Chicago Activists Sue City Hall Over Lincoln Yards TIF | WBEZ
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Chicago Activists Sue City Hall Over Lincoln Yards TIF

Activists are suing the city of Chicago, alleging a new TIF for Lincoln Yards violates the purpose of tax increment financing and further intensifies the city’s long-standing racial inequity.

“This is another egregious example of the misuse of the TIF program in the city of Chicago,” said Amisha Patel with Grassroots Collaborative, one of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court Wednesday.

Education advocacy groups Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education and Grassroots Collaborative are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop any payouts from the TIF. They are represented by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The same attorneys recently stopped Chicago Public Schools from closing a school, also on civil rights grounds.

Illinois state law governs TIF designations — a program that was created in 1977 to encourage development in blighted neighborhoods. To qualify, the area must pass the “but for” test, meaning no development would occur “but for” the TIF.

TIFs collect a portion of property taxes within their designated boundaries — the more property added to the TIF, the larger the pool of money. The revenue covers costs identified by a redevelopment plan drafted by the city and approved by the City Council.

The City Council approved the new Cortland/Chicago River tax boundary last week. It covers 168 acres of vacant and formerly industrial property along the Chicago River, an area Patel described as “sandwiched between some of the most wealthiest, whitest, most economically vibrant neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.”

Over its 23-year lifespan, the TIF is projected to generate over a billion dollars in property tax revenue — money that will reimburse developer Sterling Bay for all the road repairs, environmental cleanup and infrastructure needed to support Lincoln Yards.

Plaintiffs argue the land is too valuable to qualify for city support and would have been developed without the subsidy while areas that would benefit most from city support are ignored. TIFs in affluent areas “capture the natural growth and development that would occur in such areas,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs also question why Sterling Bay needs a subsidy when it spent millions of dollars over the past year acquiring property along the river for its megadevelopment.

“We are misusing the purpose and spirit of these TIF funds,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, senior pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church of West Garfield Park, who joined plaintiffs outside the court building. “We have had the most closed schools out of the 50 school closings [...] we have the fewest building permits, we have no cranes, we have the highest unemployment, we have the most displacement of poor people.”

The city’s Law Department said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

City planning officials had argued that the area planned for Lincoln Yards qualified under the state law because it has a high concentration of dilapidated buildings, empty lots and obsolete planning from years of neglect.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell. WBEZ's Linda Lutton contributed to this article.

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