TagTIF

Easily find TIF districts in your ward but good data on their current obligations is missing

Ald. Ameya Pawar speaks to the Board of Education (WBEZ/Bill Healy)

Alder Ameya Pawar is willing to give back TIF money from projects in the 47th Ward to the Chicago Public Schools. Photo: Bill Healy for WBEZ

Alders Ameya Pawar (47th), Pat O’Connor (40th), Joe Moreno (1st) and Pat Dowell (3rd) are introducing a resolution at today’s budget committee to ask all alders to choose and stop certain TIF-funded projects in their wards (instructions on how to find TIF districts are below) so that the money can be declared as a surplus.

Part of the surplus would be given to the Chicago Public Schools, where it would have gone had property tax revenue never been diverted to the TIF.

What is TIF? Quick answer: All of the new property tax revenue generated after the date the “Tax Increment Financing” district took effect goes to a fund that can only be spent on certain kinds of projects within that district, while all of the property tax revenue generated at the amount that was collected just before the district took effect continues to go to the city, the school district, and other taxing districts.

Alder Pawar has already picked $16.5 million worth of projects that he’s stopping in order to give back the money to schools.

It’s still very difficult to know how much unallocated money is in a TIF district’s bank account (what is essentially surplus). It’s also still very difficult to figure out which projects have had money allocated to them (called an obligation) but not yet spent.

Patty Wetli reported in DNAinfo Chicago yesterday:

The resolution works as a companion to legislation [actually a resolution] previously introduced by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), which called for the city to funnel unallocated TIF dollars back to CPS. [read the resolution]

Rather than allowing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his budget office to decide where to sweep for TIF surplus dollars, Pawar said aldermen should be leading the effort, stating which TIF projects they’re willing to give up.

Instructions to find TIF districts in your ward

You can use Chicago Cityscape’s Places maps to easily find which TIF districts overlap any of the 50 wards.

  1. Find your ward. Use the 3rd Ward, Alder Pat Dowell because Wetli already explored the 47th Ward TIF districts.
  2. Scroll down to the table called “3rd Ward, Ald. Pat Dowell’s Nearby Places”.
  3. Type “TIF district” in the table’s search form. Gasp at the fact that there are 17 districts that overlap the 3rd Ward.
TIF districts that overlap the 3rd Ward (Alder Dowell)

This screenshot shows 10 of the 17 TIF districts that overlap the 3rd Ward.

Let’s look deep at the TIF district called “24th/Michigan”, 76.7 percent of which is in the 3rd Ward, has several millions of dollars in obligations to vaguely-described projects, to continue paying for already-built projects, or future projects. This includes $6.4 million for the Cermak Green Line station and $4.5 million annually for an unspecified project at the National Teachers Academy pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement with the Chicago Public Schools.

24th/Michigan TIF district

A map of the 24th/Michigan TIF district.

The National Teachers Academy project isn’t even on the city’s mildly useful TIF projects map.

Alder Dowell has her work cut out for her to find projects that are in both the 3rd Ward and in one of the 17 intersecting TIF districts that she would be willing to cut so that the Chicago Public Schools are less broke. The same arduous but noble task belongs to all of the other alders as well.

How to use Chicago Cityscape’s upgraded names search tool

Search for names of people who do business in Chicago.

I created a combined dataset of over 2 million names, including contractors, architects, business names, and business owners and their shareholders, from Chicago’s open data portal, and property owners/managers from the property tax database. It’s one of three new features published in the last couple of weeks.

Type a person or company name in the search bar and press “search”. In less than 1 second you’ll get results and a hint as to what kind of records we have.

What should you search?

Take any news article about a Chicago kinda situation, like this recent Chicago Sun-Times article about the city using $8 million in taxpayer-provided TIF district money to move the Harriet Rees house one block. The move made way for a taxpayer-funded property acquisition on which the DePaul/McCormick Place stadium will be built.

The CST is making the point that something about the house’s sale and movement is sketchy (although I don’t know if they showed that anything illegal happened).

There’re a lot of names in the article, but here are some of the ones we can find info about in Chicago Cityscape.

Salvatore Martorina – an architect & building permit expeditor, although this name is connected to a lot of other names on the business licenses section of Cityscape

Oscar Tatosian – rug company owner, who owned the vacant lot to which the Rees house was moved

Bulley & Andrews – construction company which moved the house

There were no records for the one attorney and two law firms mentioned.

Two things I don’t like about TIF expenditures in Chicago

Chicago Cityscape's TIF Projects map

I built a map of most Chicago TIF projects that you can filter on the fly. Type in any keyword, alderman’s name, or neighborhood and the map will re-center and zoom to the results.

1. Millions of dollars ($14.4 to be exact) has been or will be given to rich corporations, like Home Depot, to build massive stores with huge roofs and parking lots far away from where people live so everyone has to drive there. It’s highly unlikely they don’t mitigate stormwater runoff (except through temporary storage in a retention pond) or treat any of the water on site, contributing to local flooding and clogged pipes.

According to the project descriptions, property tax payers in these four TIF districts have partially subsidized the construction of over 1,903 car parking spaces and the associated ills of expansive asphalt areas and motorized traffic.

2. A massive subsidy was approved – $96 million – for McCaffery Interests’s Lakeside development on the former U.S. Steel South Works plant to build a mixed-use tower of 250 apartments in an area that has weak transit access and will take decades to fully fill out. We should instead be spending this kind of money building housing in already developed parts of the city (where there’s already amenities, or infrastructure for amenities – the Rezko land comes to mind).

What’s interesting about the Lakeside TIF project approval is that the containing TIF district, “Chicago Lakeside Development Phase 1”, has collected zero property tax revenue because there is no property in it!

Trolley on the future Lake Shore Drive

A tour bus drivers on the Lakeside development. Photo by Ann Fisher.

There are some projects I like, though. TIF has been used frequently to build affordable housing, housing for seniors, and housing for people who need assistance. 78 out of 380 projects mention the word “affordable”.

The City Hyde Park building, designed by Studio Gang Architects, will have 20% of its residential units designated as “affordable”, for families (of varying sizes) earning up to 60 percent of the area median income. The city standard is 10 percent but developers are also able to pay an “in lieu” fee so they don’t have to build the affordable units and instead can offer those units at market rates.

Other projects have a majority of affordable units.

More data goodness for Chicago: TIFs, vacant and abandoned buildings

Derek Eder emailed me to tell me about two web applications he created based on Google Fusion Tables and its API (application programming interface, basically a question and answer program for designers and programmers to interact with).

He created searchable/filterable maps for TIF districts (tax increment financing, the Chicago mayor’s pet project bank account) and vacant and abandoned buildings. Both use data straight from the City of Chicago.

Screenshot of the Derek Eder’s TIF district web application.

Essentially, the web applications work like this (in case you want to build one yourself):

  • Load the data into Google Fusion Tables (this is very easy)
  • Build a custom interface on your own website (not so easy)
  • Hook into the Fusion Tables API to load the data into your custom interface

As for me, I might look into building a custom interface on my website, but right now I’m going to create a pedestrian crash map for Chicago using Polymaps, a Javascript library. I specifically want to use the k-Means Clustering to show crash hotspots. We already know where they are based on a 2007 report from the University of North Carolina – see that map here.

These markings are intended to reduce the number of pedestrian crashes by increasing the walking person’s visibility.

Del Valle on Walmart stores and good governing in Chicago

This is juicy. I went to a friend’s house tonight (along with 40 other people) to hear and talk to Miguel Del Valle, candidate for Chicago mayor (the election’s on February 22). After he talked about his issues, we asked him questions on different issues or to expand on what he said earlier.

Someone in the audience asked about Walmart in Pullman. I’m not sure of the exact question, but Miguel answered: “I support a living wage. If I was mayor, I would not have vetoed the ‘big box ordinance’.” (Mayor Daley initially supported the big box ordinance that would have set a minimum wage for workers in stores of a certain square footage but vetoed the bill after it was approved by the city council.)

Not wanting to lose an opportunity to talk about such a contentious issue (now quickly becoming one for New York City), I spoke up and mentioned to Miguel that Walmart plans 30 more stores in Chicago (a few people gasped at the thought of this) and asked, “How do you feel about that?” He replied:

How do I feel about that? It won’t be my job to feel something about new Walmarts in the city. That’s the city council’s job. I want to liberate them [he said this on Wednesday night]. I want there to be an open, deliberative process, with debate and transparency. I want there to be public hearings in and outside the council chambers. Let the proponents speak, and let the opponents speak. Whether or not there should be more Walmarts in Chicago is up to the aldermen and their constituents to decide. There are areas in Chicago where stores that sell fresh groceries don’t want to move in, but Walmart is – people are willing to take what they can get.* What is appropriate in one neighborhood might not be appropriate for another, but that is not for the mayor to decide. The citizens must choose.

(I can’t believe I paraphrased his response so well. I mean, I rode home in 2°F cold so my body is really tired.)

One audience member wasn’t sure what it meant to “liberate aldermen” and asked, “Can you describe what that looks like?” She was curious about Del Valle’s “proposal” to have a democratic process in the city council chambers. He explained that the citizens elect aldermen to represent them when making and passing bills. It’s the mayor’s job to control the flow of bill introductions and voting.

He gave the example of the parking meter deal: The ordinance was introduced one day and voted on the next day. This wouldn’t happen if Del Valle was mayor because he would require debate, transparency, hearings, and such. As mayor, he would immediately engage Morgan Stanley to try to renegotiate the terms of the lease. Unlike The Urbanophile, Miguel does not believe the city can buy back the meters – they’re far too valuable at this point.

He wants to make a structural change – the way governing should be but hasn’t been during the Daley administration. I support him in this effort.

*I would prefer that our TIF dollars be used for what they were designed for: improving the economic conditions in blighted areas. TIF money is supposed to be used to pay for capital projects that would not occur in that area if not for the TIF funding. Maybe Pete’s Fresh Market or Roundy’s needs a bit more incentive. The Walmart contribution to the tax rolls is not all it’s cracked up to be! Also consider how big companies like Walmart, and now Costco in the Illinois Medical District, consistently receive tax brakes. These are the very companies that can most afford paying taxes.

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