Uncategorized · February 25, 2024 6

Bring Chicago Home… Vote Like Your Own Home Depends on It!

Carole Levine    February 25, 2024

It seemed somewhat ironic that today’s entire New York Times Sunday Opinion section was devoted to the issue of Homelessness.  It was ironic because here, in Chicago we will vote on March 19th on a ballot initiative that will raise the real estate transfer tax,  a  one-time levy, for property sales over $1,000,000in order to raise funds specifically for housing and services for the homeless.  Adding to the irony, legal action, brought by the Chicago area real estate organizations succeeded in a court action, yesterday, that stayed the ballot initiative as unconstitutional.  This happened as voting was already underway.  The ruling is already being appealed and is not expected to be upheld, but is a clear act of voter suppression on this issue.

As I reflect on this and look at the content of the New York Times articles there are many questions that come to mind.  One that looms large is, how did we become a society with so many unhoused people? The Times article says that the federal government’s annual tally has reached record numbers since it began in 2007.  In Chicago, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated the number at 68,440 in 2021.  That number included those who were sheltered, unsheltered as well as those who were staying with others, “couch surfers,” (who represent the majority) and are not counted in the federal numbers.  That number is, most likely, larger now.

Do we not have enough affordable housing? 

Clearly, if these numbers of people are without shelter that they can afford, Chicago is lacking.  When building in Chicago, new construction that requires a zoning change is subject to the Affordable Requirement Ordinance which requires builders to include affordable units in their new buildings or pay fees into a city fund for housing in lieu of affordable units.  Most builders choose to pay into the fund.  Approximately 2,700 low-income residents have benefited from this fund to date.  When you compare that to the 68,000+ homeless number, there seems to be a slight imbalance. Clearly the goal of the Affordable Requirement Ordinance was to ensure that new construction in Chicago had a focus on low-income residents and the homeless. The gap between what is being built and what is most needed seems to be out of alignment.

I was taken by the approach to the New York Times in looking at how homeless people find shelter.  The “headlines” for each part of the article was led by: A Couch Is Not A Home;  A Motel Is Not A Home; A Tent Is Not A Home: A Car Is Not A Home; A Shelter Is Not A Home.  There was an emphasis that made it clear that the reader should not take comfort in knowing that these human beings were OK because they had the four walls of their relative’s home to shelter them for now.  That was still not good enough and sometimes brought havoc for both them and their relatives.  Nor was it OK that they could stay in a motel for a while, or in a tent.  And it was definitely not OK to live in a car… The reasons were clearly stated in the voices of the homeless who told their own stories and left us feeling that we have failed them, over and over again, even when they did not point a finger.

So now I return to the issue of what do we do?  In Chicago, we have an opportunity to address this issue and begin to make some change.  Will this ballot initiative raise enough money to move more than 68,440 people into stable housing?  Probably not.  But it will be a start.  Will it get everyone out of tents, off of other people’s couches and into apartments they can afford?  Well, maybe not everyone, but a good number and it will provide support services to ensure they can stay once they are there.  Will it lay a foundation for other ways to service the homeless of Chicago?  Hopefully it will.  Add to this, Chicago’s Mayor Johnson plans to borrow a million dollars to add to the pool of money designated for support and programs for the homeless in the city.  Another ray of hope.

So, when I cast my ballot, in spite of the Court saying it’s unconstitutional, I’m voting YES, and assuming that the Appeals Court will overrule that first court and my vote will count toward what has been called “Bring Chicago Home.”  Because everyone deserves a home and this ballot initiative will be a step in the right direction.