A report released Tuesday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 18,000 homeless people in the city have completed some college and another 13,400 have some form of employment.
Rauquaia Hale-Wallace, 49, of Chicago, is one of them. She’s trained as an opera singer and her husband has a job in the transportation industry, but the couple has experienced homelessness.
Hale-Wallace said she grew up in the Cabrini-Green public housing complex and then lived in Old Town before moving to the city’s West Side. After graduating from high school in the late 1980s, she traveled to Italy to perform when she was in college. But after losing sponsorship for her career, Hale-Wallace has struggled to find regular work since, despite having a college degree.
She’s since developed arthritis and diabetes. Her family had to leave an apartment because of unsafe conditions and ended up in a church, where they lived for six years before the church told them to move, she said. They moved to a shelter in Uptown before a charity helped them get an apartment.
“Over time, with job loss, arthritis … with pain being up, it’s hard for me to work now. Even though I’m singing in different places, it’s not enough to say I can afford to stay here,” she said.
Hale-Wallace is among about 86,000 people who experienced homelessness in Chicago, according to the coalition’s study, which analyzed 2017 census data. Chicago’s homeless population, according to advocates, is significantly higher than the point-in-time count the city conducts every January because that tally doesn’t include people who are “doubled up,” or staying, in the homes of other people. According to the coalition’s analysis, about 22,500 people were served by shelters in 2017 and 6,300 of them had been doubled-up at some point that year.
The last point-in-time count for which results are available, from January 2018, showed more than 5,000 people living in shelters or in places not suited for human habitation. According to the coalition, 4 out of 5 homeless people fall into the “doubled up” category, defined by the coalition as “taking shelter in another household due to a loss of their own housing.”
“Now we have a way to talk about the full scope of homelessness in Chicago,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “The point-in-time count doesn’t … capture the way most people experience homelessness. Being able to quantify that has really pushed the envelope in Chicago in terms of the city thinking about what resources are necessary to address it. If you’re only thinking about 5,000 people, you’re thinking about a very different amount of money than if you have 80,000 people.”
The coalition supports an increase in the real estate transfer tax to help people like Hale-Wallace, who the group made available to the Tribune for an interview. The tax could raise up to $200 million to spend on programs to combat homelessness, Dworkin said.
“We are now in conversation about details of what the tax structure will be and how money will be spent,” Dworkin said. “We’re expecting it to move forward. We’re hoping to introduce the resolution at the July City Council meeting.”
The city taxes the transfer of land and buildings at a rate of $5.25 per $500 of sale price. Of that, $3.75 goes to the city of Chicago and $1.50 to the Chicago Transit Authority. Any increase would have to be approved by voters and the money would be spent on programs to combat homelessness.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, before she was elected, released a policy proposal supporting a change to the transfer tax that would lower rates on transfers under about $1 million and increase rates on a graduated scale above that.
Dworkin said the coalition is working with the mayor’s office on the particulars of the plan and Dworkin hopes to see a measure on the ballot next year.
Lightfoot’s office issued a statement calling homelessness “a serious issue facing thousands of Chicagoans” but didn’t address whether she still supports the increased transfer tax she proposed during the campaign.
The coalition came to its total homeless estimate by analyzing American Community Survey data, which samples a limited number of households. The study identified survey respondents who appeared to be “doubled up.”
The report notes that rising housing prices are a problem in Chicago. The “housing wage” required to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the metropolitan area is more than $23 per hour, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The Chicago Association of Realtors opposes an increase in the transfer tax.
“It’s just a tax for coming in and buying a home or buying a business or buying any land whatsoever,” said Brian Bernardoni, senior director of government affairs and public policy for the realtors group. “It’s a pretty good slap in the face right at the start for the transaction. If it’s put on the seller, it’s a stripping of equity. If it’s on the buyer it’s, ‘here’s your first property tax bill before your property tax bill.’ ”
Bernardoni said the tax is flawed because any change in the market that results in fewer sales or fewer sales of upper-end property would lead to important programs losing their funding.
“If the market takes a downturn or the assessor jacks up assessments and property values decrease as a result of it, the programs that are very important aren’t going to get funded because nobody’s going to be buying buildings over a million,” he said.
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