Hannah Bernick, MPP ‘24, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
In this year’s spring election, Chicagoans will have the chance to vote on the Bring Chicago Home ordinance. The ordinance, which was passed by Chicago City Council in November of 2023 after years of advocacy by organizations like the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, aims to address homelessness in Chicago. If passed, it will provide a steady stream of funding for solutions that help people get housed permanently. Proponents of the measure say it’s a needed answer to help the 68,000 people in Chicago who are currently experiencing homelessness.
Per the organization’s website, the Bring Chicago Home ordinance proposes a restructuring of the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), where properties sold for less than $1 million would experience a decrease from 0.75% to 0.6%, while those sold for more than $1 million would experience an increase from 0.75% to 2% for every dollar over 1 million and 3% for every dollar over 1.5 million. Approximately 95% of properties would witness a reduction in taxes, affecting a significant majority of real estate transactions. The higher tax rate would only apply to around 4.2% of properties sold annually. The anticipated outcome of this tax adjustment is to generate a minimum of $100 million annually, earmarked specifically for programs addressing homelessness, including support for children, veterans, and individuals escaping gender-based violence.
The funds generated from the Bring Chicago Home ordinance will be utilized to implement the Permanent Housing with Supportive Services model, ensuring the preservation of existing housing, creation of new housing, distribution of housing vouchers, and exploration of alternative models combining affordable housing with necessary services. The primary objective is to enable individuals to not only secure housing but also to maintain long-term stability.
Critics of the proposal include developers and real estate businesses. Not only are they concerned with a higher tax, but also that there is not a concrete plan of what to do with the funds raised by the tax. They brought up these and other concerns at the October 4th hearing on the ordinance. The Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, an organization that is “strongly opposed” to the ordinance, published a paper that finds that the ordinance will raise rents and hurt small landlords.
Obviously, Chicago is not alone in its homelessness crisis. Cities across the nation have been working to find solutions to the problem. In fact, Los Angeles passed a similar tax to the Bring Chicago Home ordinance last November. Dubbed a “mansion tax”, it is a 4% tax on properties over $5 million, and a 5.5% tax on properties over $10 million. Cities (and voters) across the nation are acknowledging that homelessness funding should come from a sustainable, dedicated revenue source instead of fluctuating greatly year to year, based on the city budgeting process.
Early voting in Chicago starts on February 15th downtown and March 4th in all 50 wards. To learn more about Bring Chicago Home, visit their website: https://www.bringchicagohome.org/.