Mayoral candidate Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia offers property tax relief plan

With grants for owners of homes and rental properties and help for owners of storefronts and residential buildings, Garcia hopes to buy time to face what’s really putting pressure on Chicago property taxes: inadequate state funding for CPS.

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U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is running for mayor of Chicago.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is running for mayor of Chicago for the second time.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Monday proposed $10 million worth of “emergency property tax relief” to ease what he called the “cost of living and cost of housing crisis” squeezing middle- and working-class homeowners and small-business owners.

With one-time grants ranging from $250 to $500 to owners of homes and rental properties and a “Business Assessment Protection” program for owners of “mom and pop” storefronts and residential buildings, Garcia said he hopes to buy time to confront the “larger problem” putting inordinate pressure on local property taxes in Chicago: inadequate state funding for Chicago Public Schools.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), who occupies the City Council seat once filled by Garcia, already has introduced a property tax relief ordinance bankrolled by $10 million in federal stimulus funds to help the Little Village and North Lawndale residents he represents absorb some of the largest property tax increases in Chicago — in some cases, more than 22%.

Increases are twice that much for some residents and business owners in Pilsen, where Garcia unveiled his plan Monday. Besides embracing the $10 million plan proposed by Rodriguez, Garcia offered other ways to prevent more than 21,500 homeowners and small- business owners from losing their properties and being pushed out of their neighborhoods.

On his list:

  • A one-time “Neighborhood Preservation grant” of $250 for middle- and working-class homeowners living in buildings with six units or less. To qualify, property tax bills would have to be “at least $1,000.” The income threshold would be $43,800 for individuals and $66,700 for families.
  • A one-time $500 grant to help owners of residential properties with six units or less, whether they occupy those properties themselves or rent them out to tenants. The income threshold would be $58,350 for individuals and $83,400 for families. The program would be open only to those whose property tax bills rise by “at least $2,000 and double the city average.”
  • A $1,500 “Business Assessment Protection program” grant for owners of small-business properties valued under $600,000.

Garcia acknowledged a permanent solution to the crushing load borne by Chicago homeowners and businesses will require persuading state lawmakers to shift the burden of employee pensions and public schools away from property taxes and toward a new source of funding he did not identify.

But that will “take time” and probably won’t happen “until possibly next year,” he said.

“People are hurting now,” said Garcia. “All over Pilsen, people have called my office and called social service providers. They’ve called churches. They’ve called other elected officials. They need help now.”

Even in Chicago neighborhoods where property taxes did not skyrocket, “high delinquency rates” pose a significant threat, Garcia said.

“If people don’t make their payments, they could lose those properties. And those properties can be bought up by investors for whatever they pay down. That’s a real threat to the existence of those neighborhoods. We’re responding to that need,” he said.

“The more complex financial obligations that the city has — we’ll continue to address them,” he said. “But today, we are showing that you can begin to provide some relief and begin putting the onus and the pressure on the state legislature to begin enacting policies that move us away from our over-reliance on regressive property taxes.”

During the 2015 mayoral campaign, Garcia’s failure to articulate a plan to solve Chicago’s looming pension crisis may well have cost him the runoff election. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel aired a devastating commercial warning voters not to roll the dice on someone who could not understand the perilous state of city finances.

Garcia has argued he has “grown significantly” since then and has a far better understanding of budget and finance after deliberately choosing congressional committees focused on business and finance.

Asked Monday if he has an “actual plan” to pay down Chicago’s $33 billion in pension debt without relying on property tax increases, Garcia talked about the avalanche of federal stimulus funds that bankrolled Lightfoot’s $242 million pension prepayment plan.

“That was federal money. Just like we’ve kept the city afloat and the transit agencies afloat and provided other critical supports. That’s the type of resources that I will work for to make sure that we get on a better footing as it relates to those obligations,” he said.

Garcia’s economic development plan also calls for creating a “Chicago council of corporate and community leaders” to advise the city on ways to revitalize downtown Chicago.

The panel he envisions would focus specifically on ways to improve public safety; expand CTA service to River North, Fulton Market and the West Loop; and work with colleges and universities to provide more student housing downtown.

Also Monday, Garcia said he knew the blitzkrieg of negative ads against him would “take some type of toll” on his polling numbers. But he nevertheless believes he made the right call by saving his money to hit the airwaves only when he knew he could afford to stay on the air through the Feb. 28 election.

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