Evanston community expresses concerns about proposed 5th Ward TIF district


Illustration by Meher Yeda

On paper, economic development and public works within a TIF district will benefit from its increased allocation of tax revenue.

Grace Wu, Copy Chief

Community members and elected officials discussed the potential impacts of a proposed 5th Ward tax increment financing district in a public hearing during Monday’s City Council meeting.

In TIF districts, public revenues are generated from property tax earnings above a certain baseline. When a TIF proposal is enacted, the existing tax rate becomes the baseline. The tax revenues above the line are then specifically allocated for public works or economic development in the area. 

The proposed district would be generally bound by the canal near Leonard Place to the north, Dewey Avenue to the west, Emerson Street to the south and Ridge Avenue to the east. The region primarily encompasses the historically Black 5th Ward and includes commercial corridors as well as residential neighborhoods. 

Mayor Daniel Biss and financial services firm Kane, McKenna and Associates Inc., who conducted a review of the proposed TIF, both said the purpose of the TIF district would be to “overcom(e) redevelopment barriers” to “enhance the local tax base and provide revenues to the community.” 

The 5th Ward was selected to be the city’s fifth TIF district because it serves as the center of Black commerce within the city and has been historically overlooked by market-driven development, Biss and the firm said. 

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) acknowledged that Evanston did have successful TIFs in the past, though she expressed concern about the consequences of the proposal and who it would truly benefit. 

“I’m much more concerned with helping people who already live there to stay in or remodel their homes or purchase homes versus any benefit for a private developer to come in and do new things in the community,” Fleming said. “For me, that would add to people’s concerns — they’ve lived there for a long time, and we haven’t made those investments in their area as we made in other parts of the city.” 

Although Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center and its parking lot would be included in the TIF district, Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said Ingraham Park would not be. Other parts of the city that could be redeveloped under the TIF proposal include public infrastructure, such as Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and Foster Park. Zalmezak further emphasized that the focus of the TIF is renovation rather than redevelopment. 

However, former Evanston mayoral candidate Sebastian Nalls expressed concerns about the TIF proposal being a method of gentrification. 

“We’ve seen that TIFs have had negative impacts on people of color, plain and simple,” Nalls said. “We currently see that the 5th Ward is already on the pathway to being completely gentrified; we’ve seen a diminishing Black population throughout the last 10 to 20 years.” 

Nalls said TIFs have historically eliminated low-cost residential units, pricing out low-income residents. Though the proposed TIF is primarily centered on redevelopment over demolition, he said the plan raises the question of property taxes, which could also make housing costs unaffordable for some residents. 

Resident Priscilla Giles also expressed concerns with the accessibility of the proposal process, emphasizing the fact that many residents of the 5th Ward may not have newspapers or internet access. 

Giles’ concerns were echoed to varying extents by many other community members who spoke at public comment, criticizing various facets of the public feedback process, including an apparent delay in responses to resident questions. These issues, Giles said, have highlighted City Council’s priorities on the matter. 

“The TIF is not what residents asked for, wanted or needed. It is the plan for developers hired by some to keep their jobs or for personal profit,” Giles said. “The TIF will be voted on by the entire council, which covers the whole city of Evanston, but the majority of the Black people, the residences and businesses affected will be the Black citizens.”  

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Joint Review Board to discuss proposed 5th Ward TIF district 

City Council to consider tax increment financing in the 5th Ward 

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