

The tax would be ended once “all water delivered to schools and private residences is determined to be free of lead,” according to the measure.

The Tribune reported in April of 2018 that the potentially brain-damaging metal had been found in water from nearly 70 percent of the 2,797 homes city officials tested during 2016 and 2017. The report created a political firestorm that Chicago’s elected officials have since been reluctant to address.

After the Tribune’s investigation, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) along with nine members of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus — Aldermen Sophia King (4th); Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th); Toni Foulkes (16th); David Moore (17th); Chris Taliaferro (29th) and John Arena (45th) demanded a hearing to determine whether the city was in violation of state and federal clean water laws.

That request has been in limbo for six months.

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Villegas said it was crucial for the city to act as quickly as possible.

“It is only going to cost more the longer we delay,” Villegas said.

Health and government officials are especially concerned with children drinking lead-tainted water, as they’re more susceptible to its effects. Lead levels that might not harm adults can hinder mental and physical development in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

While there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, the EPA requires water agencies to act to reduce lead when more than 10 percent of tap water samples exceed the lead action level of 15 parts per billion. Chicago has met that standard annually based on a sample of homes tested by officials, a point Emanuel has repeated.

However, if a home tests positive for more than 15 parts per billion of lead, city water officials “will contact the homeowner to discuss the results and schedule a time to resample the water and inspect the home’s plumbing and electrical wiring to better evaluate possible causes,” according to the city’s website.

Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode.

Get more in-depth, daily coverage of Chicago politics at The Daily Line.