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City Council Approves Subsidies for Mega-Developments Amid Protest

After a 48-hour delay on the vote, the Chicago City Council approved $1.6 billion in subsidies for two mega-developments – Lincoln Yards and The 78. The vote first sailed through the Finance Committee before the full crowd of people gathered to attend the full City Council meeting even finished entering chambers, and was later approved 31 to 14 with Ald. Edward Burke abstaining.

Demonstrators against TIF funds going to Lincoln Yards and The 78 picket City Hall after the City Council voted to approve the projects. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

The vote was delayed after calls to do so were made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, and community members with myriad concerns over locking in taxpayer dollars for the project. On Tuesday, Lightfoot reversed her decision, citing “productive meetings” with the developers behind the projects, and that their agreement to “meaningfully strengthen their commitments to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises from the original terms.”

“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,” Lightfoot said in a late night statement Tuesday. “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.”

“I know there’s a lot of hard feelings. There’s a lot of strong feelings — and that’s okay,” said Emanuel, according to the Sun-Times. “But at the end of the day, we’ve had that debate. It’s time to move forward” with a project that will help a shrinking city grow.”

Ald. Ray Lopez said opponents of the subsidies for the mega-developments were “lying.”

“This is a good deal for all the people of Chicago. You are not stealing. You are generating. In order to generate, you must build,” Lopez said.

But opponents, which include several newly elected aldermen, the Chicago Teachers Union, Grassroots Collaborative, United Working Families, and a host of other community groups, have long contended that if the city can afford billions in tax subsidies for developers building in already wealthy neighborhoods, it can afford to provide resources in marginalized communities. They say the money scooped up in these TIFs – which are allegedly intended for development in “blighted” communities – is not going to end up in areas where and for projects needed most.

“There is a groundswell of popular demand in this city for affordable housing, living wage work for every Chicagoan, green space and decent parks in every neighborhood, health services—including mental health services—and the host of other supports our residents have been robbed of by the outgoing mayor and his political crime partners,” said Jesse Sharkey, President of the CTU in a statement Wednesday. “Residents will not stand for the pilfering of public dollars and the public trust that has marred generations of government in Chicago. The resistance will only grow, and this movement cannot be stopped.”

Amisha Patel, Executive Director of the Grassroots Collaborative, called the decision to move forward a “disaster for working families.”

“Throughout his administration Mayor Emanuel has governed as the mayor of two cities. In one he closed schools, shuttered clinics, and nickled and dimed residents with fees and tickets. In the other, he rolled out the red carpet for the corporate elite, all at the expense of working families,” Patel said in a statement.

Another sticking point for opponents was the vote coming just about a month before Lightfoot and the new City Council will be 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 said at a Tuesday evening demonstration calling for the delay of the vote.

Newly elected aldermen who joined the protest Wednesday included Matt Martin, Daniel LaSpata, Mike Rodriguez, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Andre Vazquez, Maria Hadden, and Byron Sigcho-Lopez.

Demonstrators calling for a halt to the vote on TIF funds for Lincoln Yards and The 78 stage a sit-in on LaSalle Street in front of City Hall. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

“We were campaigning consistently for over a year saying that we can easily find $2 billion to put up luxury developments, but we can’t find enough money for teachers, for aides…jobs, this isn’t right,” said Martin. “We keep saying this stuff every four years, we keep electing the same people every four years. That’s going to change with us.”

The new aldermen, who will be sworn in in May, said that the fight over these TIF subsidies is just the beginning.

“Though we got a vote today that was predictable and disappointing, I know that for people standing up here – all of you – are going to make sure the next four years at Chicago City Council are going to be filled and centered on community voice, and we’re going to make sure to vote our community choice and interest,” Hadden told the crowd.

“We know the opportunity ahead of us,” said Vazquez. “We’re going to have a new council, we have new people coming in, we have a new vision in terms of opportunity, and every time one of these fights come up I want to see everybody that’s here now bring somebody else with them. We’re either going to bring the people to City Hall, or City Hall to the people.”

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