Real estate groups ask the Illinois Supreme Court to block ‘Bring Chicago Home’ referendum


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With one week to go before Illinois’ primary election, real estate and business groups in Chicago are asking the state Supreme Court to block the so-called Bring Chicago Home referendum question.

The question — which asks voters whether to let the city increase a tax on the sale of high-end properties to fund homelessness prevention — was brought back to life last week by an appellate court, which reversed a lower court’s initial decision to invalidate the ballot measure. The appellate court, in part, ruled the legal challenge to the tax was “premature” and that courts cannot intervene in the legislative process before a policy is passed into law.

In their latest petition, the real estate groups argue the appellate court’s ruling “has dramatically weakened the voting protections provided by the Illinois Constitution.”

“The Appellate Court’s decision, if permitted to stand, eliminates any pre-election challenge to the constitutionality of a referendum question placed on the ballot by municipal alderpersons, regardless of how blatantly unconstitutional the question may be,” Monday’s filing read. “The possibilities for ballot abuse by municipal councils across the state are endless.”

The appeal comes a little over a week before election day, although early voting is underway and mail-in ballots are already being cast.

Farzin Parang, the executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, said the group believes “it is important to see this through.” The appellate court’s ruling “implies that an illegal referendum cannot be challenged until after an election—after voters have already been harmed,” Parang said in a statement.

The Chicago Board of Elections, the defendant in the initial complaint, declined to comment.

Under the proposal, portions of property valued above $1 million would be taxed at higher rates, while property valued under that amount would see a tax cut. At least $100 million annually is estimated to be generated from the tax, which the city says it would use to address homelessness. If voters authorize the tax change, the Chicago City Council would still have to pass the policy.

The plaintiffs in the original complaint — including the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago — argued that the referendum question violates the state constitution by combining multiple questions into one, sugarcoats a tax increase with a tax cut, and the ballot language is too vague.

Organizers behind Bring Chicago Home called the latest appeal a continued effort “to silence Chicago voters on a popular referendum.”

“Chicagoans know what’s right for their communities — not billion-dollar developers who hide behind PACs and throw roadblocks up in the democratic process,” said Maxica Williams, Chair of the End Homelessness Ballot Initiative Committee and Board President of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

As the legal process of the ballot question has played out, both sides have continued to campaign and urge voters to select their preference at the ballot box, particularly as differing court opinions may be causing confusion for Chicago voters.

Tessa Weinberg and Mariah Woelfel cover city government and politics for WBEZ.


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