Tuesday, April 23, 2019

My Memo to the Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot - Good Governance Transition Team

I am filled with optimism that my voice was invited to serve on the Good Governance Transition Team for the new Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot. It is not everyday that you witness a historic moment in your city and you are asked to be a part of it to lend your voice...I was ready to provide vital input as it relates to how our city can improve upon being more transparent, demonstrate equity and ensuring the needs of citizens in Chicago especially on the south and west side are met! Of course, Englewood is my ground zero but many of our black communities are in a State of Emergency Economically and there are ways to improve the tools we have designated to assist in these circumstances.

It has been years since I used my blog and I thought it was only appropriate to us this platform to share my memo regarding a long battle with the abuse and injustice of the Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) as a member of this temporary body. 

Disclaimer: Due to the quick turnaround to submit these, I had no time for edits or peer reviews. Excuse the long run on sentences or grammatically incorrect language...I am sure you will get the point without making corrections along the way!

April 15, 2019

TO: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot

FROM: Asiaha Butler, President | Executive Director, R.A.G.E. & Member of the Good Governance Committee

RE:  Objective – Adaptative Government Responsive to Residents Needs

In order to advance a more adaptive government, that responds to resident needs and interests, the new administration should conduct a thorough examination of the tools, resources and models currently being used in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago. Many Chicago neighborhoods are in an economic crisis and there are tools designed to spark economic development activities such as the Tax Increment Financing Districts which has been abused and ineffectively implemented. One of the initiatives that needs to be executed in the first 100 days, aligns with Mrs. Lightfoot position of bringing transparency and greater community engagement to the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. 

An instantaneous critical assessment of current TIF redevelopment goals and projects from a wholistic approach should be applied to these districts that overlays in the police districts that experience the greatest crime and highest unemployment rates.

This would allow the new administration to view the affiliation between high crime areas and ineffective TIF economic development activities in the communities that have been starved of resources and experiencing trauma due to the abuse of these tools. These TIF districts should be deemed as a priority for bold, transformative change that can have an immediate impact as it relates to job creation and workforce development in the neighborhoods that desperately needs it. The goals and values of this administration is focused on equity, transparency, accountability, diversity and inclusion, and transformation and unfortunately, Chicago is known for a Tale of Two Cities, with policies and initiatives that model inequities and a racially biased approach that have built economic deserts throughout the city’s south and west sides.

The current practices of TIF development projects are clear examples of tools that have not benefited the neighborhoods in which they were designed to served and only built more division in our city based on class, race and zip codes.  TIF reform needs to be a wholistic customized approach for the areas in dire of need of economic engines that creates jobs, support local entrepreneurs, and train our next generation of citizens for the work force.

A newly formed TIF oversight design committee with subject matter experts, active TIF reforms groups, residents, and community leaders of these neighborhoods should be created in the first 100 days to help design the desired outcomes necessary to advance an innovative, community led process on how TIF districts could be realigned to benefit these blighted communities.   As current projects are assessed in these designated neighborhoods, we should be asking the following and reviewing these districts from a race and equity lens –
  • Are the objectives for current projects based on the immediate concerns of the neighborhood?
  • Do community members understand and are they aware of how these goals that positively affect them?
  • Have residents whom contribute to the TIFs in that area involved with the decision making of community development projects?
  • Do the people participating in the community development initiative represent the current population of that district?
Englewood Neighborhood TIF
The long-term plan would be to mandate neighborhood led local TIF Oversight Councils in the communities that are the most traumatized by generational disinvestment, the lack of employment opportunities, and high crime. With this initiative it is imperative that the decision-making process is more democratic, transparent, and responsive to local aspirations so that TIF funds do what they are supposed to -revitalize communities, in a way that is organic to those communities themselves. What is clear, however, is that community education, local agency, and grassroots organizing will be key to whatever solutions are pursued. The Resident Association of Greater Englewood already has an impressive working model for Englewood residents to get directly involved on issues that affect their lives and launched a social media campaign - #TIFThursday - to inform and raise awareness to residents about of the basic of TIF functions and recent development projects that directly or indirectly impact them.

Ultimately, the TIF process should be controlled by the communities each project is commissioned to serve. In an era of increased privatization, gentrification and private development, especially relevant for Chicago neighborhoods, these tasks may seem like an insurmountable challenge. Yet Chicago citizens have proven to be resilient, creative, and persistent in the face of many such obstacles that threaten the existence of their community. There should be efforts or training that will increase knowledge for the local alderman and residents of how the TIF process works. Implement bi-annually “State of the TIF Address” organize by the mayor, city council and local TIF oversight councils to infuse transparency and local participation.

TIFs future use must create direct strategies that will produce long term sustainable change; this can and should happen with residents ensuring accountability, more transparency and demanding that TIF programming maximizes job creation and development as future investment begins. This initiative must lend on the expertise of local community organizing efforts to forge a new model for TIF reform with lasting local and national implications for greater public access and citizen democracy.

Asiaha Butler, Executive Director
R.A.G.E. – Resident Association of Greater Englewood