Can You Still Afford to Live in Chicago?

Rahm Emanuel has discovered the perfect solution for ending poverty in Chicago: make Chicago too expensive for poor people.

Several years ago, Ald. Tom Tunney told me that the city was on its way to becoming “Manhattanized”: eventually, the wealthy people would live in the urban core, with the poor were relegated to inner-ring suburbs, such as Blue Island, Harvey and Chicago Heights. The process began in Tunney’s own 44th Ward, which was a pretty sketchy neighborhood in the 1980s, before it was gentrified by gays who were scared off from New York and San Francisco by the AIDS crisis. Now, Lake View and Lincoln Park are among the wealthiest urban neighborhoods in America.

The process continued in the 2000s, when the city tore down public housing projects. We were told projects were no longer necessary, because changing racial attitudes now allow blacks to live wherever they can afford, but the demolitions resulted in the disappearance of 200,000 poor African-Americans from Chicago.

Now, Mayor 1% has released a proposal to double fines to balance the city’s budget by doubling fines for almost every violation of every nuisance ordinance, from allowing weeds to grow over 10 inches tall, to failing to clear a vacant lot of debris. You can bet they’ll be enforced more vigorously, too. According to the Sun-Times:

The mayor’s budget also includes a plan to raise the city’s hotel tax, impose a $2-weekday congestion fee on downtown and River North parking; double water and sewer rates over the next four years and lock in annual cost-of-living increases after that.   

And thanks to a budget compromise aimed at appeasing Chicago aldermen, there will be an across-the-board increase in city sticker fees. The only exceptions will be senior citizens and motorcycle riders.

This morning, some Chicagoans have to be asking themselves, “Can I really afford to live here anymore?” And not just poor Chicagoans, middle-class Chicagoans.

It may be smart politics for Mayor 1%, though. During the election, his strongest support came from voters earning over $100,000 a year, who voted for him by a 3-1 margin. They can afford these new fees. Those who can’t weren’t the mayor’s kind of people in the first place.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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