The Chicago City Council on Thursday swiftly voted to spend an additional $600 million in tax revenue over the next 12 years to complete a long-delayed redevelopment of the former site of Cabrini-Green high rises on the Near North Side.
The measure was approved with no debate during the council meeting. Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who grew up in the public housing complex, has said the additional revenue is needed to keep promises the city made more than two decades ago to Cabrini-Green residents displaced by the area’s redevelopment.
The new windfall renews the debate about who has won and lost on the massive project, which included the demolition of 23 public housing buildings and the relocation of thousands of former residents.
The city decided not to replace all the units demolished. Instead, it built “mixed-income” communities where extremely-low-income residents, working class families and wealthy individuals could live side-by-side. The redevelopment — part of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to privatize public housing throughout the city — is now more than a decade behind schedule as the city faces an affordable housing crisis. Some 120,000 low income families are in need of housing.
Former residents of Cabrini-Green, the majority of whom fell into that extremely-low-income category, have been fighting several city administrations for more than two decades to keep Daley’s promise to replace homes for families displaced in the controversial razing of their homes.
The additional revenue for the area would come from the extension of the Near North Tax Increment Financing District, a municipal fiscal tool that allows the city to cordon off an area of the city deemed as blighted and set aside a portion of property tax revenue generated there into a fund to pay for special projects.
Over the last two decades, as Cabrini-Green was redeveloped with luxury condos, new school buildings, beautified parks and high-end retail stores and restaurants, the property values grew exponentially, as did taxes. The TIF district has generated more than $350 million since it was established in 1997, becoming the fourth largest by revenue among the nearly 140 such districts throughout the city. It would have ended this year if Lightfoot hadn’t pushed to extend it.
Daley ordered Cabrini-Green razed after years of local news coverage and national headlines portraying it as a symbol of the nation’s failing public housing policy. The buildings had fallen into disrepair as federal housing policy shifted and the CHA was unable to keep up with leaky roofs, broken elevators and other maintenance issues.
The last building was demolished in 2011 during Rahm Emanuel’s administration, but the redevelopment remains unfinished. Several parcels of land owned by the CHA remain empty. In 2015, the agency released a three-phase plan to redevelop empty parcels with up to 2,830 residences by 2025.
City officials have said the additional TIF funds would help pay for projects in some of those empty parcels of land, including the site of the former Near North High School, which the city finished demolishing this year.