CivicLab Launches First Crowdfunding Campaign To Produce Five TIF Training Videos

Let’s Illuminate Chicago’s TIFs!

The TIF Illumination Project launched a $15,000 crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo to produce five 20 minute TIF training videos.

The TIF Illumination Project is a work of the CivicLab, America’s only co-working space dedicated to collaboration, education and innovation for social justice and civic engagement. Watch this one minute video introducing us.

Tax Increment Financing districts (TIFs) are a BIG deal in Chicago and across the USA. They take YOUR property tax dollars FROM the units of local government that rely on property taxes for operation (public schools, public libraries, public park, basic municipal services) and deliver those dollars to private developers with virtually no public discussion or recourse.

We want to raise $15,000 in order to produce FIVE 20 minute videos that explain the TIF program in Chicago and what we’ve learned. We want to showcase the many community organizers we’ve met and what they are doing to improve their communities. And, most important, we want to show you real alternatives to the dysfunctional TIF program.

The TIF Illumination Project has been using data mining, investigatory journalism, map making, graphic design and community organizing to explore and explain the impacts of Chicago’s 151 Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. We do this on a ward-by-ward basis.

When we visit a ward – as we do in a public town forum we call an “Illumination” – we reveal:

  • an overview of TIFs in Chicago and Cook County
  • how many TIFs are in the ward
  • how much property taxes those TIFs took FROM that ward
  • how much money was left over in TIF accounts from the ward
  • what projects were funded by TIFs
  • if any money was transferred in or out of those TIFs
  • how much money the Chicago Department of Planning and Development skimmed to cover their own internal costs

We do a one hour presentation that explains all this and we pass out a map that summarizes this information. Here is one we did for the 21st ward:

No one else can tell this story in the level of detail and clarity that we provide.

Sine we launched this effort in February of 2013 we have been invited all over the city to make these presentations. As of October 25, 2014 we have done 24 public meetings that have Illuminated 134 TIF districts across 30 wards in front of over 3,600 people! You can see the full record of these presentations here.

Public education is critical to exposing and opposing the massive abuses we’ve seen in the TIF program. We want to produce five short videos and post them online so anyone can watch and learn.

Here are the five videos we wish to produce:

(1) TIF 101 – What are TIFs, how do they work and what is their history in Illinois, Cook County and Chicago.

(2) The TIF Hall of Shame – You won’t believe who we’ve showered hundreds of millions of property tax dollars in Chicago. Mega corporations, billionaire developers, corrupt operators, companies that have fled the city, and much more.

(3) TIFs and Public Schools – Every dollar of property taxes that goes missing from the treasury is one less dollar to fund local government. In Illinois we rely heavily on property taxes to fund public education. In Chicago we are supposed to direct about 56 cents of every dollar in property taxes collected to fund the Board of Education. That is not happened because of TIFs. We’ll break it down in detail in this video.

(4) TIF Organizing – As of the launch of this campaign we’ve been in 16 wards for TIF Illuminations and so we’ve met dozens of neighbors who are organizing around TIFs. Who are they and what did they learn from the TIF Illumination Process and what are doing now?

(5) Alternatives To TIFS: Grassroots Community Development Innovation – Chicago is a hotbed of innovation in hyper local community development efforts. The problem is most of this work is not recognized or seriously funded. We’ll meet some key local organizers who are really making a difference in their communities. Their work shows us clear and compelling alternatives to the TIF Program.

What We Need & What You Get

We need to raise $15,000 to produce five twenty minute videos. The videos will be free to watch online and we will sell DVDs of them that will contain spreadsheets and other material we use in our work, including a PDF of a “TIF Primer.”

The production team is led by Tom Tresser, the co-founder of the CivicLab and the Lead Organizer of the TIF Illumination Project. Tom was the co-organizer of the No Games Chicago campaign which worked to defeat Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. He was the Green Party candidate for Cook County Board President in 2010. He teaches classes on civics, leadership and public policy at four local universities. He was recently named a Purpose Prize Fellow by the Encore Foundation.

The video team is Ed Pitts and John Sheehan of The TIF Illumination Project ( is seeking to raise $15,000 to produce five 20 minute videos to cover the subject of Tax Increment Financing in Chicago. This video was produced by Ed Pitts and John Sheehan of Absolute Video Services. John is a grassroots videographer who documents protest and social change organizing all over the city his Video Catalyst Project at YouTube has racked up over 6 million views!

Part of the money we raise will go to the videographers and part will go to the CivicLab to pay our operating bills and provide technical support for the TIF Illumination Project and it’s web sites.The Impact

TIFs are a BIG deal in Chicago. We have 151 TIF districts and in 2013 they extracted $422 million in property taxes from Chicago property owners. Since TIFs were first started here in 1986 they have made off with over $6 BILLION. What happened to all that money? The TIF Illumination Project is answering that question.

Our work has Illuminated hitherto-fore unknown details of city financing and insider deals and has done so in way that educates and activates people all over the city!

We’ve been to 24 public meetings, many of them focusing on one particular ward. Each meeting has been organized by a different team of community members. Over 3,600 people have attended these meetings. Here a few images from these Illuminations. The full record of all these meetings is here.

Not to brag, but over 50 stories have been written about this work over the past 15 months, including being featured in a cover story article for The Nation, “Chicago Rising!

We demanded that TIF impacts be placed on our property tax bills – along with the other units of government that take our property taxes. Believe it or not, up to this July – if you lived in a TIF district your property tax bill was LYING to you by putting a ZERO ext to the TIF district – meaning that it took none of your property tax dollars. In July of 2014, for the first time, Cook County Clerk David Orr added this information to over 220,000 property tax bills in Cook County! We can take some credit for this long overdue reform.

Now, due to the work of the TIF Illumination Project, TIFs are popping up in local races for City Council here. This is a huge issue for Chicago and we’re keeping it in the spotlight!

TIFs are a BIG deal throughout Illinois and the USA. In Illinois some 1,200 TIF districts strip about $1.1 BILLION in property taxes from 550 municipalities every year. Since TIFs came to Illinois they have made off with $14 BILLION. What happened to all that money. All that public money. Every single dollar was a dollar of property tax that SHOULD’VE gone to fund local government.

We have no idea how many TIF districts there across the entire USA. We estimate that they collect on the order of $20 BILLION every year. That’s a pretty big slush fund that is mostly off the books, opaque and unaccountable to local tax payers.

Eventually we want to expand this project to communities across the country where they are burdened with TIF districts. We are working with civic coders to build a web tool that will allow organizations to create their local versions of the TIF Illumination Project. You can see the alpha version of it here.

Ways You Can Help

Please consider making an investment in the TIF Illumination Project. Everything we’ve done so far has been volunteer powered. We now need to ramp up this work and hire some folks to make this work scalable, accessible and easy to use. This series of videos will help us start the next level of this work.

You can get further details about the project and the five videos we are seeking to make at our home site at

People can help spread the word by using their own social media networks and telling your friends and colleagues about what we are trying to do. The short URL for the campaign is

Let’s get Illuminated!


CivicLab and TIF Illumination Project Logos: Designed by Virginia Duran and Benj. N. Sugar
Announcements: Antenna by Alex Auda Samora from The Noun Project

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