Mayor Brandon Johnson and the Office of Budget and Management held two virtual budget briefings for reporters and editorial board members to discuss his administration’s $16.6 billion budget pitch for the forthcoming year. His budget is set to go before the City Council on Wednesday (Nov. 15).
As a contributor to this publication, I had the honor of attending a session. I had the opportunity to ask the Mayor what this budget will do for the Black community here in Chicago — and how.
Keeping Black Chicagoans Home
The Mayor started by acknowledging the fact that Black flight and fin taxes — and societal divestment in the Black community — have resulted in too many Black Chicagoans not being able to afford the homes they have bought, even individuals who purchased those homes while working in lucrative professions such as engineering.
He said that holding the line on property taxes in this new budget was one solution to ensure that Chicagoans — and Black Chicagoans in particular — are not priced out of their homes over time from factors like rising costs, job loss or student loan debt.
The Mayor pivoted to note that 64% of the Chicagoans who got jobs this summer were Black people. He then pledged to increase that number by 4,000 by working with businesses around the city and general area. He then raised the point that 74% of unhoused Chicagoans are Black. The Mayor also vowed to increase our city’s investment into remedying homelessness in the new budget.
The Mayor’s “Bring Chicago Home” proposal to address homelessness crossed a significant hurdle at City Hall this week and will be headed to voters as a ballot measure during the March 19, 2024, primary election.
Prioritizing the Climate Crisis and Mental Health
He also mentioned that the recent storms and resulting flooding have impacted Chicagoans and Black Chicagoans disproportionately. He connected this event to the effects of climate change and how, due to factors like income inequality and disparity of generational wealth in the Black community, this phenomenon has had a significantly adverse effect on Black Chicagoans. He also pledged funding to help improve the city’s response to such disasters and to help bolster preventative measures in the new budget.
The conversation then turned to the mental health crisis in America and here in Chicago. Mayor Johnson is committed to the philosophy of “treatment, not trauma.” He highlighted the need for more mental health care centers and alternatives to simply calling the police or dialing 9-1-1. These points are also priorities in the new budget.
Amplifying Diversity, Representation and Access
Mayor Johnson is only the third elected Black Mayor in our city’s history. So diversity — and representation for Black Chicagoans, who have not always seen themselves in positions of power — was a natural turn for the conversation to take.
The Mayor mentioned the various current vacancies in our city’s government.
“I want Black people to apply to these jobs,” he said.
Mayor Johnson then highlighted the number of manufacturing jobs currently available in Chicago and the local area corporations who have stated that they are prepared to invest in Black Chicagoans and our interests.
In my view, he further underscored that resolve when he then pivoted to the subject of our neighborhoods and making them better and more livable for all.
He pledged that this new budget will include investments in home repair, particularly for low-income Chicagoans. It also provides for the replacement of 409,000 lead pipes around the city.
Our Mayor then highlighted the engagement in the Black community that he and his administration plan to do after the passage of this new budget.
“Black people have access to this mayor,” he proclaimed.
“This budget is centered around people — people who have been ignored for too long.”
The ‘People’s Budget’
Here are a few additional ways that this budget will impact the Black community:
- The budget lays aside $4.7 million to help establish the Office of Re-entry to help meet the needs of formerly incarcerated residents.
- Establishes a Commission on Restoration & Reparations by carving out $500,000 to support this commission’s work.
It seems clear that the Mayor wants this new budget to reflect the sentiment that this is the “people’s budget.”
As a Chicagoan — and a Black Chicagoan in particular — I am thankful and impressed that we have a mayor who is clearly and unapologetically committed to making our great city a more equitable place to live — and ensuring that Black Chicagoans have equal access to the American Dream.