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City Should Boost Spending On Homeless Services By Raising Taxes On The Priciest Property Sales, ‘Bring Chicago Home’ Organizers Say

Increasing the city's real estate transfer tax on property sales of more than $1 million could help house 12,000 families over 10 years, activists said.

Diavionne "China" Brown, 21, speaks to attendees about her experience with homelessness as a young adult during Wednesday's town hall to kick off the Bring Chicago Home campaign at KAM Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.
Provided/Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
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HYDE PARK — Diavionne “China” Brown, tired of being subjected to mental and physical abuse in an unstable living situation, left home in October.

Upon leaving, Brown experienced the struggles of homelessness and life in shelters — including her first shelter, where poor living conditions and institutional control left the 21-year-old “feeling like I was in jail,” she said.

Brown has since found a residence through the Expedited Housing Initiative, but some of her friends — like 58,000 other Chicagoans, according to pre-pandemic estimates — are still without a permanent place to live.

“For me, the thought of being homeless was so unseen … but I soon realized that we are all one late bill or one family altercation from homelessness,” Brown said.

With the ever-present issue of homelessness in Chicago compounded by the pandemic, Brown and other organizers with the Bring Chicago Home campaign are calling for a dedicated revenue stream to provide affordable housing to people living in shelters, living on the streets, couch surfing or experiencing other forms of homelessness.

Activists are calling for an increase in the city’s real estate transfer tax on property sales of more than $1 million. The additional funds would be spent on building housing; efforts to preserve existing housing, like single-room occupancy buildings; and rent subsidies, among other efforts.

“Our proposal would provide permanent supportive housing with linkages to case managers, community resources … [and] the health care that they did not receive when they were homeless,” said Maxica Williams, an organizer with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless who experienced homelessness after a cancer diagnosis.

About 12,000 families could be housed in the fund’s first 10 years by boosting the transfer tax from 0.75 percent to 2.65 percent for the priciest real estate deals, campaign supporters said.

“The misconception … is that this is going to affect all real estate transfers,” Williams said. “That’s not true. This will only be for homes or buildings sold over $1 million.”

The activists plan to pressure City Council to pass a resolution putting a referendum question about the transfer tax on the ballot for the November elections. If the issue makes it on the ballot and voters approve, the city could then pass an ordinance increasing the tax on property sales over $1 million, Williams said.

More than 150 people joined Bring Chicago Home organizers for a South Side town hall Wednesday at KAM Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.

The campaign is led by a coalition of groups, including the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Communities United, SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, ONE Northside and United Working Families.

Three more Bring Chicago Home town halls are scheduled in the coming weeks. A North Side event is 1:30 p.m. Sunday, a West Side event is 6 p.m Thursday and a Northwest Side event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 7.

For more information on the town halls and the Bring Chicago Home campaign, visit the organization’s website. To watch a recording of Wednesday’s event, click here.

South Side Alderpeople Weigh In

Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Greg Mitchell (7th) did not attend Wednesday’s town hall, eliciting a few boos from the crowd when announced. Organizers dressed cardboard cutouts of the alderpeople in button-down shirts and sat them on stage during the event.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Bring Chicago Home volunteer Bradley Sanders speaks to town hall attendees, with a cardboard cutout of Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) to his lower left.

The event’s organizers, who said they invited the alderpeople to attend, said they would lobby King to support the Bring Chicago Home proposal at the 4th Ward office April 5 and lobby Hairston at the 5th Ward office April 7.

“The alders of these wards chose not to be here tonight to listen to these stories, to hear our demands — that all of our neighbors have safe and stable housing — and to answer our questions,” said Bradley Sanders, a campaign volunteer through Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “It’s now up to us to take this message to them.”

Pulling funding from the real estate transfer tax “is a good way to achieve” the coalition’s goals, King told Block Club Thursday.

King supports putting the transfer tax increase to a referendum “in theory,” but she would have “to look at the details” of the referendum proposal before committing to vote in favor, she said.

King “would have been happy” to coordinate a different town hall date with the coalition, but told organizers early in their planning process she couldn’t attend Wednesday, she said. She downplayed the significance of missing the group’s meeting, saying, “We’re partners, not adversaries.”

Chicago needs to boost its funding for and develop a strategy “on how to deal with the onion of homelessness” and related issues like mental health and substance abuse, King said. That could be done through a city-level referendum or through lobbying the state government, she said.

“I am optimistic that the City Council will support a lot of the ideas around Bring Chicago Home, and I’m optimistic that we will pass a substantive ordinance to deal with the issues,” King said.

Nine alderpeople have sponsored the resolution to put the transfer tax increase to a referendum, including Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), who in reintroduced the resolution last July.

Dowell “is inclined to support the Bring Chicago Home ordinance if the use of funds were expanded to include other priorities such as mental health [and] youth development,” the alderperson said in a statement Thursday.

Revenue from the real estate transfer tax could fund mental health services, job training and other “wraparound services” in addition to supporting housing options, Bring Chicago Home organizers said Wednesday.

Hairston’s office “did not get any notice from any organization” in the coalition ahead of Wednesday’s event, said Kimberly Webb, the alderperson’s chief of staff.

Mitchell did not respond to Block Club’s requests for comment.

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