Alderpeople Jason Ervin and Walter Burnett during the Bring Chicago Home West Side Town Hall. | Igor Studenkov

Two West Side alderpeople took very different positions on a proposal to create a dedicated funding stream for addressing homelessness during a town hall held March 31 at Deborah’s Place, a homeless services provider located at 2822 W. Jackson Blvd. in East Garfield Park.

For the past few years, Bring Chicago Home, a coalition made up of affordable housing providers, social service organizations and labor unions, have been urging the city to raise the Real Estate Transfer Tax for properties worth more than $1 million in order to fund initiatives to tackle homelessness.

Some of those proposed initiatives include the construction of more affordable housing, subsidizing rents, and providing mental health services and job placement assistance. According to state law, the tax rate can’t be increased unless the voters approve it by referendum. The coalition is supporting a Chicago City Council resolution to place the question on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

During the March 31 town hall, Ald. Walter Burnett (27h), whose ward includes portions of East Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park, said that he supports the resolution. Burnett said he’s been trying to bring affordable housing to his ward, but funding has been a stumbling block.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the remaining portion of East Garfield Park, all of West Garfield Park and portions of Austin and North Lawndale, said that he wouldn’t support it unless the tax is used to fund violence prevention, workforce development and youth services, as well. 

The Bring Chicago Home town hall in East Garfield Park. | Igor Studenkov

“We need to broaden things [to include] employment [and] opportunities for the young people,” Ervin said. “Austin, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park, North Lawndale — we have a lot of issues and concerns to work through.”

While the Bring Chicago Home coalition members in attendance said they were willing to negotiate, they argued that not having funding exclusively for homeless services would undercut what they were trying to accomplish.

The Chicago Real Estate Transfer Tax is charged whenever a title to a property is transferred. Most of the tax goes to the city, but a little under a third of it goes to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The Bring Chicago Home proposal would only affect the Chicago portion and only for properties worth more than $1 million, increasing the tax by 1.9%. The coalition estimates that the tax would raise $163 million annually.

During the town hall, Luwana Johnson, director of shelter operations at East Garfield Park-based Franciscan Outreach, a Bring Chicago Home coalition member, said that the funding would be used to build more affordable housing, cover rent subsidies and pay for supportive housing, which is affordable housing with on-site social workers. Johnson also said that one of their major goals would be to serve undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ+ residents and returning citizens.

The resolution was introduced on July 21, 2021 and has nine co-sponsors as of April 1. While all of the currently listed co-sponsors are either Black or Hispanic, none of them represent the West Side. Burnett said he would be willing to cosponsor the resolution, but as of April 1, the City Council records did not include him as a cosponsor.

The March 31 town hall was one of four town halls the coalition is organizing to drum up support for the resolution.

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...