Raise real estate transfer tax to help the homeless

City Council looked the other way instead of supporting a vote on the tax on properties sold at $1 million or more, to generate an estimated $160 million a year to address the root causes of homelessness.

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Pete, a 41-year-old homeless man, stands next to the donated tent near the expressway where he is living as temperatures hang in the single-digits on Thursday in Chicago.

Pete, a 41-year-old homeless man, stands next to the donated tent near the expressway where he is living as temperatures hang in the single-digits on Thursday in Chicago.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Every time I get into the left-turn lane for I-290, I am faced with a moral dilemma: What is my obligation to the person who passes by with the words: “Homeless — Please Help” scrawled on a tattered piece of cardboard?

Admittedly, more often than not, I keep my eyes straight ahead and keep driving.

As I merge onto I-290, I justify to myself that I help in other ways. I work at a medical respite center for homeless adults and donate regularly to organizations that provide services to those in need. But the person at the I-290 on-ramp is proof that it’s not enough, so I awkwardly avoid the interaction. It’s easier to look away than to let our eyes meet, giving the illusion that I acknowledge their personhood, only to quickly shake my head no — “I have nothing for you. You are not my problem.” 

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The great irony of our democracy, however, is that while it protects our individualism, it also entrusts us with the collective responsibility to address systemic problems. By our vote, we give power to elected leaders to tackle pervasive issues such as the lack of affordable housing, poverty, inadequate health care, domestic violence and racism, all of which contribute to homelessness. And as temperatures drop and tragic numbers of homeless individuals suffer loss of life or limb from the cold, we have an annual reminder that homelessness is a crisis that requires our immediate attention.

Unfortunately, while people in Chicago struggle with homelessness, half of the City Council chose to look the other way.

Last month, Bring Chicago Home, a grassroots campaign to fight homelessness, was scheduled to hold a public hearing to put its measure on the February municipal ballot. If passed, Bring Chicago Home’s proposal would increase the real estate transfer tax on properties sold at $1 million or more, generating an estimated $160 million annually to address the root causes of homelessness.

But the hearing was canceled because 25 alderpersons were absent, seven of whom were in the building but refused to come into the council chambers to be counted for a quorum.

We can’t allow this negligence to continue. As success stories from other large cities have shown, it is possible to create a better system. In addition to funding, it requires the political will to care for the unhoused.

As voters, we have the responsibility to create that political will by holding our elected officials — and ourselves — accountable. We can support Bring Chicago Home, which is being re-introduced into City Council to get on the 2024 ballot. More importantly, we can choose leaders who will show up when a solution is on the table, instead of leaving us with a guilty conscience and not enough dollar bills to help the panhandlers find their way off the streets.

It’s time to stop looking the other way. 

Sabina Wong, MD, member of Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity and Chicago Housing Justice League

Who is the best fit?

In his recent holiday speech to the nation, President Joe Biden said, “After a year of pain and loss, it’s time to unite, to heal, to rebuild.” Donald Trump’s holiday message: “Our Country is SICK inside, very much like a person dying of Cancer.” Which man is fit to lead our country?

Richard Keslinke, Algonquin

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