‘Bring Chicago Home’ real estate tax referendum headed toward defeat at the polls

CHICAGO — Chicagoans cast their votes to decide the fate of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s “Bring Chicago Home” referendum at the polls Tuesday after the legislation faced multiple court challenges leading up to Election Day.

With 98% of voting precincts reporting in as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, “No” outpaced “Yes” by more than 22,000 votes on the ballot.

A spokesperson for the “Bring Chicago Home” campaign shared the following statement with WGN News late Tuesday evening:

“The Bring Chicago Home campaign exists in the long lineage of past and present struggles for fair housing, civil rights and economic justice. While tonight’s election results are disappointing, we are nowhere near the end of our journey.

“There are still 100,000 outstanding mail-in ballots to be counted, but whatever the final count, one thing is abundantly clear tonight: how determined our opponents are to continue profiting from displacement and inequality. From landlords sending intimidating emails to tenants to a legal challenge attempting to invalidate the results, the realtors, corporate landlords and mega-developers fought us at every turn.

“Our broad-based coalition — made up of homeless and formerly homeless people, union members, faith leaders, social service providers, community organizations and grassroots volunteers — is determined to keep fighting for housing justice. Together, our citywide field program knocked on over 300,000 doors, made over 600,000 phone calls and sent over one million text messages across all 50 wards. This is the work that makes our movement stronger over the long haul, no matter the final result.”

According to bringchicagohome.org, the referendum and question No. 1 on Tuesday’s ballot was centered around a change on Chicago’s real estate transfer tax that would raise the amount paid toward the tax on properties valued over $1 million.

Chicago’s current real estate transfer tax is a flat rate of 0.75% on all property sales. Under the new proposal, the real estate transfer tax would be lowered to 0.6% for properties valued under $1 million, while properties valued from $1-1.5 million would be taxed at 2%, and more expensive properties would be taxed at 3%.

The City of Chicago says the additional tax revenue generated would go toward combatting the city’s homelessness problem. City records show there are approximately 68,000 people experiencing homelessness in Chicago, with 17,000 of them estimated to be students in the Chicago Public Schools system.

If the referendum were to pass, supporters say the legislation could generate up to $100 million in tax revenue to fight homelessness through various projects and shelter initiatives.

“We’re really excited about it, it’s going to provide a dedicated funding source to help our homeless neighbors,” said Ald. Matt Martin (47th Ward), who was out and about advocating for voters to give the City Council power to increase the tax Tuesday. “We want to make sure people have all the information they need before they make a really important and informed decision.”

More Local Election Coverage: Illinois Primaries

Opponents of the referendum warn it could have a detrimental impact on commercial real estate, where renters could feel the brunt of the impact from the legislation, if passed.

“This ordinance, as it’s written — or this referendum — is really going to impact a lot more renters than people might assume,” said Miguel Chacon, a real estate broker and representative of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance. “Anything that increases the operating expenses for any property owner, or any business for that matter, is eventually passed down to tenants.”

While both sides agree the city needs to find a worthwhile avenue to pursue solving homelessness in Chicago, opponents of the referendum also said taxing property owners will only increase the cost of housing throughout the city, creating as many new problems as the old ones that supporters of the referendum intend to solve.

“We need to work together to find a solution that’s really going to be equitable for everyone in this city, whether they have a home or they don’t,” Chacon said.

Corey Oliver of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance said that while voters appear to have said “No” to the “Bring Chicago Home” referendum, that doesn’t mean they’re not committed to addressing homelessness in Chicago.

“I think that the voters, using their voice, (were) merely just saying, ‘Hey, we want to continue to think about how to solve this problem, because it is a problem to be solved, and that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we want to be a part of,'” Oliver said.

In a poll of more than 500 likely Illinois primary voters conducted from March 14-17, independent pollster Victory Research found that 61.7% of poll respondents said they were in favor of the referendum, while 32.6% said they were opposed, and 5.6% said they were undecided.

If voters pass the legislation, the referendum would go into effect Jan. 1, 2025.

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