Bring Chicago Home Referendum Voted Down 

By A.D. Quig, Alice Yin, Jake Sheridan, Chicago Tribune | March 22, 2024

The Bring Chicago Home referendum backed by Mayor Brandon Johnson has been defeated, according to The Associated Press, which called the race after a fresh tally of mailed-in ballots left those in favor of the proposal roughly 21,000 votes short.

The measure, which sought to raise the city’s real estate transfer tax on property purchases above $1 million to generate up to $100 million annually for homeless services, had survived several setbacks since advocacy groups first coalesced behind the idea years ago. The latest challenge was a weekslong legal fight brought by real estate interests and others heading into Election Day that nearly sidelined the vote entirely.

Both Johnson and the Bring Chicago Home campaign had already acknowledged a possible loss the morning after Election Day, when the vote in favor of the referendum question was trailing 53.7% to 46.3%.

Johnson vowed to punch back, describing opponents as cowards and pledging to continue pursuing a progressive agenda, saying organizers “get stronger, and whatever we didn’t get the first time, we’ll get even more the next time.”

The real estate interests that brought that lawsuit took a victory lap while encouraging Johnson’s administration to work toward other solutions to address homelessness.

“Now that Mayor Johnson’s real estate tax increase has been rejected by voters, we reissue our repeated calls for the City to convene all stakeholders to develop solutions that move Chicago forward,” Farzin Parang, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said in a statement. “Not only do we need to address the critical challenge of homelessness, we also need to develop a plan to rebuild our downtown and bolster our neighborhoods.”

Jeff Baker, CEO of the Illinois Realtors, added in a statement that “it is not cowardly to demand the mayor provide details of his plans to raise real estate taxes.” Among the issues raised in the lawsuit from real estate interests was that details about how the $100 million would be allocated.

“Community organizing is about bringing people together, not finding ways to divide one another,” Baker said.

The results do not end the fight of the Bring Chicago Home coalition that formed to push for the policy in 2017, the group wrote in a statement.

“Instead, they amplify our commitment to finding solutions for housing insecurity and addressing homelessness,” the group’s statement said. “We continue to stay focused on what matters most: the building of a long-term movement for housing justice, with, for, and by the 68,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness in one of the richest cities in the world.”

As a mayoral candidate, Johnson had touted passing the Bring Chicago Home initiative as one of three campaign promises for his first 100 days in office. The measure was poised to become the first win from his bold economic agenda that he said would finally make wealthy residents and corporate interests pay their fair share.

Its defeat was a stinging loss for the mayor who tied the initiative closely with his platform and signals brewing discontent from voters over how his progressive coalition has governed the nation’s third-largest city.

Though Johnson and Bring Chicago Home supporters could try again via the state legislature or a similar effort on another ballot, the mayor did not show enthusiasm for either of those pathways when he spoke about it on Wednesday.

“Rather than the end of Bring Chicago Home, we hope this is the beginning of a fresh climate that stimulates investment in and reduces obstacles to the creation and maintenance of affordable housing,” said another chief opponent, Michael Glasser, president of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance. “There are vacant lots and empty buildings all across Chicago. We can transform them into homes for hardworking Chicago families, if the city works with us instead of against us.”