UPDATE March 6, 2024 — On Wednesday, an Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the Bring Chicago Home ballot question is valid, reversing a ruling by Cook County Judge Kathleen Burke, who previously ruled that the question should not appear on the March 19 primary ballot. 

“This afternoon, the Illinois Appellate Court reinstated the citywide referendum question to the March 19th Primary ballot in Chicago. The initial judgment of the Circuit Court of Cook County is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction,” said Max Bever,  spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections, in a written statement. 

Today’s decision means that the Chicago Board of Elections will count and report votes for the question on Election Night, March 19. 

“Our longstanding coalition of policy advocates, service providers, labor unions, and homeless and formerly homeless people commend the judges of the First District Appellate Court for dismissing the real estate lobby’s effort to invalidate Ballot Question 1,” said Maxica Williams in a written statement.

She’s the chair of the End Homelessness Ballot Initiative Committee and board president of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. 

“We look forward to keeping up our efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of voters about their opportunity to vote yes for a fair and sustainable plan to fund housing, care for the homeless, and ask wealthy real estate corporations to pay their fair share,” Williams added.

UPDATE Feb. 27, 2024 — Today, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners filed an appeal to last week’s ruling by Cook County Judge Kathleen Burke concerning the Bring Chicago Home referendum a citywide ballot question. 

“The Board maintains that it is not a proper defendant in this case and that the City of Chicago is a necessary party. The Board will request an expedited review by the Illinois Appellate Court,” said Max Bever in a written statement. He’s the spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections. 

The original story continues below. 

Just before 5:00 p.m. last Friday, a Cook County judge sided with the real estate groups in a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, ruling that the Bring Chicago Home ballot referendum question shouldn’t appear on the March 19 primary ballot, and causing quite a bit of confusion. As of now, the question hasn’t been removed and Chicago voters will still see it on their ballots. 

Cook County Judge Kathleen Burke didn’t explain on what basis she sided with real estate groups. A transcript of the court hearing from her Feb. 23 ruling has not yet been made available, but today, the City of Chicago appealed her ruling to the First District Appellate Court.

“We need to win our appeal for the results of the referendum vote to be valid. Chicago voters need to know that it’s still on the ballot,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) told The TRiiBE. She’s the lead sponsor of the Bring Chicago Home resolution. 

“They should still be voting ‘yes,’ if they want a solution for people experiencing homelessness and better affordable housing solutions for Chicago. They should know that the people working to get this taken off the ballot are working to invalidate the voice of Chicagoans,” she continued.

In January, real estate groups, including the Building Owners, the Chicagoland Apartment Association, the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance and others, filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners to remove the Bring Chicago Home ballot question, alleging that the question in its current format is unconstitutional. 

Since Burke’s ruling, opponents to Bring Chicago Home (BCH), like Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) are saying that the question has been kicked off the ballot entirely, which is intentionally confusing voters, according to Asha Ransby-Sporn.

“Their whole goal is to make it confusing to make people think they can’t vote on it,” Ransby-Sporn told The TRiiBE. She is the deputy campaign director for Bring Chicago Home. 

“We have the ability, the responsibility to vote ‘yes,’ on this important question, and attempts to stop us from doing that are nothing short of voter suppression,” she said. “So it’s on the ballot; the legal battle is determining, essentially, whether the votes will be counted.”

The BCH referendum aims to create a dedicated revenue stream to address homelessness by changing the real estate transfer tax to a progressive structure that would lower the tax rate on properties sold under $1 million and increase the rate on properties above $1 million. 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 68,440 people are experiencing homelessness, according to its 2023 annual report. This figure includes accounts for people who are “doubling up,” meaning that they temporarily living with others because of economic or financial hardship. 

“It is angering and unsurprising that wealthy real-estate interests would rather spend money and make the city, the board of elections spend public resources on an extensive legal battle than pay their fair share in taxes to fund housing and address homelessness,”  Ransby-Sporn said. “They’re just showing what they care about in this lawsuit, which is not the real issues at stake like homelessness and housing, but their own profits and self-interest.” 

Though a decision hangs in the balance, the BCH coalition hasn’t weakened its resolve to educate voters on what Bring Chicago Home is and how it seeks to fund affordable housing and combat homelessness. They are still knocking on doors and hosting info sessions with Chicago voters. To date, the BCH coalition has knocked on nearly 200,000 doors, according to Ransby-Sporn.

The BCH coalition currently has the support of Mayor Brandon Johnson, and elected leaders, such as Alds. Hadden, Walter Burnett (27th Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) plus Illinois State Senators Lakesia Collins and Robert Peters, and dozens of community, labor and social service organizations.

“We firmly believe the referendum is legally sound and the final arbiter should be the voters of the City of Chicago,” said Johnson in a written statement on Feb. 23. 

Per Burke’s ruling, the votes for the Bring Chicago Home ballot question aren’t currently being counted. However, that is subject to change based on whether the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners decides to appeal Burke’s ruling to a higher court, according to Max Bever, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. 

Bever explained that the board will announce its next steps regarding the appeal on Tuesday. Ransby-Sporn and other BCH advocates believe that the board will appeal. 

Despite Burke’s ruling, early voting and vote by mail will continue, Bever said. Early voting for the March 19 primary kicked off at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners supersite in the Loop on Feb. 15. 

The final word on the decision could come from the Appellate Court or the Illinois Supreme Court, and could be decided quickly, according to Ed Mullen, an election lawyer. Mullen represents the End Homelessness, a ballot initiative committee supporting the campaign. 

“People need to keep voting because if the court decides after Election Day that the referendum was valid, the votes are all banked, and they can still count them,” he said. 

Chicago voters who want to learn more about BCH are invited to attend its next virtual teach-in on Tuesday, Feb. 27, from 6 pm to 8 pm. Early voting will begin in all 50 wards on March 4. 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.