As Chicagoans face down a holiday deadline to pay their property tax bills, Ald. Michael Rodriguez has unveiled a proposal to spend $10 million in unallocated federal COVID-19 recovery funding to help low-income Chicagoans meet the deadline.
At a virtual news conference, Rodriguez and fellow Ald. Maria Hadden said the hard-hit Southwest Side and North lakefront neighborhoods they represent were particularly in need.
A recent analysis from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office found the total residential property taxes billed in Hadden’s ward rose nearly 24% — the most of all 50 wards. In Rodriguez’s 22nd ward, total residential taxes climbed more than 22%, the third highest.
Rodriguez, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate for Chicago mayor; and Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya voiced concern that longtime residents would be pushed out of neighborhoods like Pilsen and Logan Square due to those rising costs.
“The people we represent depend on us to curb the effects of gentrification and displacement. They also count on us to create innovative solutions to realize their dream of owning and keeping a home, not only for themselves, but for their future generations as well,” Garcia said.
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Funds would be offered as forgivable loans, the sponsors said. As the proposal stands, applicants would have to be Chicago residents, live in the home they are applying for and have an income at or below 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, among other criteria.
The median property tax for a Chicago home, according to the Treasurer, now stands at $3,599, an increase of $261, or 7.8%, from last year. A number of factors drove up bills, including rising levies at the city and Chicago Public Schools, a new state law that lets taxing districts “recapture” property taxes that were refunded, and shifting assessments.
Sponsors of the ordinance proposal introduced Wednesday hope to have it heard in the Housing Committee meeting early next year. Rodriguez said $10 million “is a starting point,” but that figure still needs to be negotiated with the mayor’s office and the Housing Department. Anaya said she planned to introduce similar legislation at the county board.
At a news conference following Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she had not yet read the ordinance, but “obviously, I know that people are concerned about their property tax bills.”
“We’re going to look at what tools we have available at the municipal level to be able to give some kind of relief if possible. But candidly, $10 million is not going to get the job done,” Lightfoot added. “We’ve got to look at resources from the state and look at resources from the county as well and come up with a proposal that addresses the issue.”
Former Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, who spearheaded a similar program with Mayor Richard M. Daley in the mid-1990s, said at the same news conference that the program would be a good short-term fix, but that longer term, the state needs to fully fund schools to reduce the property tax burden.
Similar to the Daley-era program, the loan term would be 10 years, charging 6% annual interest. If the property is sold by the loan recipient, or “otherwise ceases to be (their) primary residence” before the 10 years is up, “the entire amount of the Program Loan, plus any accrued interest, shall become due and payable,” the ordinance says.
Cook County property taxpayers are expected to get another brief reprieve next year: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office confirmed he plans to sign a bill shifting the due date for the next installment of bills from March 1 to Apr. 1.
“This measure will give those in need more time to ensure their payments can be made on time and without penalty,” a spokesperson told the Tribune.