Groups begin canvassing for Bring Chicago Home referendum

CHICAGO — On Sunday afternoon, volunteers with the 50th Ward United Working Families went door to door on Chicago’s Northwest Side to inform residents of the Bring Chicago Home movement.

It’s a referendum question aimed at serving Chicago’s homeless population by taxing high-end property sales.

“We’re human beings and when we see people out on the street and it’s 20 degrees outside that’s not right,” Rami Farja said.

Farja is a Chicago Public Schools teacher who said there are at least 10,000 students who don’t know where they’ll be sleeping each night.

To him, it was an easy decision to get behind the movement.

“Our city has the means to do something about it and it’s about time we do,” Farja said.

The referendum question will appear on the March 19 ballot. It will ask voters if they want to give council members the power to increase the transfer tax on six-figure property sales to help fund long-term financial support to combat homelessness.

“Those that are sold over a million dollars will be taxed at a slightly higher rate,” Farja said. “That will allow us to house the 60,000 houseless people.”

Right now, property buyers pay a one-time flat tax of .75% of sales. If the referendum passes, property sales under a million dollars would decrease and be taxed .6%.

But property sales between a a million and $1.5 million would be taxed .2%. Property sales of more than $1.5 million would be taxed at 3%.

“Over 90% of Chicagoans would not feel this,” Farja said.

“If the goal is to raise money, why are they giving a tax break for transactions under a million? And there’s only one reason why it’s to confuse the voters. It’s called log rolling and it’s not legal,” Michael Glasser with the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance said.

That’s why they and similar groups have filed a lawsuit to prevent the question from appearing on the ballot and not let the city raise taxes on similar transactions.

“Don’t throw an obstacle at small investors and midsize investors who are the key to providing affordable housing in the city,” Glasser said. “To put a substantial tax goes completely the wrong way.”

Glasser understands it’s a noble goal to address the issue of homelessness, but hopes they can be included in the conversation of creating a comprehensive plan instead of being taxed for it.

However anti-homelessness supporters believe the tax hike is a necessary step to help change the lives of the most vulnerable.

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