As the Chicago City Council meets Wednesday, its challenge will be to start addressing an elephant in the room: Having to fill a budget hole of more than $500 million created by revenue lost from the Covid-19 pandemic.
That estimated figure emerged Monday during a city finance committee hearing when alderman questioned Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett about how much revenue the city needs to find without slashing services or raising property taxes. Although she recently told Crain’s a more realistic shortfall estimate is $1 billion, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has resisted releasing hard numbers in past weeks but has been transparent about the difficult decisions that lie ahead for the City Council in addressing the hits in tax revenue the city has taken as a result of the pandemic. Illinois’ stay-at-home order started in late March and set to be lifted May 30, although it’s not yet clear if Gov. JB Pritzker will extend it into June.
“We don’t know the exact timing of how we’re going to come out of this crisis and ultimately, what that cost will be to the broader economy,” Huang Bennett said.
During her first budget cycle, Lightfoot faced a budget shortfall of $838 million and she was commended for closing it without significantly raising property taxes. She has signaled worker cuts could be off the table and voiced support for privatization measures and other means to shore up funds. Chicago received about $470 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed in March.
The City Council will not vote on measures directly related to next year’s budget, but some items on the agenda Wednesday reflect spending planned for this year. On top of that list is a $100 million capital plan, the majority of which will be distributed to council members through the Aldermanic Menu Program. The rest is spending for sidewalk repairs and fleet replacement, including 200 police vehicles, 15 salt trucks, and two front-end loaders.
Look for a potentially contentious debate about resources since, under the plan, each alderman will receive just $1.3 million for street repair and infrastructure improvement. They’re being asked to look for $230 million from other sources, including tax increment financing (TIF).
The annual sum to each alderman is a third of what the city is proposed to vote on in settlements one involving a police superintendent . On the agenda is $3.3 million in settlements, including a $2.25 million payout to an autistic man shot by an off-duty Chicago Police sergeant in 2017. Two other cases involve $300,000 for an alleged a wrongful conviction and $750,000 for a man injured after being struck by a speeding city sanitation truck.
Related: Finance committee approves $3.3 million in settlements for cases involving city workers
Also on the agenda is a measure that will change the city’s downtown skyline forever: The approval of Tribune East (O2020-94), a 102-story high-rise that will be constructed on the former parking lot of the historic Tribune Tower. The plan commission gave the project a nod earlier this month. If approved, the building will be the second-tallest in Chicago.
Logan Square gentrification will also be under discussion through a proposal (O2020-2364) to award $24 million to Emmett Street Apartments, an affordable housing complex located in the near Northwest Side neighborhood. Approved by the finance committee Monday, the $40.7 million project will include $24 million in tax exempt bonds and $10 million in TIF financing. It will include 100 rental units. Half of the units will be dedicated to Chicago Housing Authority residents.
Wednesday is also a landmark day for Lightfoot — it represents her first anniversary in office. Aldermen may take time to recognize the milestone.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48) and Ald. Matt Martin (47) are also planning Wednesday to introduce their long-planned ordinance legalizing coach houses and extra apartment units — so-called accessory dwelling units — Osterman told The Daily Line Tuesday.
Osterman plans to hold a joint meeting of the City Council’s housing and zoning meeting to discuss the proposal so that it can be approved before it is scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1. he said.
Covid-19 related measures up for a vote
The council is also set to approve a series of measures aimed at helping struggling Chicagoans survive the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus crisis.
If approved Wednesday, the city housing department’s Emergency Relief for Affordable Multifamily Properties (ERAMP) program (O2020-2263) would dole out about $3 million in grants or zero-interest loans to affordable housing developers who have debt with the city. The measure would also give housing Comm. Marisa Novara authority to bypass the City Council when modifying affordable developers’ loan agreements with the city for up to three years after the expiration of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
City housing officials previously gave out $2 million in rental assistance grants for struggling tenants and are seeking out funding for another round of tenant-focused program.
Some aldermen have pushed for more far-reaching city legislation to protect renters, but Lightfoot has instead called on landlords and lenders to sign a non-binding “solidarity pledge” promising all-around leniency, arguing that housing proposals cannot only focus on renters.
Aldermen are also scheduled to give final approval for the following other measures aimed at providing Covid-related issues:
O2019-3928 — A six-month delay in implementation for the “private cause of action” section of the Fair Workweek Ordinance (O2019-3928), which the City Council passed last year to mandate that employers give their workers advance notice of their weekly schedules. The rest of the ordinance is scheduled to take effect on July 1.
O2020-2372 — An ordinance temporarily directing the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection not to fine businesses whose licenses have expired since March 15, and waiving collection of the “accessibility fee” paid by taxicab drivers and ride-hailing companies.
The following other items passed in council committees during the past month are also due for approval Wednesday:
O2020-2179 — An ordinance proposed by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) setting a fine between $400 and $1,000 for bars and restaurants that play music on their outdoor patio spaces, with escalating fines for subsequent offenses. Hopkins said Thursday that the measure was aimed at creating a “disincentive” for businesses to amplify music, which he called a “source of complaints in the surrounding community.”
O2020-2236 — An ordinance proposed by Ald. Marty Quinn (13) to freeze the clock on the 90-day deadline for neighbors to collect signatures for a ban on home-sharing services in their precinct until the expiration of Lightfoot’s executive order (EO2020-10) enforcing Gov. JB Pritzker’s statewide stay-at-home order. Home-sharing has already been banned in 41 of the 48 precincts in Quinn’s ward, and the alderman said signature drives are underway in the remaining seven precincts.
O2020-2210 — An ordinance proposed by Quinn to outlaw the advertisement of AirBnB and other home-sharing services in precincts where home-sharing bans are pending.
O2020-2139 — An ordinance extending the cutoff for Downtown bars to sell liquor on outdoor patios from 11 p.m. to midnight.
O2020-2363 — A proposal by the Chicago Department of Housing to provide a nearly $4.7 million loan to Preservation of Affordable Housing and Claretian Associates so they can renovate the South Chicago YMCA with 101 affordable senior units.
O2020-2371 — A class 7(b) tax subsidy supporting developer Bernard Edelman’s $14 million proposal to build a retail and storage facility at 3633 N Central Ave.
R2020-291 — A resolution calling on Congress to create a “national water affordability program” modeled on the national Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
A2020-10 — The appointment of Jessica Droste Yagan as a member of the Chicago Community Catalyst Fund Board.