TIFs, even with reform, center around downtown

The news: Shortly after taking office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to reform the Tax Increment Financing District program and return the city’s use of the economic development tool to its “roots” of revitalizing blighted communities.

Behind the news: In the next two years, TIF districts with a healthy tax base will continue to raise a large amount of funds for new development, while poor districts struggle to raise revenue to invest in new projects, a Chicago Reporter analysis of TIF projection reports found. 

The analysis found that nearly half of TIF spending slated for the next two years will occur within or near the city’s downtown area.

Spending in the Central TIF area, which includes 23 TIF districts, accounts for 45 percent of the $756.4 million slated as “current obligations” and “potential projects” spending. Less than $412.6 million of the spending is slated for 85 percent, or 134, of all TIF districts that exist elsewhere in the city.

The analysis also found that TIF districts on the South and West sides of the city are also likely to tap less of their available funds in the next two years compared with their wealthier counterparts. The biggest gap occurs between the South Side TIF area, where less than half—or 47 percent—of the available money is marked for “current obligations” compared with the Central TIF area’s 90 percent.

City officials said that the analysis doesn’t take into account multiple variables such as land use, tax rates and market demand that impact redevelopment plans.

But as far as Carolina Gaete, a TIF reform activist and co-director of Blocks Together, a community organizing group in Humboldt Park and North Garfield Park, is concerned, the paltry investment in struggling communities suggests that there has yet been little to no reform, even after the commission created by Emanuel came out with its recommendations to help reform TIF program.

The commission “is a dog and pony show without substance,” Gaete said. “Most of the recommendations won’t really change anything. What we really need is legislation.”

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