The Westside Heath Authority (WHA) and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) are in the process of establishing a Special Service Area taxing district that would encompass West Garfield Park’s two major commercial corridors. 

The proposal is currently making its way through the application process. The Chicago City Council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development will need to hold a public hearing before the new SSA goes to the full City Council for final approval. But before that happens, the City Council needs to approve the hearing request. The council is expected to vote on the request in October, but it will be up to committee’s chair, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), to set the hearing date.

When a Special Service Area is created, the property owners within it get an extra levy on their property tax bill that can be used to fund services and promote area businesses. 

The proposed SSA 77 would include the portion of Madison Street between Hamlin Boulevard and Kenton Avenue, and the portion of Pulaski Road between Lake Street and Congress Parkway. This would be the second West Side SSA and the second West Side SSA operated by WHA, a venerable West Side social service nonprofit. 

The proposed SSA isn’t without its critics. The plan has met pushback from Siri Hibbler, head of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce. She said that her organization applied for an SSA that would cover a similar territory, only to have their application rejected. DPD Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco denied Hibbler’s claim, adding the chamber’s application didn’t go forward because they didn’t submit it before the deadline. 

The application for an SSA must be filed by an organization that would be responsible for managing it, usually a nonprofit organization or a local chamber of commerce. There are already several instances of one organization operating multiple SSAs. 

To establish an SSA, the applicants have to go through a complex, two-year-long process, so the organizations looking to launch an SSA in 2021, like the chamber did, had to start in 2019. They had to hold at least two community meetings between March and April 2020, collect signatures of support from at least 10 percent of the property owners within the proposed SSA, and show “proof of financial commitment” for the first year of the SSA’s existence. 

Hibbler said that the chamber began their SSA application in 2019. She said that, at the time, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) didn’t have any objections. She said they were in the process of holding the required public hearings when COVID-19 hit. 

In a June 2020 interview, Hibbler said that earlier that month DPD gave them an extension because the Illinois stay-at-home order made in-person meetings impossible, but in August 2020 she got a call from Mark Roschen, who runs the SSA program.

“He basically said that we had to stop our application, because the alderman said that he was going to veto our application,” Hibbler said. “They didn’t give me an explanation. They just said, ‘We didn’t want an unhappy alderman.’”

Strazzabosco said that there was no extension and denied that Ervin’s opinion had anything to do with what happened.

“The Garfield Park Chamber’s SSA proposal was for a January 2021 start date, which required a formal application to be finalized in June 2020,” he said. “The application was not completed, so it didn’t move forward.”

WHA is applying for 2022 SSA cycle, so it started the process in the fall of 2020.  According to the public hearing request, if approved, the tax would be equal to 2 percent of the property’s Equalized Assessed Value, with the total levy for 2021 estimated to be $256,317. The levy would be in place until at least 2030. 

The documents didn’t specify what WHA intended to do with the SSA. Austin Weekly News reached out to Morris Reed, the nonprofit’s CEO, but he didn’t respond to an interview request before the deadline. 

Strazzabosco said that, while it will be up to Villegas to schedule the hearing, he expects the ordinance establishing the SSA to get a City Council introduction in November and pass through the committee and the full council in December. If approved, the SSA will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. 

Hibbler argued that Westside Health Authority shouldn’t be operating an SSA in West Garfield Park, because it “hasn’t done anything in our community, has not worked with the business owners the way the chamber does. They don’t have an office here, they know nothing about Garfield Park.” 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...