NORTH MAYFAIR — Chicago's Loop is "blighted." So is Old Town. And Lincoln Square.
At least they are according to the definition of "blighted" used when determining whether an area is eligible for the creation of a Tax Increment Financing district, a funding tool that uses tax dollars to support public and private development.
Whenever a new TIF district is proposed — there's one on the table now, in the North Mayfair neighborhood — "Show us the blight!" is often the first objection raised.
To many, the word conjures up images of gutted, near post-apocalyptic urban landscapes. Like this:
But under Illinois' Tax Increment Allocation Redevelopment Act, the definition of "blight" is far broader. The act established 13 factors for determining blight, of which a proposed TIF district must meet five. A separate set of factors is used if the land is vacant.
Blighting factors (for occupied areas):
• Dilapidation: Buildings within the area are in an advanced state of disrepair.
• Obsolescence: Buildings within the area are not adaptable for modern uses — either built to a previous era's standards or no longer able to perform their intended function efficiently.
• Deterioration: Buildings or infrastructure in need of repair — broken windows, cracked foundations, crumbling pavement, etc.
• Presence of structures below minimum code standards: This can refer to zoning, building, fire codes, etc.
• Illegal use: This can range from the presence of buildings being used to manufacture illegal drugs to uses that violate occupational safety regulations.
• Excessive vacancies: Properties are unoccupied or under-occupied, creating an adverse affect on the area because of the frequency, extent or duration of such vacancies. Includes properties where no apparent effort is being made toward their occupancy or use.
• Lack of ventilation, light or sanitary facilities: Substandard conditions within buildings that would adversely affect the health and welfare of occupants.
• Inadequate utilities: Includes but isn't limited to water supply, electricity, sewers, telephone, gas, storm drainage, etc. These services are either lacking; deteriorated, antiquated, obsolete or in disrepair; or are insufficient to serve the area.
• Excessive land coverage: over-intensive use of property or the over-crowding of buildings.
• Deleterious land use or layout: Property parcels are of irregular size or shape; inadequate street system; incompatible building uses or types, such as houses placed next to industrial buildings.
• Environmental cleanup: Remediation costs will be incurred to clean up hazardous waste, underground storage tanks or other substances.
• Lack of community planning: The area originally was developed piecemeal, absent coordination and planning among buildings and uses.
• The total equalized assessed value of the area has declined three of the last five years.
Blighting factors for vacant areas are more complicated, but include issues such as chronic flooding; the presence of unused mines or quarries; the presence of defunct rail yards or tracks; obsolete platting; and tax payment delinquencies.