Bronzeville approves tax increase to fund mental health services

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There was celebration Bronzeville Wednesday after the community overwhelmingly approved a property tax increase.

The money will be used to create and fund a mental health services program in their area.

Once it's up and running, services will be available for free.

With an 88% approval, voters agreed to raise their own property taxes by .025%, an estimated $16-$24 per household each year, to create the mental health services in perpetuity.

"The process was fun, but it also feels good crossing that finish line, so we're out to the next step. Great feeling," said Arron Pighee, a Bronzeville resident.

Several residents, mental health experts and their supporters gathered at a Bronzeville street corner Wednesday to talk about the resounding victory, which they consider an absolute win for themselves, their neighbors and the entire community.

"The people are taking responsibility for their own health, in their own hands," said Dr. Brandi Jackson, a psychiatrist and Bronzeville resident. "This is unprecedented and so exciting, so exciting! It gives me a lot of hope as a psychiatrist."

Kimberly Griffin said she thought about the young people, especially during these turbulent times.

"It was passionate to me," said Griffin, a mental health professional and Bronzeville resident. "You know how you say, 'Walk the walk, talk the talk,' so it was my time to step forward and do something for the community."

The community has faced the COVID-19 pandemic, economic insecurity and violence. And for those reasons, residents said support is needed as soon as possible.

"I feel like this is the perfect time for something like this to come to our community, to help as many people as possible," said Sequena Luckett, a Bronzeville resident.

The organizers said the increase will amount to about $4 per $1,000 residents pay for property taxes each year.

Residents said it was like buying a few coffees, or perhaps lattes, every year.

"If we walk down the street and we can actually buy a cup of coffee, why can't I take that same dollar and turn into helping someone else?" Luckett asked, explaining her support.

The community support was strong, and those who talked to community members one-on-one said they were straightforward and honest about how the money would be used in Bronzeville.

They considered the honest approach a strong selling point as they went door-to-door and collected signatures as well.

"We explained, this is a property tax increase. People loved us being honest with them," said Rapheal Arteberry, an advocacy team leader for Bronzeville Expanded Mental Health Services program. "In regards to that, there is nothing that is hidden."

Eventually, services will be available to people who live on the Near South Side, Douglas, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, Fuller Park and Washington Park.

The next step is to form a commission by the end of February.

The commission "can understand and address the mental health needs of Bronzeville in a way that few other mental health centers can because it was approved, overseen and funded by the community itself," said Michael Snedeker, executive director of Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers.

Their community, their solution. As Dr. Jackson said, "The people have spoken."
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