Ups and Downs - Summer 2019

Steve Cain
Summer 2019


Mike Glasser has been a real Debbie-downer lately. Our illustrious President has been sending out email after gloomy email, mostly having to do with the increasingly hostile political and regulatory environment in which developers and property owners must operate.

Sadly, these emails keep coming because things really do seem to be getting demonstrably worse. One email in particular really got my attention. This was an email with a link to an article that appeared recently in Jacobin magazine which describes itself as a “leading voice of the American left.” The article is entitled, “Developers Want to Destroy Chicago. We Won’t Let Them.” The author is Cristina Groeger.

A rally for rent control in Chicago, IL in May 2019.

Chicago Democratic Socialists of America / Twitter

I read the article with a sense of both horror and alarm. As expected, it paints a dystopian picture of rapacious developers destroying the lives of hapless Chicagoans who have been victimized by out-of-control capitalism. Upon finishing the article, I automatically assumed that the author was yet another idealistic, but ill-informed “progressive” spouting off the party line arguments that reverberate inside the echo-chamber of her like-minded peers. So I Googled Cristina Groeger to see what I could find out about her.

It turns out, Ms. Groeger is Harvard-educated with a Ph.D. in History and is currently a Professor at Lake Forest College. How, I wondered, could someone who is clearly highly intelligent and well-educated be, at the same time, so misinformed and angry?

I do not know Professor Groeger, and I can only speculate about her background. But I know this. The fact that a Harvard educated Professor of History at a highly-regarded private college could also be the author of this hyperbolic and largely ill-informed article is further proof (as if we needed it) of the extreme, and growing, polarization of the country.

Here are a few of the statements Professor Groeger makes in her article, in additional to the title which begins with the not exactly subtle statement that “Developers Want to Destroy Chicago:”

Referring to The 78 and Lincoln Yards proposed developments, Professor Groeger states that “merely 20 percent” of the proposed 10,000 new residential units would be affordable “just meeting the city’s minimum affordability requirements.” She states that “these developments would perpetuate the massive displacement of Latino and black families from their neighborhoods, many through forced evictions.” She concludes, “In Chicago, as in cities across the country, private developers are at the helm.” And she specifically calls out RPBG, stating that we “launched an aggressive anti-rent control campaign in the weeks leading up to the November 2018 referendum” accusing us of “refer[ing] to economic studies to suggest that [economic principals] are not matters up for debate – they reflect immutable laws of nature.”

Wow!! Really?

My first reaction to all of this is that Professor Groeger doubtlessly knows a lot about history, but appears to be somewhat less informed about economics. Maybe she should brush up on a little basic economic theory before she makes such sweeping and incendiary statements. More importantly, how is it that she (and too many others like her) see the world in such stark, us-versus-them terms? Her article reads like it was generated by a Russian “bot” – long on lies and invective, great at whipping up anger and resentment, but short on anything that even slightly resembles the truth.

It is probably an exercise in futility to respond to her many conclusions, but what the heck, let’s do it anyway.

“Merely” 20%? How can the creation of 2,000 new units of affordable housing at Lincoln Yards and The 78 be seen as defeat? And what economic model provides more affordable housing at these sites that still makes economic sense and can actually get built? If the city truly wants more affordable housing at these sites, they should buy them from the developers at a market price and build their own housing developments.

“Massive displacement?” Both sites are currently vacant and environmentally compromised. The only thing that will be displaced are the weeds that grow there. The city is not unreasonably proposing to help jump-start development by providing assistance with infrastructure. In return, fallow land will become productive. The only “massive” change will be the increase in jobs and the city’s tax base. This will help, not hurt, the workers of Chicago who will benefit from a larger economy and new sources of tax revenues for basic city services.

“Private developers are at the helm?” Tell that to our recently elected Cook County Assessor, Fritz Kaegi, who was elected on a mandate to shift the tax burden from over-assessed South and West Side residential properties, to under-assessed Loop and North Side commercial properties. As property owners in Rogers Park and other Lakefront and near-downtown neighborhoods are painfully aware, our real estate tax obligations are soaring and will likely continue to increase at well above inflation for the foreseeable future. If private developers are at the helm, it hasn’t been very apparent lately.

“Anti-Rent Control Campaign?” You better believe it! Who else is going to counter the false narrative and Trumpian divide-and-conquer tactics that you and your fellow Socialists have learned only too well. If you are determined to sow misinformation and stir up massive resentment and anger, then we have an obligation to set the record straight and provide some actual data as a counterpoint to your lies.

“Immutable laws of nature?” I’m sorry, Professor Groeger. I know you have a Ph.D., and I’m just a guy writing articles for the Rogers Park Builders Group Newsletter. But, yes, economic laws, like any other laws of science, are pretty immutable. You might believe you can fly, that that doesn’t mean you should jump off a building to prove it. It is the same with economics. As costs increase, demand falls and so does supply. Make development more expensive and you will see less of it. Your Socialist dogma will crumble if it is ever actually put to the test. We will work hard to insure that day never comes.

One final thought. I noticed you were quick to speak for the low and moderate-income people on the South and West Sides. Do you really believe you are the best person to do that? Are you certain they agree with your radical proposals? Is it possible those folks might actually like to see new jobs and revenues come to Chicago? Is it possible they might even like to speak for themselves and not outsource that responsibility to some Harvard-educated professor in Lake Forest?

Personally, I would choose the “rising tide lifts all boats” argument over your “take no prisoners” approach. And, with all due respect to your impressive educational background, might I suggest you sit in on a few economics courses at Lake Forest College (Socialist paradise that it is) – you might learn something.