Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to encourage Chicagoans to claim their share of a modest $20 million property tax rebate, instead of offering the relief for political cover and secretly hoping they don’t apply.
On Tuesday, Emanuel took the first step to cast the broadest possible net.
City Hall released a “request for proposals” from not-for-profit groups interested in getting the word out about the rebate and processing applications during a two-month period that will start Oct. 1 and end on Nov. 30.
Applications will be accepted at City Hall and at as many as 20 neighborhood locations, primarily libraries and senior citizens centers, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Rebate checks — averaging $150 for the 155,000 eligible households and up to $300 for seniors whose equalized assessed value has increased by 30 percent — will be delivered at the end of December and continuing through January.
In other words, don’t count on getting the check in time to do your Christmas shopping.
In addition to the outreach conducted by community-based organizations and aldermanic offices, the city plans to get the word out about the rebate by using 28 digital billboards as well as advertising on bus shelters and sidewalk information panels.
Some paid advertising is also planned in the Chicago Defender and other community-based newspapers.
To appease aldermen whose phones have been ringing off the hook from angry homeowners with soaring property tax bills, Emanuel agreed to sweeten the pot for seniors by $50.
He also added an “extraordinary hardship” clause that allows Budget Director Alex Holt to issue rebates that exceed the maximum ceiling — $200 for the average household and $350 for seniors — if homeowners are in danger of losing their homes because of the double-whammy of rising property taxes and increased assessments. The enhanced grant “shall not exceed the amount of that homeowner’s property tax increase,” the ordinance states.
The RFP issued Tuesday includes an “Extreme Hardship factors questionnaire” that asks homeowners whether their 2015 adjusted gross income was less than $15,000; whether they participate in the Circuit-Breaker, food stamp, or LIHEAP programs; and whether they receive a disability award from Social Security.
With no apologies for the modest level of assistance, the City Council approved the $20 million rebate last month to inoculate the mayor and aldermen from some of the political fallout from the largest property tax increase in Chicago history.
“At one level, you can say $150 to $200 is not a lot of money. On another level, if you’re trying to buy school supplies or a new outfit for your child to start the school year, this is a lot of money,” Emanuel said on that day.
“If you’re trying to make ends meet, pay utility bills so they don’t cut into other things that you would like to do for your family this summer, this is a lot of money,” he said. “And it helps people, very importantly our seniors who are on fixed incomes.”
The $20 million cost of the rebates assumes that every one of the roughly 155,000 eligible households with incomes under $75,000 takes advantage of the city’s offer.
Past history argues otherwise.
In 2010, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley set aside $35 million for rebate checks. In the end, only $2.1 million was distributed. Most homeowners didn’t bother to apply.
Emanuel vowed to break that mold by hiring community groups, housing organizations and “places of worship” to spread the word. He also talked about using “new technology, including texting, to remind people that this rebate is for you.”
“The rebate is not to be there on the books and then, with a nod and a wink, you hope nobody takes it. It’s there to alleviate any financial strain. And we’re gonna make sure that’s what happens when we do it,” the mayor said then.
While his budget director had opened the door to extending the rebate to renters, Emanuel sloughed off that demand.
“Before we talk about who else, I’ve got to make sure that the $20 million that we worked hard to make sure that the owners of the Skyway and parking garages paid gets used by our senior citizens and those on fixed incomes or incomes under a tremendous amount of financial stress,” Emanuel said then.