How much time it could take to get the municipal funding to redevelop a shopping mall

As shopping malls decline, finding the money to redevelop the property could prove difficult. Here is the experience of one Chicago area suburb:

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When West Dundee trustees approved a special taxing district in 2016, they were hopeful it would breathe new life into Spring Hill Mall.

The mall showed some signs of hope when a new theater opened in late 2016. Overall, however, the mall stagnated and key anchors closed shop. By 2021, the village saw the property value of its share of the mall drop from a base value of $7.6 million in 2016 when trustees created a tax increment financing district for the mall to $2.5 million in 2021.

Now trustees are considering scrapping the 2016 TIF district and creating a new — and larger — one. The new TIF district would extend to Huntley Road to the north, Route 31 to the east and Route 72 to the south and would take in a Jewel grocery store to the west. And much like in 2016, officials are hopeful a new TIF with larger borders and a lower base property value would help transform the mall…

Despite the failure of the first TIF district, developers have indicated to village officials the money a TIF district could bring for redevelopment would be key to any transformation of the mall area, West Dundee Village President Chris Nelson said.

A successful TIF can help a municipality capture property tax revenues to put toward redevelopment, often in the form of infrastructure. This means that a developer does not need to pay for some of the necessary improvements – and presumably could profit more.

But, how much time and money is enough to entice a develop to go through with a significant redevelopment? At this point, the first TIF has existed for roughly six years. It did not work as intended; property values fell so there was not tax revenue to capture. Will expanding the district create enough revenue?

TIFs have timelines built into them; they are not intended to last forever. Should a suburb commit to decades for a TIF? At what point does a community throw in the towel in efforts to raise revenue or a commitment to a particular tax structure?

Many communities with shopping malls, big box stores, and other brick and mortar establishments will face these questions in the coming years. TIFs are one tool to use; what other options will emerge as popular and/or successful paths for communities to follow for redevelopment?

The ongoing process of reparations and housing in Evanston

Evanston, Illinois initiated a reparations program several years ago that would provide money for some Black homeowners. The process of funding, assessing applications, and providing monies is underway, even if it is slow-going:

But outside that ballroom, the program is failing to meet many of its initial promises. So far, the city has only spent $400,000 of the $10 million promised in 2019. Out of hundreds of Black residents who applied, 16 have received money. Another 106 are on a waiting list, with hundreds more behind them. At least five people have died before their promised reparations could be dispersed, the program’s leaders acknowledge.

City officials say these early stumbles don’t diminish their ambitions for the program, which is aimed at addressing decades of housing discrimination rather than slavery. And it’s just a starting point, they say…

The program quickly ran into problems. Instead of the three marijuana dispensaries the city was expecting, only one opened, bringing in a trickle of the tax money initially forecast. A year after the reparations effort launched, few were receiving housing vouchers…

Acknowledging the program’s slow start, the council voted in December to set aside an additional $10 million over ten years, this time from a tax on real estate sales over $1.5 million.

The fate of programs or initiatives can depend on the decisions made – and this article suggests there is ongoing discussion about whether this is the best path to pursue – as well as how they are carried out. A good or helpful decision that then gets bogged down by processes, bureaucracy, and funding is one that may be limited or worse in the end.

The portions cited above plus additional comments in the article also address the funding side of this. Can local governments effectively address the issue of reparations? Depending on the size of the community, budgets, money sources, and more, some communities will have more resources to draw on. What are the advantages to local efforts addressing housing and reparations compared to broader funding sources at higher levels of government that are also removed from the particular circumstances in individual communities?

Many Chicago area suburbs with significant increases in sales tax revenues

For a number of suburbs in the Chicago region, 2022 was a good year for sales tax revenues:

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A Daily Herald analysis of 95 suburban sales tax receipts during the state’s 2021 and 2022 fiscal years shows the towns combined to average a 28.6% increase in sales tax revenues, resulting in nearly $230 million more…

First, federal and state laws that took effect in January 2021 required companies to assess sales taxes for online purchases at the rate of the buyer’s hometown…

Then, COVID-19 stimulus funds paid directly to Americans reinvigorated purchases on physical products…

And the final catalyst for sales tax revenue growth statewide has been the historic increase in the inflation rate.

The article goes on to discuss two issues I was wondering about: how will these communities spend this money and will this revenue increase last?

My guess is that there will not be too many major changes even with these increases. Because it is not clear whether the money will continue to come in at similar rates (though the online source sounds durable), the money could be limited to particular items or shorter projects.

At the same time, an increase in monies could help address important needs and build a good foundation for the next few years. Could some communities complete a project that they had been waiting on? Or, could they start something rolling for the longer-term that needed resources to get rolling?

These increases could also lead to some interesting conversations about what to prioritize and spend on. (Additionally, communities without bumps might have interesting discussions.)

American political leaders tend to be homeowners

A recent study looked at how many political leaders in the United States are homeowners or renters:

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The researchers identified 10,800 representatives across city halls, state houses, and federal offices in 2019 and cross-referenced their home addresses with tax records. They found that about 93% of US senators, congressional representatives, federal judges, city council members, state senators, state representatives and governors definitely or likely owned a home.

In another sample of 1,800 city-level officeholders, the discrepancy between voters and their electeds was stark: For the 190 municipalities researchers examined, citywide homeownership rates were around 50%, while 83% of mayors owned their residences…

Despite these high-profile exceptions — both young people of color, like Azeem — researchers found that in city after city, the broader homeownership trend held, even in costly cities like Miami and Boston, where renters dominate. “There aren’t really any cities where large numbers of renters have been elected to local, state or federal office,” Einstein said.

The paper describes two “bottlenecks” that could prevent renter representation: Either fewer renters run, or fewer voters are willing to elect them. By analyzing the housing status of city council candidates in California between 2017 and 2018, they found that the former is more likely…

Elected officials are even more out of step with their communities when it comes to where and how they live. Researchers found that the homes occupied by local, state and federal officials were worth an average of 50% more than their zip code’s median value. The higher the level of public office, the greater the ratio. Nearly 80% of officeholders who owned their houses lived in single-family homes, while only 67% of houses across the country are considered single family.

Who will represent the renters in a country that loudly proclaims its preference for homeownership?

If you have a list of steps one needs to take to be a successful politician, add this one to early in the list: own a residence.

How exactly does wealth play into this? Does wealth lead to both homeownership and the possibility of running for office?

A possible follow-up study: do political candidates run markedly different campaigns given their homeownership status or do they generally play to the ideals of homeownership?

I received no shortage of political mailers this year and the only thing they may have helped with was name recognition

Our home mailbox has been filled for weeks with mailers for candidates at the national, state, and local level. What have I learned from all of these mailers? Very little.

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However, the one use they may have is for candidates’ names to catch my attention. I consider myself a fairly informed voter yet I cannot keep up with all of the local races. In a state with so many taxing bodies, there are numerous races for the Forest Preserve, County Board, municipal positions, and more. Who has the time to look at all of the positions of those candidates? I will enter the voting booth today with limited knowledge about dozens of names for positions that the average suburbanite has little knowledge about.

Thus, a mailer might catch my eye with a name in a way that another medium might not. All those texts from candidates in recent weeks? Most were automatically marked as spam by my phone and the others I did not look at. Political ads on television or radio? Easy to avoid by switching stations or using streaming services. News broadcasts about candidates? Can click past or avoid reading.

At the least, I took each of those mailers out of the mailbox, looked at them quickly, and then recycled them. Could they have planted a name or idea in my head? Perhaps.

Americans may move close to home to be near politically like-minded residents

How far are Americans willing to move to be in a political environment they are comfortable with? Fewer may move to other countries or other states compared to those who move within a county or region to find residents or communities with similar political views:

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“This idea of ‘red state versus blue state’ misses a great deal of heterogeneity within states, as well as clusters and spatial patterns that occur within states,” said Ryan Strickler, a political scientist at Colorado State University, Pueblo. “Instead, we’re seeing more of a micro level of political sorting.” …

[E]xperts say the more significant phenomenon is people moving within the same state where they can find others who are politically like-minded. These migrations aren’t about specific political outcomes like the Dobbs decision. Instead, they’re linked to social polarization. “There’s a lot of local reshuffling,” said Alexander Bendeck, a Ph.D. student in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing.

In one of his current projects, Bendeck explores U.S. relocation patterns in the 2010s, using population migration data from the IRS to track the number of migrants between counties nationwide. Bendeck recognized the shift in migration from the coasts to the South or Midwest but also emphasized the effects of moving within metropolitan areas. Many natives of major Southern cities have moved out to the suburbs or to smaller cities. And the locals of those suburbs or cities move to more rural areas or even smaller cities.

But there’s a huge caveat to any migration data: It is impossible to attribute all instances of relocation, even within the same state, to politics. In fact, politics has not been a major factor why most Americans have moved in recent history, Strickler said. Instead, migration is more financially driven, whether people are seeking out a lower cost of living, better job prospects or proximity to family. 

I would be very interested in seeing more data on this micro-sorting within region. As noted in this piece, regions are often broken up this way: denser cities at the core vote more Democratic, far-flung suburbs vote more Republican, and in-between suburbs are more mixed. When people move within a region, how often do they end up in a community that aligns with their political sensibilities compared to their previous home?

One way to interpret this is that people are more tied to finances, jobs, and family within local places or geographies than to politics. Another way to put this is that Americans may express concerns about political trends, but they can often find more agreeable conditions not too far from where they currently live.

This highlights the importance of local government and politics even as there is a lot of attention paid to national politics. Even as state or national patterns may not be what individuals desire, they can rest assured that local communities or representatives share their positions. This could be related to the pattern where more Americans approve of their local Congressional representative than they approve of Congress as a whole.

Too many taxing bodies in Illinois to easily count them

How many taxing bodies are in Illinois?

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Anyone who gazes at a property tax bill realizes Illinois is awash in local government: townships, school and park districts, road and bridge agencies, community colleges, police and fire departments, and a collection of water, housing, cultural, cemetery, and even mosquito abatement districts. The Cook County treasurer’s website lists eight taxing districts for Chicago, 11 for Winnetka, and 10 each for Norridge and Hodgkins.

There are so many entities that even the experts differ on their number. The Civic Federation, which charts government spending and claims to have done the most exhaustive search, says Illinois has 8,923. That’s higher than the 6,032 tally from the Illinois Policy Institute and the 6,918 listed in a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report — 2,000 more than second-place Pennsylvania.

Americans like local government. Do they like local government this much? Perhaps the presence of this many taxing bodies in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and other states is the answer: “yes they do.”

However, it seems like it should be easier to count the number in Illinois. The state government itself does not keep track? How could the Civic Federation and the Census Bureau differ by roughly 2,000 taxing bodies? While the rest of the article goes on to detail how difficult it is to consolidate these governmental bodies or to eliminate them, having an accurate count might be an important start.

Is this the path to “small-town democracy still works as intended”?

The village board of suburban Round Lake recently voted against a proposal to annex property and create a year-round ski hill. One representative of local opponents described the outcome this way:

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“It is heartening that small-town democracy still works as intended,” Ashman added.

What happened in this process of “small-town democracy?

Opponents who had coalesced into a large, multifaceted grass-roots force were uncertain of the outcome until Trustee Mark Amann, who was appointed earlier in the meeting to fill a vacancy, ended the speculation…

The opposition group started with about a dozen residents a few months ago but grew with a united goal and different areas of expertise.

A Facebook group ballooned to 779 members, 120 yard signs were posted, hundreds of fliers were passed out in town and a website was created. Nearly 2,000 signatures in opposition were gathered on an online petition, and a blog chronicled the issue…

“I had to go with my conscience and my gut,” he said after the meeting. “The bottom line was he (applicant Dan Powell) didn’t have any skin in the game. We were at more risk than he was.”

This exemplifies why suburban Americans like local control and local government. In a smaller community (Round Lake has over 18,000 residents), the closer connection residents have to the local board or council. If residents do not like something, it is easier for them to make their voice heard. Here, residents took advantage of social media and websites plus utilized yard signs and fliers. Those opposed felt this was not in the best interest of their community. If elected officials do not do what residents want, it can be easier to remove them at the next election.

Whether such a process leads to the “right” outcomes is another question all together. Such a process also makes it easy for communities to resist affordable housing, development or changes that might be good for an entire region, or protect a particular character or set of resources.

The states and cities with restricted activity with other states and cities

I recently found a description of the states and cities limiting their activity with other governments/places within the United States:

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At least six states and the District of Colombia over the last six years have prohibited their employees from taking work trips to states with laws that, in their view, discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. California’s prohibition is by far the most sweeping, barring state-funded travel to nearly half the country: 22 states, including four additions – Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and Utah –last week.

California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia all have sought to financially pressure several other states in some form or another – creating a confusing patchwork of bans, with some states lifting previous travel bans on other states, such as Indiana, that revise laws applying to the LGBTQ community after a national or statewide uproar…

After witnessing the impact on Indianapolis, several mayors of liberal cities, including New York, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, and others sprang into action. They announced bans on city-funded travel to North Carolina amid a national backlash over House Bill 2, which prevented transgender people in the state from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. North Carolina lawmakers quickly devised a compromise that helped convince collegiate sporting events to return to the state. Still, several big-city mayors kept a ban on employees traveling there.

Add this to the actions of private actors and you have interesting geographic conflicts across the United States.

It is less clear what these travel restrictions lead to in the long run. Does this connect to lower levels of geographic mobility among American residents as a whole? Is it part of “the big sort” by political affiliations and commitments? Does it lead to social networks that skip over some geographies and not others? How does it fit with the urban/rural divide in politics and each spaces sense of place and country?

“Hysteria” marks responses from neighbors to proposed nearby developments?

One man who has “monitored and live-tweeted dozens and dozens—and dozens and dozens—of community meetings” regarding development in San Francisco describes the tenor of the public comments this way:

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The meetings tend to be formal. But people’s participation tends to be, well, a little unmeasured, Fruchtman told me. “Hysteria,” he said. “There’s often a sense of hysteria at these meetings that is not reflected in what you read in the press.” He recalled the time that a person described his fight to prevent the construction of a navigation center for homeless services as a kind of personal “Little Bighorn.” Or the time another person objected to the conversion of a parking lot on the grounds that it would increase traffic. Such rhetoric is “intellectual malpractice,” Fruchtman added. And the intemperate rants of the people who show up matter, as city officials hear such impassioned claims mostly from a privileged class trying to keep things as they are.

Having studied my share of public meetings, this description rings true. This does not mean every public comment rises to this level but residents and neighbors can regularly attempt to make their point strongly.

As this article notes, public commenters have little incentive not to state their case forcefully. They are living in the area. They think their property is at risk. Local officials serve at their behest (whether elected directly by residents or not). Who is going to call them out on their strong emotions or statements?

Now this would make for an interesting record: cataloging the ways that residents oppose development proposals. Based on what I have seen, I could imagine these themes would come up regularly: traffic, light, noise, too much density, a difference in character with the existing neighborhood would come up regularly, and a threat to property values. Additionally, how do residents present these concerns, with what tone, and with what public displays?