Pilsen Cinco de Mayo celebration doubles as protest against increased property taxes

As community organizers and Pilsen area residents celebrated Cinco de Mayo on Saturday at Dvorak Park, they were also calling out increased property taxes that shocked residents last year when they received their tax bill.

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The Benito Juarez High School Folkloric Dance group performs Saturday at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Pilsen’s Dvorak Park.

The Benito Juarez High School Folkloric Dance group performs Saturday at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Pilsen’s Dvorak Park.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Nearly a hundred people gathered Saturday in Pilsen’s Dvorak Park to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and protest an increase in property taxes that hit the community last year, causing longtime residents to fear they will be driven out.

Gentrifying Latino communities saw huge property tax increases, with some some tax bills going up more than three times that of the previous year.

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The higher taxes have caused concern for longtime residents whose families have lived in the neighborhoods for generations and say they can’t afford to pay them.

Community organizer Laura Paz on Saturday compared the fight between the residents and the county to the Battle of Puebla — the underdog win that led to the creation of Cinco de Mayo. 

“We were the little country and we fought against the biggest empire in the world at the time and won,” Paz said. “[Now] we’re in small numbers, we don’t have much power compared to the developers and gentrifiers.”

The event was accompanied by several performances, including the Benito Juarez Folkloric Dance group.

Jose Raymundo and Ivonne Sanchez dance to the music of the Alma Fuerte band at a Cinco de Mayo  celebration Saturday in Pilsen.

Jose Raymundo and Ivonne Sanchez dance to the music of the Alma Fuerte band at a Cinco de Mayo celebration Saturday in Pilsen.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Little progress has been made since December when the same group staged a demonstration in the Loop outside the Cook County building. Paz said that drafted bills to attempt to fix the issue in the future aren’t addressing the immediate concerns that residents face.

“Although we appreciate it, all of them are Band-aids,” Paz said. “We cannot afford the taxes, but we can fight them.”

Lopez said the best solution would be for the city to establish property tax relief programs similar to those at the state level and to bring back the city’s “head tax,” which charges companies a flat rate per the number of employees it has.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has vowed to bring back the tax, but promised it won’t impact smaller businesses. 

“I think the most immediate solution is to acknowledge that these property taxes are based on speculation and trends, and we need to move away from that,” Lopez said. “The burden of balancing the budgets cannot be on the shoulders of working people when companies and developers are reporting record profits.”

Caricatures of wealthy developers at a Cinco de Mayo celebration and property tax protest Saturday in Pilsen’s Dvorak Park.

Caricatures of wealthy developers at a Cinco de Mayo celebration and property tax protest Saturday in Pilsen’s Dvorak Park.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said a meeting with the Cook County Assessor’s Office and a representative from the Cook County Board of Review has been set up for May 31.

Pat Gonzales’ family has owned a building in Pilsen since 1954. Her niece currently lives there and it’s where she said she wants her grandson to live when he attends the University of Illinois at Chicago in the future. She said her property taxes increased from $3,600 to $11,500.

Gonzales, 66, said she has paid what she thinks she owes — a couple hundred dollar increase from her previous year’s assessment — as a form of protest. But she worries that if she fixes up the building, she’ll be forced to sell.

“We’re trying to preserve the neighborhood,” said Gonzalez, who added she was semi-retired. “I don’t want to have to get a full-time job again to pay property taxes.”

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