Mayor Rahm Emmanuel recently announced a plan to increase economic development through the “Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus” initiative. While this approach is innovative, there must be measures put in place to ensure these funds are used properly and made to be used for change that does not led to gentrification and further isolation of many of Chicago’s residents.
The Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus initiative must have; direct benefit to current residents and homeowners of the targeted communities where the funds will be dispersed; additional accountability for potential development that is created based on these funds such as community benefit agreements that ensure local hiring, local business and contractor support, and community collaboration; and lastly transparency around funds and the distribution of those funds.
Blocks Together, a community organization in West Humboldt Park, has been working for the last seven years to ensure local Tax Increment Financing dollars in low income communities have direct benefit, accountability, and transparency. This has been done through annual meetings with residents and the City of Chicago Department of Planning to report expenses and projects being funded to the larger community, advocating for needed projects in the community where TIF can finance such as a new library in the community and a housing purchase support program. In 2014, BT facilitated the first participatory budget process where the community decided projects for $2 million of TIF funds. Through this we know the City can do better in creating more community participation and direct benefit with public dollars.
BT has been proposing additional measures with current and future economic development funds that prevent displacement, and the politics that impact how funds can support the needs of communities in the City such as; using the participatory budgeting model with these new funds, requiring advisory councils that have power to veto and improve upon potential development, and create mechanisms where residents can follow the money without complicated data sets and numbers. BT has seen how people can come together and create solutions for community driven economic development, and where the City needs to change its approach in engaging with community residents to provide community controlled development, and move away from the status quo of top down decision making. We hope this new initiative moves the City in the right direction in real reform and innovation in resource distribution.