Daily file illustration by Meher Yeda
City Council approved a tax increment financing district in Evanston’s 5th Ward Monday night in a 5-4 vote, following months of controversy. The final TIF excludes an intergovernmental agreement with Evanston/Skokie School District 65, which had previously inspired the council to delay voting on the TIF as the IGA was finalized.
The council approved a consulting study for the TIF in February, which kicked off a period of extended debate. For some community members, the TIF represents an opportunity to raise property values and improve infrastructure in the 5th Ward. Others, however, see it as a catalyst for accelerated gentrification at a particular cost to longtime, low-income and Black homeowners.
A TIF is a zoning tool that collects all taxes above a baseline amount in an area for 23 years. The collected money is then used to fund public works and community development projects within that area.
The Five-Fifths TIF is projected to bring in a gross profit of about $77 million before school and library contributions, according to Nina Coppolla of Kane, McKenna and Associates, the city’s TIF consultant. The region primarily encompasses the historically Black 5th Ward and includes commercial corridors as well as residential neighborhoods. It is Evanston’s fifth active and ninth existing TIF.
[To learn more about the history of TIFs in Evanston and the controversy surrounding the Five-Fifths TIF, read our explainer here.]
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) commended Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) at Monday’s meeting for the TIF’s historic slate of usage restrictions. It is the first to prioritize residential areas over commercial areas, and will be overseen by a resident advisory committee, with three out of seven committee members required to live in the TIF district.
The 5th Ward TIF would have been the first to be accompanied by an intergovernmental agreement uniting Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and City Council over key planned uses of TIF funding.
The final proposed agreement affirmed that District 65 would make a good-faith effort to establish a school within the boundaries of the TIF area in the 5th Ward. The agreement did not specify whether the school would have been built using TIF funds — a major point of contention for District 65 in the prior weeks.
The agreement also reaffirmed the city’s plans to prioritize using funds for projects supporting home ownership, affordable housing and workforce development. But the city will not use funds for eminent domain, funding a new Civic Center or developing luxury residences “out of character with the existing community.”
Many residents at Monday’s meeting called for clearer language defining affordable housing, in order to ensure housing developments funded by TIF dollars legitimately prioritize and protect low-income residents.
Former teacher Trisha Connolly suggested that the proposal could have been more specific by focusing on residents earning 30% to 60% of the Area Median Income. This is similar to the standard Cook County uses to determine eligibility for rent relief.
The inclusion of the terms of the IGA in the final TIF passed 5-4 earlier in the council’s session. But at the very end of debate, several agenda items after the TIF discussion had already closed, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) called for a revote. He said he made an error before and wanted to switch his vote, failing the IGA 4-5.
In earlier sessions of the council, the vote on TIFs was held to give more time for a finalized IGA. District 65 Board President Anya Tanyavutti had said the IGA was essential to make sure that the TIF was equitable and protected district interests.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said she shared many concerns with community members and teachers regarding the financial impact of the TIF. She said it will divert money from school districts and public service budgets over time.
“We need to figure out how to budget for our priorities,” Kelly said, “and not use a tool that has such a long history — and a pervasive history — of negatively impacting communities.”
The TIF district is slated to accrue $900,000 by 2025, according to Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager. About 12% of this will be collected from the senior living development at 1815 Ridge Ave. Another 8% will come from the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, provided the building is refurbished and converted into housing, Zalmezak said.
Former aldermanic candidate Darlene Cannon called for a more detailed plan to protect Black, brown and Indigenous residents from being priced out of their current homes following the TIF’s effect on property values. She questioned whether the final version of the TIF did enough to reflect the city’s stated priorities towards affordability.
“The TIF is a tool of economic development,” Cannon said. “However, it’s not harm-free. By continuing to use this tool, I ask, does our city leadership desire to complete the gentrification project in Evanston?”
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— The Daily Explains: What’s going on with the 5th Ward TIF?
— 5/5 TIF opponents demand council votes it down in resident meeting
— Evanston community expresses concerns about proposed 5th Ward TIF district