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Tax referendum faces questions

The campaign for a 20 percent increase in the real estate transfer tax ran into some skeptical questions and comments Thursday night at a Ninth Ward community meeting.

“Why not decide how to use the money before asking for it?” one resident asked. “You want this money but you’re not telling us how you will use it.”

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said it’s “unfortunate” that a plan for spending money the tax would raise hasn’t yet been mapped out. “We got the cart before the horse,” she said.

Housing Commission member Jean Keleher, speaking as a representative of the newly formed Citizens for the Housing Referendum, distributed a flier supporting the referendum and urged residents to attend a Housing Commission meeting Oct. 19 at which plans for using the additional tax revenue will be discussed.

Ald. Hansen suggested the city may need to hire new staff to administer the affordable housing tax fund the referendum would establish.

She said the city staffer who currently handles housing programs has “20 other things to do in the way of housing” so she’ll need some help.

Ald. Hansen added that she supports the referendum because she believes the city needs to do more to make housing affordable in the city.

But another resident wasn’t persuaded. “I just think it’s a very bad way of going to the voters to be uncertain about how to use the money. I can’t understand it, and I’m going to vote against it,” she said.

The Citizens for the Housing Referendum flier suggests six possibilities for spending the estimated $800,000 per year the real estate transfer tax increase might raise. They include:

  • Create home ownership possibilities for Evanston residents who cannot currently afford to buy in Evanston.
  • Help Evanston grandparents and seniors currently priced out of the retirement home market.
  • Make rents more affordable for qualified people.
  • Assistance for Evanston employees or teachers whose earnings are not sufficient for them to live in Evanston where they work.
  • Assistance to children of Evanstonians who want to return and live in the community in which they were raised.
  • Help preserve affordable housing that already exists in Evanston and help fund the building of new affordable homes in Evanston.

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