Monday, October 5, 2009

Think Of This Next Time You Pass A Fish Farm...

... or low-income rental-only units costing $440K each:

Chicago Library Branches to Shorten Hours in January

Remember, it's Ald. Shiller's choice that 68% of your property tax bill goes for things like fish farms, nail shops at Wilson Yard, and low-income housing with no opportunity for home ownership.

If you live in the Wilson Yard TIF, your money's not paying for things like more police on the streets, more money for our schools, or longer hours for the public to use our public libraries. It's not paying for public servants, who now have to take mandatory unpaid vacation days multiple times each year, forcing the closure of city service offices.

Multiply all the property taxes in the Wilson Yard TIF area by 161, the number of TIFs there are in the City of Chicago, and figure out why the city is broke, even while selling off parking meter rights and having the highest sales tax in the country.

Remember the fish farms -- and the diminished library hours -- at election time.


  1. I sure will remember it at election time. I have emailed Helen Shiller numerous times about how she wastes our tax dollars for BS stuff like she does. How she has changed our ward into a unsafe and unhealthy ward and I will remember her on election day. Not once has she ever answered with a responce.

  2. I am curious. Where did the $440K per unit cost figure come from? Can anyone run it down for me? My back of the envelope calculations come up with something around $280K. What am I missing?

  3. Suzzane --
    The highest “LOW-COST” housing I’ve ever seen.

    Shiller and her buddies lobbied for “low-cost housing” That’s the actual wording on her survey.
    I have the budgets in front of me which I can scan if UU wants to post. Here’s the breakdown on the family units with a total budget of $35,729,954 and 78 apartment units slated you get a cost of $458,076. each. I’m also thinking this is on the low side because I believe the parking and remediation may not be included in this figure. With crews working holidays and Saturdays I’m also guessing part of the new 54mil will be tapped as they find they’re over budget.
    You don’t really think they’ll stay on budget?

  4. At least we didn't get the Olympics...

  5. I agree that it would be nice to understand how those figures were calculated. It would give more credibility to Fix Wilson Yard.

    The pathetic part is that Helen has known for years the controversy surrounding what people have said are the costs for each unit of housing. Why can't someone from her office or from Holsten's office respond and explain how they got their number for the cost of each of the units? Their silence is sadly typical. Better yet, why can't a reporter ask Helen and get it on public record?

  6. Has even one dollar been spent on fish farms? It seems to me this was just an idea that Shiller bandied about.

  7. Sean, your guess is as good as ours, since Ald. Shiller doesn't release the monetary figures for her TIFS.

    She did have
    a meeting about fish farms and worm farms
    , to which she invited her pets, and had several experts there to sell them on the idea - I doubt they were there out of the goodness of their hearts. So I'm guessing (1) Shiller has given this more than a passing thought and (2) someone paid those experts for their appearances.

    So, thanks for visiting Uptown and trying to absolve Shiller of her idiotic plans, but she's claimed 'em loud and clear.

    Sean, do you live in the Wilson Yard TIF or in Uptown? Just curious. In the name of transparency -- I've lived here for most of my life, and last year I paid $2013 into the TIF.

  8. I'm in Uptown, just outside of the Wilson TIF, but in the Lawrence\Broadway one. Aren't tif monetary figures released in at least an annual report? It seems there are some on Shiller's website that include expenditures on infrastructure and schools.

  9. Meanwhile......I noticed this morning that the Montrose "Target is coming" fence has about 10 feet of gang (?) graffiti.
    Not sure if this is indeed graffiti, or a legitimate new neighbor for the nail salon?
    I meant to snap a picture, but was driving.

  10. Sean, you're really reaching. Good try, but it's not working. There are some things she does well, but not this fish farm, not her pretend community input, and not her waste of my tax dollars.

    Don't ask me what she does well, but I know there's something out there.

  11. Caring neighbor: It's not just Helen that doesn't report as one might expect. This is endemic to all TIF districts and 49 Alderman (one ward doesn't have TIF). TIF reporting is purposely obtuse, which is why I'm not confident about the $440K number and curious why others are.

  12. Suzanne, wouldn't it stand to reason then that Helen and Peter would clarify the true cost of each unit of housing rather than remain silent?

    I'm guessing that Fix Wilson Yard folks got the cost of the housing as a whole, separated the cost of each building, and then divided it by the number of each units. I don't know if that's what they did. It's only a guess.

    How did you come up with your figures?

    In the meantime, it's rather sad that we're wondering the real cost and no answer from the people who owe it to us to report it, given my tax dollars are paying for it. I also remain at a loss for words that the press doesn't pick up on any of this. They may not believe Fix Wilson Yard's figures, but they don't try to get the real figures themselves.

  13. Reason and local government haven't been on the friendliest of terms lately . . . :-)))

    As for my numbers, they're truly back of the envelope. I ballparked the cost of the retail build out (at a relatively high average psf to account for high density urban construction), the cost per parking space (an estimate based on the number of housing units and the retail requirements), a prorated % of acquisition, remediation, structure, and transaction costs and deducted it from total $$. Divide the remainder by the number of housing units and I come up with about $280K.

    Not saying the number is correct. Rather, it piques my interest because it's so far from the $440 number which makes me believe (1) I am missing something, or (2) the calculations that rendered the $440K number are wrong.

    If it's the later, it may explain why the press hasn't picked it up.

  14. Suzanne,

    you've forgotten to include the corruption tax (10%) and the cost of cronyism and incompetence (~15%).

    The numbers I hear are $440k for 2BDRM, and $330k for 1BDRM.

    Average: $385,000.

    You came up with $280,000.

    $280,000 X 1.25 = $350,000

    There's your number.

  15. Suzanne and Holy Moley please see the third post down, from me - Uptown Lady. The figures are all there.

  16. Uptown Lady: I don’t doubt your report. The problem we are having is the one alluded to in your earlier post---we don't know what's included in the $440K. If parking is included in the $440K, how many spaces? Anything beyond code should count to the retail portion. These are the kind of questions plague multi-use development (and make pricing the retail portion a specialty). Add squirrelly TIF accounting and, well, it’s hard to know what’s what.

  17. Suzanne-
    The point is – is the cost to taxpayer is at least $458,000 average per unit – It may and probably will be more. We agree the accounting is a problem - we don’t know what the taxpayer is paying for we just know something is “fishy”. If they’ve attached retail parking to the residential then the taxpayer is paying for it - we don’t know - but either way $458 thousand is an exorbitant cost for “low cost housing”. Since the taxpayers can’t get answers the media should be doing their job.

  18. That may be your point but it is not mine. The portion of total costs allocated to retail versus residential matters. A lot. And if opponents of this project are inflating the numbers on the housing portion, or developing their estimate on unreliable numbers, that's a problem.

  19. I am not saying the housing cost numbers are right or wrong and I agree that whatever the number, it is too high even if each unit was Suzanne's back of the envelope calculations.

    The press should be doing their job to get the real numbers since neither Helen or Peter will provide them, but they won't. It would be good to get confirmation if the cost of the retail parking is included in the estimate because we all know Helen will pull some stunt with the numbers in front of some TV cameras at just the right moment to make the Fix Wilson Yard folks look like idiots. She's stalling now because the press hasn't given her any heat. They will probably wait until after the opening and make a slight nuiance that the cost to build each unit has been controversial but they will still stay clear of delving into the real costs.

    Perhaps an open letter to Helen and Peter and the press and City Council and the Mayor about tax payers' demands of knowing the real cost of building this needs to be TRANSPARENT. Copy all of Helen's endorsers so that we can later slam them for encouraging the waste of tax dollars with their endorsement of Helen.

  20. And if opponents of this project are inflating the numbers on the housing portion...

    If the numbers are inflated it’s Holsten and the city who are doing the inflating.

    ...or developing their estimate on unreliable numbers...

    $458 thousand in taxpayer dollars is still the same whether we're paying for gold toilet seats or retail parking spaces.

  21. "If the numbers are inflated it’s Holsten and the city who are doing the inflating." UL

    I would agree. Do we have any information on what Helen and Peter report the cost of each housing unit to be?

  22. Uptown Lady, I'm afraid it is not the same. One portion of this project is, presumably, income producing right away (the retail), the other is not, though may become so after some payback period. When calculating per unit costs, you must account for offsets and the differing return rates and from what I can tell, this estimate does not do this. I could be wrong but that's why I asked. What data and from what source were these estimates derived and what assumptions were made? It just looks, well, fishy ;-)))

  23. Suzanne
    The title of the document is Exhibit J-2, Second Revision, Project Budget, Phase II, Wilson Yard Family. (This is the budget that accompanied the 2nd amendment to the redevelopment agreement – they amended the redevelopment agreement and increased the budget back in the spring of 2008). There are three relevant budget exhibits - one for the Family Housing (which I’m referencing) one for the Senior Housing and one for Target. Each exhibit shows a breakdown of the acquisition cost, hard costs, soft costs and sources of funding.

    The total budget for the family housing is $35,729,954 and that is to build 78 units (per Il Housing Authority). The source of the $35,729, 954 is all tax dollars in the form of TIF, LIHTC and other federal and state programs . So the cost to the tax payer is $458,076 on average per unit. The $458,076 per unit is merely a figure used to breakdown what it’s costing the tax payer for each unit –nothing more nothing less. One could break it down per sq. ft. etc. - it’s not an investment tool to determine ROI etc. Just info. for the tax paying citizens of this city, state etc.

    Suzanne – I’ll scan and email you a copy of all three documents in the next few days.

  24. UL, Thanks a million times. When people tell me the figures are made up by FWY, I can better explain it.

  25. So, are you saying that both TIF money AND affordable housing funds (i.e., LIHTC)might be subsidizing/offsetting the costs of the retail portion, Suzanne?

    If so, it sounds like the taxpayers set up a deal so good that refusing it would have been foolish given that this not an isolated poor community. Lakeview, Ravenswood, North Center and Lincoln Square are full of potential Target shoppers. I am sure this deal looks fantastic on paper when you are sitting in an office in Minnesota and you don't understand the dynamics at work in Uptown.

  26. "The portion of total costs allocated to retail versus residential matters."

    Hi Suzanne.

    I thoroughly enjoy the back-of-the envelope division of the total project costs by the number of housing units, even as I recognize it as a stretch. I take your point it is not GAAP but it sure is fun!

    From at least on point of view, it is sorta legit: that is, recognizing the early history of WY, the original conception was an innovative public-private partnership ratta ratta in which taxpayers would front the construction of a retail mall, sell it to a big box retailer, and use the proceeds to fund the construction of affordable housing. That's how it was pitched. From this perspective the whole point of the retail is the housing, not to sate Uptown's pent-up shopping jones.

    There is subset of WY stakeholders who cares not for the retail, the raw number of affordable units is the prize, by any means necessary. The crude stat of project cost/units grossly unfair as it is kinda tweaks them where they live. The stat drives home that it's clear by now that if affordable units were the goal we could have saved money by going into the free market and snatching up apt bldgs & condos, particularly given what we know now of the budget overruns and given the current market conditions, and maybe do a better job of avoiding the concentration.

  27. " ... Exhibit J-2, Second Revision, Project Budget, Phase II, Wilson Yard Family."

    here's links to the $35M figure for the family housing


    part 1

    part 2

    see the definitions of the phases on in part 1 PDF page 26-27 Journal page 24055-24056

    Phase I: retail + garage
    Phase II: family housing
    Phase III: senior housing

    see the budget by phases in part 2 PDF page 25 Journal page 24104

  28. Good stuff, here. Sassy, I don't know anything for certain about this project and its numbers. I know what's in the record (cited by Uptown Lady and Hugh) but I don't trust that data. Consequently, I don't put much stock in conclusions drawn from those numbers, which is why I was "fishing" for substantiation from other sources, noodling out some other ideas/explanations.

    Do I know that housing is subsidizing the retail here? No. Do I think it's possible? It makes a ton of sense, but not, if I understand you correctly, as the outcome of some competition with other local neighborhoods. Rather, it was probably a question of making Uptown competitive with a location in DesMoines or Philly or . . . other places with the capacity, a natural customer base and a less expensive price tag.

    This may be similar to the recent, albeit more transparent deal with United Airlines ("transparent" here being the wildly relative term). The $50 million subsidy is the incentive that makes a city location possible. Without it, UAL stays in Elk Grove Village. What the City is betting on is that the tax proceeds of UAL in Chicago are, over time, greater than the $50 million now. Perhaps WY's Target is not so different.

  29. "What the City is betting on is that the tax proceeds of UAL in Chicago are, over time, greater than the $50 million now."

    singing from the City hymnal?

    no, Daley bet he would be long gone before we could tell or at least that we would forget

  30. Suzanne, if you don't trust the source FWY used to get their numbers (actual City documents), what source would you need to convince you?

  31. Hugh, you crack me up. My analysis of what motivated the Council's decision is hardly an endorsement; it's an explanation. Independent of this Mayor, it is common for municipalities to offer incentives like these. What's uncommon and unacceptable is how often this Council tosses off such large chunks of our tax dollars for private enterprise without so much a public hearing or explanation---all the while our public goods are deteriorating. That's one of the reasons why we filed suit over the parking meter lease deal. We'd had enough.

    Holy Moly, I'm not pitching disbelief at FYI. I'm not even arguing the numbers in the TIF report. The total is, I'm sure, accurate. What I'm theorizing is that underneath the reported totals, there may be something else happening. What I'm suggesting is that it may not make sense to conclude anything about the project from those numbers because they are not verifiable---at least not in any way that's meaningful.

    To be clear, I am not arguing with, critical of, or debating the veracity of Uptown Lady or FWY. My beef if with the structure of TIFs, their statutory reporting requirements (or lack thereof) and what can possibly happen in the absence of robust, transparent reporting standards.

    So what would change my mind? A fully itemized, forensic accounting and an audited report that includes full disclosure of lease and co-ownership arrangements, if any.

  32. "...this Council tosses off such large chunks of our tax dollars for private enterprise without so much a public hearing or explanation ..."

    or follow-up

  33. "What I'm suggesting is that it may not make sense to conclude anything about the project from those numbers because they are not verifiable ..."

    Your scepticism is well-founded. If we dig a little we can find documentation of the dollars broken out by sub-project (retail, senior housing, family housing) - but Holsten HAD to do that - his funders demand separate accounting, because, for example, LIHTC can only be used for the housing, TIF can only be used for certain aspects, the subsidy from the federal Treasury can only be used for retail, etc. And you can even find separate LLCs on paper for each subproject. But let's not kid ourselves, all the dough goes in one big pot, and no one is monitoring WY.

  34. I believe given these economic times, the blatant corruption, and the misuse of public dollars on all levels of government in this state have residents concerned about the costs of subsidized housing at WY, especially when its costs go well beyond the vast majority of market rate housing.

    I agree we may never know the true costs, but I also think most voters will go with what FWY projects to be true given their limited sources to know the real truth and given Helen's silence. We have been given nothing else. When. Helen later whines about FWY's estimate, I hope she's also reminded about her silence.

  35. Holy Moly, I am not as concerned about subsidizing housing---in any form---as I am about subsidizing large corporations. Corporate avarice followed by corporate welfare is what threw us into the most significant tailspin since the Depression but this doesn't seem to factor into anyone's analysis of this or any TIF. By keeping a near fanatical focus on the housing piece of WY, we are sure to miss the bigger and far more expensive picture.

  36. Thanks, Suzanne. I fully agree. City Council just voted to toss in $25 million in TIF dollars to United Airlines if it moved to Willis Tower. There was very little public uproar.