Bring Chicago Home is Still on the Ballot Despite Real Estate Industry's Legal Challenge

Real estate interests want Bring Chicago Home off the ballot, but it remains as the city appeals the legal challenge and organizers continue to campaign for its passage.

Asha Ransby-Sporn

Canvassers with Bring Chicago Home on the west side of Chicago. Courtesy of the Bring Chicago Home coalition.

It was never a surprise that wealthy real estate interests would fight an effort like Bring Chicago Home. Recently, they have been attacking the affordable housing campaign to address homelessness with a legal challenge and are now attempting to convince voters that the popular measure is off the ballot (it is on the ballot and early voting has already started).

These real estate interests profit from the fact that for too many Chicagoans it is too expensive to live here. Bring Chicago Home’s proposal would amend the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (the one-time tax paid when a property is bought) so that any property bought for more than $1 million or $1.5 million would pay a slightly increased marginal tax (2% and 3%).

Building on decades of organizing, the Bring Chicago Home coalition came together more than five years ago with this proposal to address homelessness and take on the powerful real estate industry.

Anyone buying a property under $1 million (some 93% of home buyers, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless) would see a reduced transfer tax rate (from 0.75% to 0.6%). And all of the revenue from the transfer tax — an estimated $1 billion over a decade — would be dedicated to affordable housing and supportive services that address homelessness.

Building on decades of organizing, the Bring Chicago Home coalition (where I am a campaign director) came together more than five years ago with this proposal to address homelessness and take on the powerful real estate industry. The broad coalition includes grassroots leaders with lived experience of homelessness, housing advocates, faith leaders and community organizations, among many others.

More than 68,000 Chicagoans are experiencing homelessness—on the streets, in shelters, or temporarily doubled up or more. Another roughly 20,000 students in Chicago Public Schools also face homelessness. The housing crisis has also left many families facing eviction or displacement — the type of displacement that impacted many of the more than 350,000 Black Chicagoans who’ve left the city in the past few decades.

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Bring Chicago Home is an effort to reverse some of the ways systemic racism, a predatory real estate market, and the long-term disinvestment from Chicago communities has punished Black, brown and working class folks simply for trying to live. Last year, organizers successfully lobbied the Chicago City Council to put Bring Chicago Home on the March 19 primary election ballot.

But in addition to ads intended to scare and confuse voters with misinformation, real estate groups in opposition to Bring Chicago Home filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections in an attempt to invalidate the measure entirely. This includes groups like the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago and Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance — some of the same groups who have spread misinformation like the idea that our proposal would cause rent to go up significantly, a claim disproven by a University of Chicago study showing that even if building owners were to pass the cost of buying a new building onto renters it would only increase rent by a very small fraction like $1.50.

On Friday, a judge made an initial ruling in their favor to “invalidate” the ballot question, but already the city has filed a motion to appeal. To suggest that Friday’s ruling is the final word on the matter was wrong.

On Friday, a judge made an initial ruling in their favor to invalidate” the ballot question, but already the city has filed a motion to appeal. To suggest that Friday’s ruling is the final word on the matter was wrong. One of our opponents’ claims is that the ballot question ties multiple unrelated questions together. But the reality is that this is one proposal and all of the parts of the question work together around a new rate structure in which those who have less pay less and those who have more pay more. The appeal will allow space for substantive arguments in defense of the ballot question.

The Board of Elections has made clear that the question will remain on the ballot (early and mail-in voting have already started) as the case continues to be debated in the courts, and our coalition is confident about the case in defense of our ballot question.

However, after the ruling, many local media outlets ran with the real estate industry’s misleading messaging, which suggested that the ballot question was removed completely. Mayor Brandon Johnson’s Bring Chicago Home’ referendum has essentially been booted from the March 19 ballot” read part of a tweet from the Chicago Tribune. Bring Chicago Home Shouldn’t Be on March Ballot, Judge Rules,” read another from Block Club Chicago.

South side house party for Bring Chicago Home. Courtesy of the Bring Chicago Home coalition.

Clearly, this has been part of the real estate industry’s goal all along — to confuse voters and disempower the movement powering our campaign. They may have won some confusing headlines, but in the following days our coalition knocked doors in every region of the city in bigger numbers and more determined than ever.

Support for the measure, in countless person-to-person conversations, has genuinely been remarkable. A common response to my spiel about why we need to invest in housing for people experiencing homelessness — and how the best way to do that is to get the real estate industry that profits to pay their fair share — is It’s about time.” 

The tactics we’re seeing right now are not unfamiliar. When corporate interests can’t win the people over to voting against their best interests, they take it to the courts. They’ve tried to do it with abortion rights, they’ve done it with healthcare, and now they are doing it with housing.

The effort to try and convince Chicago voters that Bring Chicago Home is not on the ballot is voter suppression.

Corporate real estate groups are showing exactly where their interests lie — they care more about profits than about an equitable city with more people housed, and they would rather spend money on an expensive legal battle meant to distract from the real issues at stake than pay their fair share in taxes.

We knew that everyday people taking on the wealthy real estate industry would be hard. We knew they would play dirty and fight us to stop us. 

We also know that there is unique power in organized groups of people aligned and skilled at bringing together broad coalitions and the public around a common goal. It’s the kind of power corporate interests can never match and, for Bring Chicago Home, could not possibly shake apart.

Asha Ransby-Sporn is Deputy Campaign Director for the Bring Chicago Home ballot initiative campaign.

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