CBA Record February-March 2019

YLS Special Issue– Diversity of Opportunity


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plaintiffs allege that the CCAO’s system for assessing residential property is not only highly regressive but also causes a wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes. Residential properties in majority-Hispanic and major- ity-African American census tracts are twice as likely as residential properties in majority- White census tracts to be over-assessed by 20% or more. As the percentage of White residents in a census tract increases, the ratio between CCAO’s assessed values and actual market values decreases. This systemic and longstanding practice of over-assessing lower-value residential properties in communities of color has been going on for over 40 years and has resisted reform despite community pres- sure and widespread media coverage. The effects of systems like this on low-income communities and communities of color are severe, causing housing unaffordability, displacement, and a significant loss of com- munity wealth. A University of Chicago report esti- mated that for just a single four-year period, more than $2 billion of the county tax burden was unjustly shifted from White, wealthier communities to low- income and communities of color. This means that $2 billion that otherwise could have gone to family savings, investment in homes, and investment in local business was stripped from these communities by

the operation of the CCAO’s residential property tax assessment system. In these situations, systemic reform often will only come through court-ordered injunctive relief, reporting requirements, and inde- pendent monitoring. Litigation can be a powerful tool for advancing fairness and equity in community development. Moving Forward The enormous and widening gaps in wealth, education, and health across Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods did not happen by accident. These continu- ing structural and institutional barriers to equal opportunity must be addressed intentionally, in part by building equity into our systems, policies, and planning processes. By applying an equitable frame- work and through the use of diverse tools– from litigation to transactional support for community organizations–we will be able to identify and reform the policies and practices that contribute to the “affordabil- ity gap” in housing and perpetuate racial and economic inequities in our city. Barbara R. Barreno-Paschall and Clifford Helm are attorneys at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Barreno-Paschall works with the Housing Opportunity Proj- ect. Helm works with the Community Law Project’s Equitable Development Initiative.

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