Chicago teachers, students, and other community members rallied and marched around City Hall Tuesday evening to demand further delay to the looming vote on TIF subsidies for the Lincoln Yards and The 78 mega developments.
On Monday the Chicago City Council Finance Committee put a hold on the vote after outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, and other community voices all called for a delay on the vote. If approved, billions in property tax funds would be earmarked for the projects, money opponents say would be better spent on schools and other public resources, particularly in marginalized and struggling communities.
“We should not be spending precious tax dollars that comes out of the taxing authority of our schools, that comes out of our parks, and our waterways,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey at an afternoon press conference.
A large swath of activists and community groups have opposed TIF dollars for the projects, and have called on City Council and Emanuel for months to delay the vote until Lightfoot and newly elected aldermen are sworn in. Groups say the wealthy developers behind the projects don’t need tax money, and those dollars would be better spent on resources in struggling neighborhoods.
At the press conference and later on the first floor of City Hall as a few dozen people staged a sit-in, teachers and students in Chicago Public Schools described appalling conditions.
“My students are starved of resources,” said one teacher. “Our students were sitting in school without heat this winter. Our toilets are overflowing. It’s not right. My students deserve more.”
“The city has their priorities all wrong,” said Priscilla, a senior at Carl Schurz High School. “If the city is so eager to spend billions on infrastructure, start with my school. Classrooms have visible water damage because our roof is in need of immediate repair…giving billions of dollars for Lincoln Yards and the 78 project is not what we need.”
Despite these calls, the vote is expected to be called Wednesday morning, and is expected to pass.
“Based on subsequent conversations with Mayor Emanuel, community stakeholders, and a number of aldermen, we expect that this deal is likely to pass tomorrow,” said Lightfoot in a statement late Monday night.
Lightfoot also said she had “productive meetings” with the developers behind the projects, and that they “agreed to meaningfully strengthen their commitments to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises from the original terms.”
The mayor-elect also said that she was confident the deals could be improved and that she would work to include community voices moving forward.
“I am not yet the mayor, and I recognize that the current administration and City Council must decide whether to carry this vote forward according to the interests of the constituents they serve,” said Lightfoot. “Either way, upon swearing in, I will engage with the community and committed activists who have advocated forcefully for affordable housing, park space and the responsible use of tax increment financing dollars for many months.”
Lightfoot’s assurances however, aren’t likely to sway activists, community members, and some city officials who have been opposed to tax subsides for the developments from the beginning, and have been making calls to delay the vote until she and new City Council members are sworn in.
“It is ridiculous that this lame duck City Council on its way out, this lame duck City Council, when already the voters said ‘bye’ to so many of these council members, when already the voters said ‘no’ to the mayor and his type of governorship, that they would now try and vote and pass this through on their way out,” alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa told a group of demonstrators after they marched around City Hall. “If there’s $2.4 billion for Sterling Bay, then there’s enough money to make sure that every school has a library and a librarian, there’s enough money to make sure that we have 20 students per teacher, that there’s enough money to fix the potholes, keep our communities safe, and invest in our neighborhoods.”
Sharkey too, said something similar at the earlier press conference.
“If the vote does go through I’ll make this very simple, there’s a contract coming up with CPS and the people who work in the schools represented by the CTU. If the dollar amount is $2.4 billion to go into the pockets of those developers, that’s exactly how much money should come into the pockets of the people who work in our schools.”
Another rally to delay the vote is scheduled for City Hall Wednesday morning where community members will be joined by at least half a dozen newly elected alderman.