Why are Property Taxes in Chicago So High? An In-Depth Analysis

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Property taxes in Chicago have long been a topic of concern for homeowners and potential buyers. Many people wonder why property taxes in the city are so high and what can be done to lower them. In this article, we will dive deep into the intricacies of Chicago property taxes, explaining how they work, why they are high, and what can be done to make them more affordable. This analysis is based on a recent presentation by Dan Snow at Chi Hack Night, where he demystified the complexities of property taxes in Chicago.

How Do Chicago Property Taxes Work?

To understand why property taxes in Chicago are high, it is important to first understand how they are calculated. Chicago property taxes are determined by multiplying the tax rate set by each unit of local government by the equalized assessed value of the property. The tax rate is multiplied by the taxable value of the property to determine the amount owed to each tax district.

The Role of Assessments in Property Tax Calculation

Assessments play a crucial role in determining property taxes. The assessor’s office is responsible for determining the taxable value of properties. This value is based on factors such as market value and property type. Assessments are a zero-sum game, meaning that if one property’s assessment goes up, others’ assessments may go down to balance the overall burden.

Exploring Chicago Property Taxes

  1. Rising Levies: One reason why property taxes in Chicago are high is the increasing levies set by local governments. Since 2008, the city’s levy has nearly doubled, putting a higher burden on homeowners.
  2. The rate at which levies increase directly impacts property tax rates.

  3. Declining Tax Base: Another factor contributing to high property taxes is the decline in the tax base. When the tax base shrinks, the tax rate increases to compensate for the revenue shortfall.

  4. A shrinking tax base can be caused by factors such as property devaluation or economic downturns.

  5. School Districts and Education: A significant portion of property tax bills in Chicago goes towards funding school districts. In Riverside, for example, residents end up paying a substantial amount of their property taxes to school districts.

  6. High property taxes for education can be attributed to the need for funding quality education in the city.

  7. Impact of Assessments: Assessments play a role in determining the share of the burden that each property owner carries. If assessments increase, it can result in higher property taxes for some homeowners.

  8. However, assessments are not the sole factor contributing to high property taxes; levies and tax base also play a significant role.

Lowering Property Taxes in Chicago: What Can Be Done?

While property taxes in Chicago may seem overwhelming, there are steps that can be taken to lower them and make them more equitable. Here are a few potential solutions:

  1. Transparent and Equitable Assessment Process: Strengthening the assessment process to ensure transparency and fairness can help alleviate concerns about property taxes. Implementing standardized assessment methods and regular assessments can ensure that property values are accurately determined.

  2. Controlling and Reviewing Levies: Regularly reviewing and controlling the levies set by local governments can help prevent excessive increases and reduce the overall burden on homeowners. Collaborative efforts between residents, government officials, and community organizations can lead to more reasonable levy decisions.

  3. Education Funding Reforms: Finding alternative means of funding education can alleviate the burden on property owners. Exploring options such as state funding or adjusting the allocation of education funds can help reduce the reliance on property taxes for school funding.

  4. Government Efficiency Measures: Identifying areas for government efficiency can lead to overall cost savings, which can then be reflected in lower property taxes. Streamlining processes, reducing redundancies, and maximizing resources can contribute to more cost-effective governance.

  5. Tax Relief Programs: Implementing tax relief programs for low-income homeowners or seniors on fixed incomes can provide much-needed assistance. These programs can help mitigate the impact of property taxes on vulnerable populations.


Property taxes in Chicago are influenced by several factors, including levies, assessments, and the tax base. Understanding the intricacies of property tax calculation and the reasons behind high property taxes is essential for homeowners and policymakers alike. By addressing these factors and implementing targeted reforms, it is possible to lower property taxes in Chicago and create a more equitable and affordable system for all. With a collective effort from residents, government officials, and community organizations, Chicago can move towards a fairer property tax system that benefits its residents.

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