This story was produced by the Better Government Association, a nonprofit news organization based in Chicago.
NEAR NORTH SIDE — Chicago’s decades-long struggle to redevelop the former site of the Cabrini-Green public housing development came one small step closer to finishing Tuesday after an advisory panel voted to spend another $600 million on the neighborhood over the next 12 years.
The Chicago Community Development Commission — a mayoral panel that advises the City Council — voted unanimously to extend the life of a 1997 special Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district on the Near North Side established specifically to redevelop the neighborhood.
That means Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to finish the project now goes to the full City Council for what city officials hope is final approval in October, taking the full amount the city has pledged to nearly $1 billion.
“CHA cannot do it alone. These TIF dollars are key,” said panel member Maurice D. Cox, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development. “If we are ever going to reach the beloved community that was the promise of this initiative, it’s through the extension.”
If approved by the City Council, the extension of the Near North Tax Increment Financing District, is expected to generate $600 million more in tax revenue on top of the $350 million it already has generated since it was established in 1997 to help finance then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to redevelop the area.
The new windfall renews the debate about who has won and lost on the massive redevelopment, especially when so much public money has been diverted from schools, police and libraries.
Daley ordered Cabrini-Green razed after years of local news coverage and national headlines portraying it as rife with crime and staggering poverty and a symbol of the nation’s failing public housing policy. The buildings had fallen into disrepair as federal housing policy shifted and CHA was unable to keep up with leaky roofs, broken elevators and other maintenance issues.
For years, as the neighborhoods surrounding Cabrini-Green gentrified, civic leaders called for the transformation of the area, which is just a mile to the north and slightly west of Downtown.
On Tuesday, several owners of condominiums near the neighborhood urged the mayoral panel to conserve the empty parcels of land as green space instead of building more mixed-income housing. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said those empty parcels will be used to keep promises to build mixed-income housing the city made to Cabrini-Green residents displaced by the project.
“I’m in full support of this,” said Burnett, who grew up in Cabrini-Green. “This is not only going to support the residents of Cabrini-Green, or the former CHA residents. It’s going to benefit the residents who need affordable housing, but also is going to benefit those residents who already own over there because nothing has happened over here that did not enhance their property values.”
Over the last two decades, the area was redeveloped with luxury condos, new school buildings, beautified parks and high-end retail stores and restaurants — and the property values grew exponentially, as did the taxes. The city set aside the increased revenue to continue financing the redevelopment. The Near North TIF has grown to become the fourth largest by revenue among the nearly 140 TIF districts throughout the city.
Already 23 years old, the TIF district was scheduled to sunset this year, which would mean the property tax money created in the area would begin flowing into the city’s general fund.
Last year, Lightfoot’s administration quietly pushed through the Illinois legislature permission to extend the TIF, which includes the former site of the Cabrini-Green highrises. City officials said the money will help to finally finish the city’s long-delayed plans to reshape the area. In 2015, the agency released a three-phase plan to redevelop empty parcels with up to 2,830 residences by 2025.
Former residents of Cabrini-Green have been fighting several city administrations for more than 25 years to keep Daley’s promise to replace homes of low-income families displaced in the controversial Cabrini-Green razing.
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