Chicago mayor leverages personal story in transfer-tax campaign

The fate of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s proposed transfer-tax hike on high-end property sales will be decided by Chicago voters next month. 

For Johnson, the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, aimed at addressing homelessness and affordable housing in Chicago, cuts deep on a personal note, as he often talks about how his brother died “addicted and unhoused,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

The proposal calls for raising the property transfer-tax rate on sales exceeding $1.5 million, with the goal of generating $100 million annually to combat the city’s homelessness crisis. The policy, which has triggered Chicago’s real estate community due to its potential adverse effects, was at the forefront of Johnson’s mayoral campaign and has remained so throughout his tenure.

Backing Mayor Johnson in this endeavor is the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, led by president Stacy Davis Gates. She emphasized the urgency of addressing homelessness. 

“If you vote ‘yes’ on this referendum, you are voting for 20,000 unhoused students in the Chicago Public Schools to be in a safe, warm home,” Davis Gates told the outlet. “I like our odds.”

Leading the pro-transfer tax campaign is Emma Tai, a seasoned political strategist who played a pivotal role in Mayor Johnson’s victory in the previous mayoral race. Tai is taking a similar approach with this campaign, emphasizing that the rich need “to pay their fair share so children can come in from the cold.” 

However, the referendum faces staunch opposition from influential real estate and business interests, who have sued over the ballot language and warn that it could hinder a real estate market that’s already grappling with record-high office vacancies, high interest rates and declining property sales. 

Despite the bill’s opponents, the Bring Chicago Home campaign is gaining momentum, with advocates already engaged in extensive grassroots canvassing efforts. Yet, a recent decision by the Chicago Federation of Labor to remain neutral on the referendum underscores concerns within the labor community about potential job losses in the construction sector, dealing a blow to Johnson’s efforts.

The outcome of the referendum carries significant implications for Johnson’s political future. Success in passing the measure could solidify his standing as a champion for progressive causes and demonstrate his ability to deliver on campaign promises. Conversely, failure to secure the referendum could undermine his credibility and weaken his position within the city’s political landscape, the outlet said.

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