Mar 27, 2024 - Politics

Why the Bring Chicago Home ballot measure failed

Bring Chicago Home results, by ward
Data: Chicago Board of Elections; Map: Thomas Oide/Axios

As the defeat of Bring Chicago Home sinks in, supporters and opponents of the high-end real estate transfer tax hike are processing what happened and how to proceed.

Why it matters: The loss marks the first big setback for Mayor Brandon Johnson's progressive agenda. It's a signal to some that he may be moving too fast, but Johnson has rebuffed such suggestions — exhorting the city to "buckle up."

Catch up quick: While Chicago election officials are still counting mail-in votes, the race was called by the Associated Press last Friday after the ballot measure fell 21,000 votes short.

  • The proposal aimed to generate $100 million a year for homeless services.
  • Both backers and opponents say more needs to be done to address homelessness in Chicago.

Between the lines: Voting patterns mirrored longstanding political trend lines, with more conservative Northwest and Southwest wards voting heavily against it, and lakefront liberals, especially in Rogers Park, voting for it.

  • Downtown and Lincoln Park voters also strongly opposed the measure.

We asked key players why Bring Home Chicago lost. What they said:

1. People not affected by homelessness don't understand it, according to Johnson.

  • "I don't believe it's a coincidence that where there are more 'yeses' there's a greater concentration of those who are unhoused," the mayor said last week. "They understood the assignment."
Man in suit wearing purple flower.
Ald. Marty Quinn. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

2. Voters fear rising residential property taxes if the measure further hurts commercial real estate, according to Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), who opposed the measure.

  • "It's no secret that the downtown buildings are struggling … and so that tax has to be recouped by someone," Quinn tells Axios.

3. People worry that the tax could stifle new development, says opponent Ald. Bennett Lawson (44th).

  • "Our concerns about growth, housing stock and our dwindling supply of affordable housing — which, in my ward, is largely built by private developers — resonated with voters," Lawson tells Axios.

4. Citizens have little faith in city leaders, says City Council's progressive caucus.

  • Voters had "real questions about whether or not they could trust the government to spend the money the right way," the caucus said in a statement released this week.
Woman in suit with purple flower talking to someone with a phone.
Ald Maria Hadden. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

5. Voters were confused by the measure's changing legal status and swayed by opponents' commercials, according to supporter Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

  • The ads scared people "about their rents and made it seem like there wasn't a plan and it was another government money grab … things like that have impacts on turnout."

6. The measure lacked spending specifics, says Civic Federation president Joe Ferguson, who opposed it.

  • "The taxpayers aren't willing to hand over a blank check, even in the face of serious challenges and problems that we all know exist and that we all know together we need to deal with," Ferguson told the Sun-Times.

What we're watching: Johnson plans to continue to organize to bring the issue before "neighbors who may not be impacted by it."

  • Meanwhile, Hadden and Lawson are both seeking other sources to fund homelessness services. Hadden is focused on federal help, while Lawson is looking to TIFs, bonds and unspent COVID relief money.
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