Lathrop TIF review slightly out of joint

The city of Chicago has crossed off another item on its to-do list for a special taxing district to help fund a redevelopment of Lathrop Homes.

City officials met on Friday, June 2, 2016 at City Hall in a pro-forma meeting of what state law calls a joint review board (JRB).

The meeting, originally scheduled for July 8, came as a surprise to local observers.

Some background: Last April, officials unveiled a proposal to use property taxes to fund the private redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, a 900-unit public housing complex nestled next to the North Branch of the Chicago River.

In the city's proposal, property taxes spawned by the redeveloped complex would be diverted away from local governments, and instead be used to repay developers' construction loans. Such an arrangement is called tax-increment financing (TIF).

According to state law, before the city can enact a TIF district it must seek approval in a series of a half-dozen public meetings—the third of which, in this case, is that of the joint review board.

The JRB is supposed to give each taxing body a say before the property taxes that fund it get diverted to the TIF district. In Chicago, taxing bodies include the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Board of Education, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Chicago City Colleges, and Cook County.

In reality, those bodies don't always get a say.

At the June 3 JRB meeting, only three public bodies were represented: the park district, City Colleges, and the board of ed.

"There are usually, like, three other people at the table," said Beth Tomlins, who represented the park district and chaired the meeting. Tomlins said she believes that a JRB meeting requires at least three public-body representatives—so "they had enough to get by this time."

Tomlins, a deputy director who's represented the park district at many JRB meetings, was not aware that the city's Dept. of Planning and Development had originally told the public that Friday's meeting would take place on July 8.

A planning department spokesman later said that the original date was "tentative" and that the rescheduling "was a timing issue," but could not elaborate.

In addition to the taxing body representatives, a Lathrop resident sat in on the JRB—as required by state law.

The resident representative was Jose Elizondo, who said he's lived in Lathrop Homes since 1976. After the meeting, Elizondo said he was asked to sit in on the JRB "three or four days ago" by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), in whose ward Lathrop resides.

Elizondo voted with the other JRB members to approve the TIF district.

Not that it mattered: State law says that "a [joint review] board's recommendation shall be an advisory, non-binding recommendation."