Chicago City Council OKs spending another $34.5 million on burgeoning migrant crisis

With no end in sight to Chicago’s migrant crisis, the City Council agreed Thursday to throw another $34.5 million into what is becoming a bottomless pit for Chicago taxpayers.

In companion votes that rubbed the same old wounds, alderpersons authorized a $33 million federal Homeland Security grant for the care and feeding of asylum-seekers and agreed to spend $1.5 million in tax increment financing funds to buy a 10.7-acre property at 3034 W. Foster Ave. formerly used by the U.S. Marine Corps and convert it into a shelter for up to 550 migrants.

The votes followed a debate that, once again, showcased mounting tensions between the immediate need to house, feed, clothe and care for asylum seekers and the equally pressing demand to tend to Chicago’s own regular social service needs.

That tension has been exacerbated by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to move more than 2,000 asylum-seekers from Chicago police stations and O’Hare and Midway airports into what the mayor calls "winterized base camps."

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) acknowledged Johnson "inherited a mess" and a "humanitarian crisis."

But Lopez said "charity starts at home," and West Side residents are still waiting for help after floods ravaged their homes in July.

"Homeowners are literally living in mold-filled houses with furnaces that don’t work, water tanks no longer usable. And it’s hard to look those folks in the eye and say, ‘we’re concerned about you, too’ when we are not proactively spending and rearranging the cosmos to help them in hopes of later FEMA dollars — but we’re willing to do that for the individuals who have been shipped here by the truckload every week," Lopez said.

The Council has "the fiduciary responsibility to safeguard taxpayer dollars," Lopez said, but noted that "none of us can say where" the $115.2 million spent between January and late July went or where the $123 million Johnson expects to spend through Dec. 31 will go.

"You can wrap it in bacon. But if it’s a turd, it’s still gonna taste like … " Lopez said without finishing the sentence.

"I can’t keep spending backwards without being told where we’re going forward."

West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she’s "not opposed to any group," but her overriding concern is helping her flood-ravaged community.

"It’s kind of hard for me to try to help to bring families back together again and try to get them some sense of relief [when] they’re constantly reminding me of all the dollars being spent out for the migrants," Mitts said.

"If we can walk and chew gum at the same time, doggone it, now is the time. … There has never been such a devastation as what we have experienced and still experience. … If this City Council wants my support on anything, you doggone it, better … help the 37th Ward out. I’ve got seniors … with mold in their house. … My people are suffering and they are here right now and have been here and we need to help them stay here."

The $33 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is what a number of Council members are calling a "drop in the bucket" for a migrant crisis projected to cost Chicago taxpayers $255.7 million by year’s end and well over $300 million after Johnson forges ahead with his tent plan.

But Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chair of the Budget Committee, said the Council has a "choice to accept or reject" the federal dollars.

"It would be wrong of us not to accept this money," he said.

Ervin shares Mitts’ concerns about West Side flood victims, but said: "We have to be able to figure out a way to solve all of these challenges. And by turning down this money, that doesn’t help us."

Acquiring the former Marine Corps site — and using $1.5 million generated by a local tax increment financing district to bankroll that purchase — was supported by local Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th).

"In the short-term, the building on the property can help address the humanitarian crisis the city is facing and get migrant families out of police station lobbies and into a more appropriate setting," Nugent said. In the long term, the property could be used by the Park District, or as an early childhood center, she said.

Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th) was reduced to tears while talking about Johnson’s struggle to "not only de-compress our police stations, but to make sure that people have dignified places to stay while we find permanent supportive housing."

"Although I am really grateful that we are doing this, it’s not the solution. This is a terrible way to expect people to live. So thank you so much for doing this work. It’s not enough. We have to do more," Manaa-Hoppenworth said, her voice breaking with emotion.

After Thursday’s meeting, Johnson said he "understands some of the anxiety that exists" across the city, as evidenced by the large crowd that turned out Wednesday night to oppose building a winterized base camp at 115th and Halsted.

"These are feelings and perspectives that are citywide. People are concerned. That’s why I’m acting," the mayor said. "Inaction will inevitably lead to an unmanaged dynamic that will cost us more."

Johnson said his administration is "in the neighborhoods looking for spaces to help deal with this humanitarian endeavor."

It was "good news" that Nugent stepped up to support using the Marine Corps site, he said.

"We did that together. Not because we flinch in this city. I don’t flinch," Johnson said. "In fact, I don’t duck. I swing."

Rev, Jackson honored on retirement from Rainbow PUSH

The Council also passed a resolution congratulating the Rev. Jesse Jackson on his recent retirement as head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Jackson has "shown us what it means to truly be a unifier," the mayor said, adding: "Black liberation is alive because of you."

Johnson also tied Jackson’s life to his agenda, which includes eliminating the sub-minimum wage, reducing homelessness and improving treatment for mental health.

"Guess what, Chicago? Our work gets to continue because of Rev. Jackson," Johnson said.

"That is the essence of Black liberation. We can do that and unite this entire city."

$25M settlement, Fulton Market high-rise approved

In other business at its first meeting since the August recess, the Council:

  • Signed off on a $25 million settlement to two men wrongfully convicted of the 1993 murder of Marshall Morgan Jr., a former basketball star at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Tyrone Hood will get $17.5 million after spending 22 years in prison. Wayne Washington, who spent 12 years behind bars, will get the remaining $7.5 million.

The city’s insurance carrier will cover $5 million of the settlement, with the rest borne by Chicago taxpayers. Both men, who have received certificates of innocence. have long accused now-retired Chicago Police Detective Kenneth Boudreau and his partner John Halloran of concocting evidence and pressuring witnesses to testify against them.

  • Gave final zoning approval to several projects, including an expanded Near West Side training center for the Chicago Blackhawks, new high-rise housing for Fulton Market and a mixed-income housing project on the former site of the Royal George Theater.
  • Confirmed Johnson’s appointments of Chaase Rehwinkel as comptroller and Angela Tovar as chief sustainability officer.
  • Required the Chicago Department of Transportation to produce monthly summaries of fatal motor vehicle crashes and a more comprehensive annual report on those serious accidents.

New proposals: abortion clinic ‘quiet zone,’ protection for city workers

  • Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) introduced an ordinance establishing fines up to $1,000, and jail terms of up to 180 days, for anyone convicted of assaulting city employees and other officials with enforcement authority.
  • Ald. Bill Conway (34th) proposed a "quiet zone" around an abortion clinic at 615 W. Washington that regularly attracts dozens of shouting protesters on Saturdays. Conway accused anti-abortion protesters of using aggressive, offensive and intimidating tactics. That includes "yelling, chanting, speaking through a bullhorn" and even rushing toward patients to try to hand them literature as they attempt to enter the clinic.
  • Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) introduced an ordinance requiring the Chicago Police Department and the director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to give the local alderperson advanced notice and an opportunity to object before special events, parades or athletic events are held in their wards.
  • Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) proposed requiring the Bureau of Forestry to remove or trim all damaged or dead trees on Chicago parkways.
  • Ald. Jesse Fuentes (26th) re-introduced the so-called "Peacebook" ordinance. It would divert 2% the $1.94 billion annual CPD budget — roughly $39 million — into programs led by young people in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.