Chicago Voters Face Choice on Tax to Fund Homeless Programs

Chicago voters will consider a ballot measure on Tuesday that progressive Democrats see as a solution to homelessness.

The proposal would allow the City Council to increase real estate tax revenue to help fund programs to get people off the street. But the vote will be about a lot more than that.

The ballot measure has prompted arguments about the downtown’s sputtering recovery, the influx of migrants that has strained city services and political coalitions, and the wisdom of entrusting Mayor Brandon Johnson and his fellow progressives with more tax money.

One issue not being contested: Homelessness is a problem in Chicago.

“Everybody in the city I think probably agrees, we have to do something about our housing crisis, on our homelessness,” said Farzin Parang, the executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, which is helping lead the opposition to the proposal. The group says that the new tax would deal another blow to an office real estate market still mired in a post-pandemic vacancy crisis.

The ballot question is lengthy and nuanced. If approved and enacted, it would reduce the real estate transfer tax on properties that sell for less than $1 million, but impose higher rates on homes and commercial buildings that sell for more than $1 million. The extra money — supporters say it would be at least $100 million each year — would be put toward addressing homelessness, with the details of that spending to be finalized later.

The vote on Tuesday is the culmination of a longtime goal for Chicago’s progressive movement, which has unseated moderate Democrats over the last decade and transformed from a band of scrappy political outsiders into City Hall establishment.

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