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City of Chicago Pensions Need More Reforms

Adam Schuster

Senior Director of Budget and Tax Research

FEBRUARY 28, 2022

Chicago pension debt drove city property taxes up 164% before COVID-19

City property taxes rose 30% faster than in suburban Cook County from 2000 to 2019. Record inflation in 2022 will bring increases statewide in 2023.

Chicago property taxpayers were asked for 164% more in the 20 years before COVID-19 hit, but the hikes really escalated in 2015 and more pain is expected as inflation drives up local governments’ abilities to ask for more.

And they will ask for more, because massive pension debts are forcing them to.

As homeowners pay their first Cook County property tax installment on March 1, 2022, a look back at how Chicago got to this point should start in 2015. That’s when former Mayor Rahm Emanuel set off a $543 million property tax hike, with all that new money going toward pensions. It’s also when city residents started seeing taxes grow nearly 30% faster than suburban Cook County residents.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has continued Emanuel’s tax-hike legacy. The average Chicago property taxpayer paid $255 extra in 2021, when city residents were collectively asked for $94 million more. Then in 2022 the average was hiked another $180 for a grand total of $76.5 million in new money.

But the pensions keep consuming: $2.3 billion of the $16.7 billion city budget in 2022. That is every dollar from Chicago’s $1.7 billion property tax levy, and then some. Total pension costs equal 21.4% of the city’s own-source revenue.

Despite eating more, the pensions are in desperate shape and perhaps the worst of any in Illinois. The eight funds Chicago taxpayers are responsible for hold $46.9 billion in unfunded liabilities, more pension debt than 45 U.S. states.

Broken down, that is $43,995 per household. Add in the pension debt for the five statewide systems, and each Chicago household is responsible for eventually paying $81,679 per household beyond current tax collections.

Those outside Chicago also carry a heavy property tax load, and more is coming. Because of runaway inflation, 2022 will be the first year local governments subject to tax caps will be able to raise property taxes up to the maximum 5% allowed by law.

Still, more property taxes going to pensions has not prevented local governments from owing $75 billion in pension debt. The statewide average state and local pension debt per household is $45,151.

Combined with the more than $144 billion in debt officially reported by the five statewide pension systems

While the state reports an improvement to $139.9 billion in fiscal year 2021 after strong market returnsexperienced by nearly all large pension funds, Moody’s Investors Service in late September 2021 reported debt in the five state systems at $312.6 billion. Moody’s uses more accurate accounting methods similar to those required in the private sector.

Chicago residential property tax collections across all units of government in the city were up 164% from 2000 to 2019.

Property taxes paid by homeowners within the city grew nearly 30% faster than property taxes in suburban Cook County during those 20 years. Suburban residential property taxes grew 116% while total residential property tax collections county-wide grew 133%.

While some of Chicago’s increase was driven by new property or growth in existing property tax values, the average homeowner still saw an 85% increase in their bill from 2000 to 2019. Since the record-setting 2015 property tax hike to pay for pension debt, the average Chicago bill has risen 27%. Prior to that hike, property taxes were on a lower trend from 2011 to 2014.

In 2019, the average Chicago homeowner paid $3,342 in property taxes on an average home value of $258,000 for an effective rate of 1.3%.

Even though total tax extensions – the amount of taxes requested by government units in a taxing area – grew slower in the suburbs, the bill paid by the average residential homeowner grew faster than in Chicago during the 20 years at 95.6%. This indicates the suburbs saw slower growth in taxable property value.

Pension debt is also a leading cause of municipal property tax increases outside Chicago, where many medium- and large-size cities face similar challenges keeping up with unaffordable retirement benefit structures.

However, Chicago median residential property tax bills have grown faster than the suburbs since 2015. The average suburban bill has grown roughly a third as fast as in Chicago since the 2015 pension property tax hike, at just 9.6% compared to Chicago’s 27%.

In 2019, the average Cook County suburban homeowner paid $5,971 in property taxes on a home valued at $246,600 for an effective rate of 2.4%.

Commercial property taxes grew slower across the board from 2000 to 2019, at 81% within Chicago and 54% in the suburbs. That could change soon with new assessment procedures put in place by Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, which will cause business property taxes to rise faster.

Chicago’s pension spending is up nearly $1 billion just during the three years Lightfoot has been in office and nearly 500% since 2004 in nominal terms. Without significant reforms, it will continue to grow.

Because of restrictive legal interpretations of the Illinois pension clause, only a constitutional amendment can unlock meaningful reforms.

The Illinois Policy Institute has proposed a “hold harmless” constitutional amendment to allow for reductions in future benefit growth for current workers and retirees. It would still treat benefits earned for work already performed as an inviolable contract, but would clarify that adjustments can be made going forward to ensure pensions are sustainable and affordable.

Recent polling by the institute showed 61% of voters supported such an amendment, with broad bipartisan agreement. That represents enough support to pass at the ballot box, but first Springfield lawmakers must pass the amendment to give voters that chance.

Property taxpayers throughout Chicago and Cook County deserve the opportunity to vote on their best option for lasting relief.

WPTA Webinar on Real Estate Valuation

METHODS AND MYTHS OF REAL PROPERTY VALUATION FOR AD VALOREM TAXATION

A Three Part Series
Part 1: Appraisal Concepts: the Foundation of Methodology
Please mark your calendar for an informative webinar hosted by the WPTA:
February 22, 2022
Noon
Register for GoToWebinar HERE
The Women’s Property Tax Association is pleased to present the first part of our Methods and Myths of Real Property Valuation for Ad Valorem Taxation Series.
On February 22, 2022, Bruce Darata, MAI and Peter Helland, MAI, AI-GRS will be presenting an abbreviated version of the course they developed and taught at the Appraisal Institute: Assessment Appeal Report Writing. This webinar will examine key appraisal concepts for developing an opinion of value for ad valorem tax purposes.
This meeting is expected to run for approximately 2 hours, and the WPTA will be seeking approval to issue CLE credit for any Illinois attorney that watches a live-stream of the program and completes the survey immediately following. Attorneys seeking CLE credit must register individually, as well as watch the live broadcast and complete the survey under their own registration.
All are welcome to view!

Cook County Assessor’s Office Announces Launch of New Affordable Housing Property Tax Relief Program

https://chicago.poah.org/sites/default/files/styles/flexslider_full/public/property-photos/19e11thPlace1.jpg?itok=0CtNRq7n

Cook County– Assessor Fritz Kaegi was joined by state legislators and affordable housing advocates today to launch the Affordable Housing Special Assessment Program, a new form of property tax relief that was recently signed into law.

Assessor Kaegi worked with legislative partners who passed the law in the spring of 2021, including State Sens. Sara Feigenholtz, Ann Gillespie, and Mattie Hunter and State Reps. Will Guzzardi and Delia Ramirez. Community housing advocates Allison Clements, executive director of the Illinois Housing Council, and Stacie Young, President and CEO of Community Investment Corporation, along with other affordable housing supporters, advocated for the change to the law and worked to craft the language for it.

In a press conference, Assessor Kaegi, legislators, and advocates discussed how affordable housing property owners could apply for this new type of property tax relief and how they, as well as tenants, will benefit from it.

“Without this coalition of leaders and organizers, we would not have been able to take this important step toward encouraging more affordable housing in Cook County,” said Assessor Kaegi. “The implementation of this law by my office will clear the way for property tax relief for developers who create and maintain this valuable housing category, and will expand the availability of rental units for low-income households.”

WATCH THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The Assessor’s Office is asking potential applicants to apply by March 31, 2022. Interested parties can visit cookcountyassessor.com/affordable-housing to access the application and read more information.

A series of webinars about the Affordable Housing Special Assessment Program will take place in February and March for those who provide and utilize affordable housing. The first webinar will focus on properties that have previously taken advantage of Cook County’s Class 9 incentive program. The date for this first webinar will be Tuesday, February 15, 2022. Attendees can sign up by emailing assessor.affordablehousing@cookcountyil.gov. Future webinars will focus on institutional-grade properties, naturally occurring affordable housing, and low-affordability communities.

“One of Illinois’ biggest challenges has always been affordable housing, which was amplified during the pandemic,” said Sen. Feigenholtz. “Providing incentives to local mom-and-pop landlords and new developments to keep rent affordable for future and existing tenants was the goal of this legislation.”

“Creating options for working families in every neighborhood will diversify and grow our communities in a way that works for everyone, not just those with wealth,” Sen. Gillespie said. “I encourage local developers to apply for this program so we can build an equitable future of housing for all Illinoisans in every corner of the state.”

“Affordable housing is an essential right that needed to be addressed long before the pandemic, and I am glad that much-needed change is coming to fruition,” said Sen. Hunter, Majority Caucus Chair. “This measure will help families stay in their homes. I am proud of the work we’ve done and I hope that affordable and equitable options prevail long after the COVID-19 pandemic is gone.”

“This new program is a critical policy tool that will incentivize investment in affordable rental housing across all types of communities,” said Allison Clements, executive director of the Illinois Housing Council. We appreciate the collaboration of the Cook County Assessor’s Office to ensure a successful implementation of the program.”

Created by state statute, this exciting new program provides property tax relief to incentivize the creation, rehabilitation, and maintenance of affordable housing units in Cook County for eligible applicants, beginning with the 2022 assessment year.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to encourage the creation and preservation of affordable housing in our communities,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi. “Assessor Kaegi’s implementation of our legislation in Springfield will incentivize developers and housing providers to keep units affordable at a time when renters desperately need it. I’m grateful to Fritz and his team for their leadership on equity and affordability.”

“We had a historic session last year advancing housing issues in the General Assembly,” said Rep. Ramirez, House Assistant Majority Leader. “This new property tax relief program for those who develop and maintain affordable housing was a key component of our comprehensive affordable housing legislation. This program will help Illinois continue to lead on making housing accessible and affordable for all.

While similar to existing housing incentives, this new program provides improved benefits for housing providers as well as low-income households by providing more expansive property tax benefits, more ways to qualify, and by encouraging the development of affordable housing in low affordability communities.

“Thanks to many partners working together, this is one of the rare housing policies that works across different markets and building types – including the unsubsidized, naturally occurring affordable housing which comprises the vast majority of the affordable rental stock here and across the country,” said Stacie Young, President, and CEO of Community Investment Corporation.

The applications for the program are available now. To apply, and for more information on the Affordable Housing Special Assessment Program, visit cookcountyassessor.com/affordable-housing.

BACKGROUND

The lack of affordable housing remains a crisis nationwide. According to a Pew Research Center 2021 survey “about half of Americans (49%) say the availability of affordable housing in their local community is a major problem, up 10 percentage points from early 2018.” For decades, Cook County administered an affordable housing incentive known as the Class 9 program, which encourages new construction and/or rehabilitation of affordable housing. However, participation in the program has not seen consistent growth over recent years, and the supply of affordable units continues to be outpaced by demand.

With the policy revisions within the Affordable Housing Special Assessment Program, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, state legislators, and affordable housing advocates have taken proactive steps to lobby for and aggressively implement new legislation that provides greater incentives to encourage a greater supply of affordable housing units.

Q: How do properties prove eligibility for the new program?
A: Owners must show that they have made substantial improvements to the rental units, that they are maintaining the property, and that affordable units are rented to households with qualifying household income paying no more than 30% of their income for housing, among other criteria.

Q: What are the dates/deadlines?
A: To be assured of receiving the special assessment on the 2023 tax bill for the 2022 assessment year, eligible applicants must submit parts 1 and 2 of the application no later than March 31, 2022, so that we can apply the reduction on eligible properties during our regular township calendar. Applications received after March 31 will be processed as speedily as possible. Thereafter, applications must be received January 31st to ensure that the property will receive the benefit.

Q. What are the tiers of affordability and how does that affect the reduction of assessed value that can result in reduced property taxes?
A. There are three tiers of affordability: 15, 20, and 35 percent. For properties offering 15% affordable units, the assessed value reduction is 25%. For 35%, it’s 35% of assessed value. For the 20% tier, the reduction is 100% of the difference between the value of the property one year before the affordable units are occupied and post-construction assessed value (the “base year”[1]).

Q: I have further questions about the particular aspects of a building or this program.
A: The Assessor’s Office will be hosting a series of webinars to help guide interested housing providers through the application process. The first webinar will be aimed at current and recent Class 9 properties and will be held on Tuesday, February 15. Subsequent webinars will focus on properties in Low Affordability Communities and other types of properties.

Q: What happens if a property owner sells the property?
A: The program runs with the property, it’s not based on ownership. New owners will still be required to provide affordable housing in order to receive the assessment reduction.

Q: Do units paid for with Housing Choice vouchers (formerly called Section 8 vouchers) count as “affordable” units?  
A: Yes, the test is based on rent paid by a tenant with eligible income. Whether the owner receives supplemental payments or not is irrelevant.

Q: What are the filing fees?
A: Same as Class 9. The application is in two parts and the fee is $500 for Part 1 and $100 for Part 2.

Q: Does the reduction apply to the value of the land?
A: No, just the AV of the building.

Election year or real?

Would proposed grocery, gas and property tax breaks be big enough to help Illinoisans?

BY KELSEY LANDIS UPDATED FEBRUARY 04, 2022 12:38 PM

J.B. Pritzker this week proposed a set of temporary tax breaks aimed at helping Illinoisans struggling with record inflation and pandemic woes. But how much relief would the plan, which needs state lawmaker approval, actually provide if it goes into effect in the coming year? A 1% grocery tax would be suspended for a year and the gas tax would remain the same. Annual property tax breaks up to $300 would be available to individuals earning less than $250,000 or $500,000 for couples filing jointly.

A family that spends $1,000 on groceries per month would save $10 on their bill, and they might save a dollar or so at the gas pump. Pritzker’s plan would freeze the motor fuel tax at 39.2 cents per gallon. It was supposed to increase to 41.4 cents on July 1 to pay for infrastructure investments, Capitol News Illinois reported. On 12 gallons of gas at Thursday’s average unleaded price in Illinois of $3.59 per gallon, a driver would pay $43.08 to fill up, including $4.70 in tax. If the gas tax were to increase, the difference would be roughly 26 cents. A driver who fills their tank once a week at that price could see about a dollar a month in savings. $2 for 2 months

Republicans called the governor’s plan a “gimmick.” “I appreciate that the Governor somewhat recognized the need to get our fiscal house in order as well as the need to provide financial relief to our taxpayers,” said state Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro. “However, the people of our state need more than his one-year, election gimmick relief proposals.”

Even if the savings are relatively small, “it’s an important relief for those families,” said Rick Funderburg, a public administration professor at the University of Illinois whose expertise includes tax incentives. Gas and grocery prices are abnormally high, and “any relief that can be brought” to them helps, he said. “Groceries being a necessity that we all have, that’s going to relieve the tax burden on low-to moderate-income families. Not every state taxes groceries for that reason,” Funderburg said. “It’s an essential part when we’re dealing with times of high inflation.”

Only 13 states of 45 with a sales tax collect taxes on groceries, according to Eric Figueroa, an analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The nonpartisan research institute focuses on reducing poverty and inequality. Today’s top headlines

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People with lower incomes spend more on groceries for home consumption than those who earn more money, Figueroa found in a study using federal data. Grocery taxes naturally have a higher impact on low-income people. Eliminating the tax, even temporarily, “undoubtedly benefits to folks with lower and middle incomes,” he said.

Making the cut temporary might provide enough relief to tide people over until inflation subsides, Funderburg said. “The high rates of inflation that we’re experiencing right now will most likely soften. We’ve already seen some signs that’s happening,” he said. “So, that would be the justification for approaching this as a short-term fix rather than a long-term.”

Some of the remaining 13 states with grocery taxes are exploring eliminating it. In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly has proposed cutting the state’s 6.5% grocery tax rate, the second-highest in the country behind only Mississippi’s 7%. A bill lawmakers are considering in Mississippi would reduce it. “We think that getting rid of the grocery tax is good,” Figueroa said, “but we caution to make sure it’s not at the cost of making a bigger hole later.” Pritzker said the state would make up for lost revenue from the grocery tax, which goes to local governments.

The governor expects the state to have a $1.7 billion surplus at the end of this fiscal year in June, but how successful the state is going forward depends on how Illinoisans recover from the pandemic, Funderburg said. If downstate in particular sees sustained growth from opportunities such as infrastructure investment, there might be enough make a grocery tax cut permanent. “If we have a trajectory of long-running, sustainable growth, then I think we could easily do without something like the grocery tax,” Funderburg said.

 

Property Tax has Outpaced Inflation

Chicago property taxes nearly doubled in a decade

Chicago property taxpayers face a nearly 5% hike this year after a decade in which their bills nearly doubled. The city failed to capitalize on the COVID-19 stimulus windfall like others did.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, monetary and government stimulus that disproportionately benefited the wealthy led to higher stock prices and housing valuations. Booming markets and growing housing values, coupled with federal aid, boosted tax revenues for states and local governments.

While Chicago could have used the windfall to freeze property taxes, Chicagoans will have no such luck. This year, the city’s gross property tax levy will increase by another 4.9%. This tax increase will disproportionately hurt low-income, cash-strapped homeowners and renters. This is because the city’s budget includes large increases in debt service and pension payments.

Pension fund contributions are increasing by 24.7% from the prior year. That adds up to nearly $1 billion in pension spending increases since Lori Lightfoot became Chicago’s  mayor. Over the decade, the city’s public pensions cost has increased 239%, despite spending for city services only growing 18% during that same period.

Although the city of Chicago, a home rule unit of government, is not subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, it has its own self-imposed property tax limitation. That annual property tax extension is limited to 5% or the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. However, the city’s tax cap does not completely limit the total extension since some funds  – such as bond funds and pension funds  – and some of the tax base, such as new property, are excluded from the calculation.

With inflation topping 7% in 2021 – the highest in 40 years – the city’s property tax levy is likely to increase even more in 2022, and Chicagoans will face even larger property tax bills.

Historically, low-income families have paid an unfair share of property taxes. In addition, renters will also be negatively affected because landlords shift most of the increased tax burden to tenants. Given an 11.4% increase in housing values in 2021, due in large part to a shortage of housing units, many renters – and prospective buyers have been kept on the sidelines, and rents have increased. The increase in property taxes will push rents even higher.

Low-income Chicagoans are already feeling the inflation squeeze

For years, Chicagoans’ property tax bills have increased faster than home values and incomes, with lower income residents paying an unfair share of property taxes.

While the tax levy is set to increase by less than the increase in housing values this year, worker earnings adjusted for inflation fell in 2021.

Falling worker earnings mean that scheduled property tax increases will disproportionately hurt cash-strapped – liquidity constrained – families. In addition, it is renters who will suffer the most from the tax hikes because research shows that landlords shift most of the increased tax incidence to tenants.

In 2021, U.S. consumer prices rose by 7%. One third of that increase came from an increase in shelter costs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While housing prices increased by 11.4%, rents also increased by 8.5% in the Chicago area.

Pre-existing housing shortages and lagging construction contributed to bidding wars and rapid housing price increases that left many young families priced out of homeownership, resulting in them paying more rent.

Low-income households are already seeing a higher share of their income go to shelter, food and utilities. In addition, inflation has already wiped out any “excess” savings accumulated during the pandemic, and further price increases will disproportionately cause more pain for the have-nots than for wealthier Chicagoans.

Pension reform is progressive government policy

In 2022, Chicago’s pension costs will consume more than $2.3 billion of the city’s budget – 21.4% of the city’s own source revenue. Pension costs already exceed the city’s total property tax levy of $1.7 billion this year. Amending the Illinois Constitution to allow for adjustments to the future growth in pension benefits for current workers and retirees can accomplish at least one of two progressive objectives: increase city spending on its poorest residents, or stop further property tax hikes that disproportionately hurt low-income and middle-income families.

Orphe Divounguy

Chief Economist                                           FEBRUARY 3, 2022

Tax Incentives in Matteson, Illinois and the Resulting Litigation

Case 1:22-cv-00685- Filed 01/26/22 Page 1 of 18

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

SAVILLS INC.,

V.

Plaintiff,

No.: 22-cv– – COMPLAINT

4FRONT VENTURES CORP., Defendant.

Plaintiff Savills Inc. (“Savills”), by and through its attorneys, Greenberg Trau1ig, LLP, as and for its complaint against the defendant, 4Front Ventures Corp. (“4Front”), alleges as follows:

SUMMARY OF THE ACTION

I. Savills brings this action to recover sums due to Savills under a written agreement between 4Front and Savills. In November 2020 4Front engaged Savills to create, identify or negotiate for governmental or other economic or business incentives for a commercial cannabis cultivation and manufactu1ing facility. In the w1itten agreement between Savills and 4Front entitled “Engagement Agreement for Business and Economic Incentives for 4Front Plant Project” (the “Incentives Agreement”), 4Front agreed “to pay Savills a fee (the “Fee”) equal to 15% of the governmental or other economic or business incentives of Benefits (the ”Benefits”) created, identified or negotiated by Savills for the Client, provided that such Benefits have been approved by the Client and that any required upfront governmental approvals have been received”. The Incentives Agreement provides that Savills’ Fee shall be “earned upon approval of such Benefits by Client and receipt of any required upfront governmental approvals” and that such Fee shall be paid 50% when earned and 25% upon each of the first and second anniversaries ofwhen earned.

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Case 1:22-cv-00685- Filed 01/26/22 Page 2 of 18

2. Acting pursuant to the Incentives Agreement and based upon expertise developed over decades of work, Savills planned, initiated and oversaw all aspects of a process under which 4Front received government incentives conservatively valued at over $129 million for a new facility in Matteson, Cook County, Illinois, which is now under construction by 4Front. These incentives include real property tax incentives (the “Real Property Tax Incentives”) conservatively valued at over $121 million and Enterprise Zone utility tax, sales tax, income tax and pennit fees incentives (the “Enterprise Zone Incentives”) conservatively valued at over $7.7 million. The resulting earned Fee is in excess of$ 19,000,000.

3. Under the terms of the Incentives Agreement, 4Front is obligated to pay Savills one-half of its Fee, i.e., approximately $9.7 million, within 30 days of”approval of such Benefits by the Client and the receipt of any required upfront government approvals”. There can be no doubt that both of these conditions have been met. 4Front approved the Real Property Tax Incentives and the Enterpise Zone Incentives by signing the applications for and by actively participating in the process to obtain the Incentives and, as described more fully below, the “upfront governmental approvals” have been obtained.

4. In August 2021 4Front closed on a long-term lease of the Matteson site and 4Front

,s presently constructing its facility, including availing itself of the government incentives

obtained.
5. On October 27, 202 1, Savills presented its invoice for $9,703,048. To date, Savills

has received no payment of this invoice and no payment whatsoever under the Incentives Agreement, despite over a year of work by Savills, both before and after the date ofthe Incentives Agreement, despite 4Front moving forward with its project based on the benefits obtained, and despite the Fee having been earned.

2

Case 1:22-cv-00685- Filed 01/26/22 Page 3 of 18

6. Although 4Front and Savills had been in contact on an almost daily basis since before entc1ing into the Incentives Agreement, when Savills delivered its invoice for payment, 4Front went silent. 4Front did not surface until more than a month later, when, under threat of litigation, it claimed that payment was premature and that Savills ought to be paid when “4Front receives actual financial benefit”, in other words that Savills ought to be paid over the multi-year terms of the various benefit programs under which the incentives were awarded, which range up to 22 years. This is not what the Incentives Agreement provides and is not the basis on which Savills has been working for over a year. As noted above, the Incentives Agreement expressly provides that the Fee is earned when 4Front approves the incentives and any upfront governmental approvals arc received. These conditions have clearly been met.

7. Nonetheless, rather that honor its commitment, 4Front seeks to benefit from the fruits of Savills’ expertise and efforts, while ign01ing the terms of the Incentives Agreement under which Savills provided its services. 4Front is in matc1i al breach of contract.

8. Apparently, this is not the first time 4Front has failed to pay its contract parties who provide significant benefits to it as contracted. In a suit pending in the Superior Court of the State of California, captioned Brothers For Life LLC v. 4Front Ventures Corp., Case No. 2 1 ST 28462, the plaintiff alleges 4Front failed to pay its agreed fee after government approvals were obtained to allow 4Front to operate its business, which 4 Front denies.

9. Savills seeks now to recover from 4Front the approximately $9.7 million currently owed to it under the Incentives Agreement, interest at the contractually specified rate of 12 percent per annum, and a declaration from the Court that the 2nd and 3rd installments of the Fee will be due in 2022 and 2023. Savills is also entitled to an award of its legal fees and expenses incurred

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Case 1:22-cv-00685-Filed 01/26/22 Page 4 of 18

in having to prosecute this action to collect its Fee, as the parties expressly agreed in the Incentives Agreement.

THE PARTIES
10. Plaintiff Savills is a New York corporation with its principal place of business

located in New York, New York. Savills offers a wide range of commercial real estate brokerage and advisory services, including tenant representation, capital markets, project management, workforce/incentives and workplace strategy/occupant expeience. Savills is a wholly owned subsidiary of Savills pie, a 160-year-old publicly owned English corporation with offices around the world. Savills has extensive expertise in locating suitable sites for clients and securing economic benefits from state and municipal governments. This is the very expertise for which 4Front retained Savills.

11. Defendant 4Front Ventures Corp. is a British Columbia corporation with its p1incipal place of business in Phoenix, Arizona. 4Front cultivates, manufactures and dispenses over 25 cannabis brands through retail out.lets and dispensaries. It operates through approximately six subsidiary companies located in North America. 4Front common stock trades over the counter under the ticker symbol FFNTF. 4Front is reported to have a market capitalization of approximately $663 million CAD ($530 million USD).
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
12. This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the citizenship of Savills (New York) is diverse from the citizenship of 4Front (Arizona) and the amount in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeds the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000.00).

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Case 1:22-cv-00685- Filed 01/26/22 Page 5 of 18

13. In the Incentives Agreement 4Front consented to personal jurisdiction of this Court; the relevant provision reads “[a]ny action or proceeding under this Agreement shall be brought and maintained solely in the state and federal courts sitting in the County and State ofNew York, to the exclusive jurisdiction of which the parties hereto hereby submit.”

14. Venue is proper in this forum under the same contract clause. BACKGROUND

A. Savills begins to help 4Front identify and acquire a suitable site or facility.
15. In August 2020, Savills brokerage services division began to work with 4Front with a view to identifying and helping 4Front acquire a suitable facility or site for a new cannabis

cultivation and manufacturing facility that 4Front would own and operate. 4Front had particular specifications for its site or facility. The site or facility needed to be located where cannabis production was lawfully permitted and to be zoned for industrial use.

16. The initial focus of the search was Cook County, Illinois, where 4Front had an existing license for cultivation and processing. On or about November 13, 2020, Savills and 4Front entered in an agreement under which Savills “accept[ed] the appointment as your exclusive real estate advisor through May 31, 2021 to locate, negotiate and advise 4Front Ventures and its subsidiaii es on its real estate requirement in Cook County, IL.” This agreement provides that any brokerage commission earned would be paid by the seller, not 4Front. The seller of the site paid the commission due when 4Front acquired the property identified and now being developed by 4Front as its facility. Savills is not asserting any claim against 4Front under this agreement.
B. Savills work expands to include governmental incentives

17. Of special importance to 4Front was the availability of governmental incentives. In early November 2020 representatives of Savills governmental incentives division joined the Savills team working for 4Front.

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Case 1:22-cv-00685-Filed 01/26/22 Page 6 of 18

On or about November 17, 2020, Savills entered into the Incentives Agreement.

The Incentives Agreement desc1ibes a series of tasks and services that Savills was to perfonn including Savills’ developing, detailing, and subsequently executing a seven-step “turnkey” strategy to locate and deliver to 4Front a “ready-to-go” facility location. Savills further agreed that it. would “coordinate the incentive negotiations and approvals with the timing of the Client’s [4Front’s] acquisitions, leases and expansions to meet project deadlines.” Savills also expressly agreed “to provide the governmental incentives consulting services described in the Proposal (the “Services”) with a view to obtaining for the Client governmental or other economic or business incentives or benefits (together, the ‘Benefits’) for or in connect.ion with the project identified in the Proposal (the ‘Project’).”

20. Under the terms of the Incentives Agreement., in exchange for Savills services 4Front is obligated to pay a fee to Savills “equal to 15% of the governmental or other economic or business incentives or benefits (the ‘Benefits’) created, identified or negotiated by Savills for the Client, provided that such Benefits have been approved by the Client and that any required up front governmental approvals have been received, plus approved travel expenses.”

21. Notably, the Fee is not due when 4Front ultimately realizes the Benefits in a particular tax year. Under the Incentives Agreement, the Fee is “(a) earned upon approval of such Benefits by [4Front] and receipt. of any required 11pfront government.al approvals, and (b) payable as follows: (i) 50% within thirty (30) days of being earned, (ii) 25% one year after being earned, and (iii) 25% two years after being earned.”

22. In the context of negotiating the Incentives Agreement, Savills provided 4Front with a detailed w1i tten illustrative example of how Savills Fee is calculated and how it is paid.

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4Front never objected to the method of calculation or the timing of payment as reflected in that example.

23. Article 8 of the Incentives Agreement provides in part that,” [s]hould any such sums [due under the Incentives Agreement] be collected by or through an attorney at law, Client [4Front] shall in addition be liable to Savills for attorneys’ fees.”
C. Savills oversees a multi-state competition for incentives.

24. In order to obtain maximum governmental incentives, Savills presented the project to the economic development divisions of Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts, three states in which 4Front had licenses to operate. Savills investigated the applicable programs and regulatory attitudes toward cannabis of each state, met (via Zoom) with representatives of each state, and prepared detailed requests for proposal (RFPs). In early January 2021, aft.er 4Front had reviewed and approved the RFP’s, Savills submitted them to the economic development di vision of each respective state. These RFPs were preceded and followed by many conversations with each state government in order to explain the project benefits, all so as to obtain the maximum incentives for 4Front. For example, each state was provided with estimates of the project’s construction costs and the number of full-time equivalent jobs the project would create. Savills obtained competitive proposals from Illinois and Massachusetts.

25. Savills analyzed these proposals, including prepaiing detailed financial models, and 4Front, with Savills assistance, decided to focus on Illinois, specifically Cook County which offered the most attractive incentive package including potential EDGE credits, Class 8 classification and Enterprise Zone benefits, and in which 4Front already had an existing operation.

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D. Savills identifies, and 4Front and Savills focus on, a site in Matteson, Cook County, Illinois.

25. Because of the density of Cook County finding a suitable and available location proved to be difficult. Savills surveyed the county from north to south and identified 16potentially viable sites. Savills worked with 4Front to narrow the list of candidates site to four, with the timing of commencement of construction and likely governmental incentives packages of c,itical importance.

26. With guidance from Savills, 4Front began to focus on a site which Savills had identified in Matteson, Cook County, Tilinois. This site presented numerous obstacles including

that a special use pem1it would be required for the cannabis use, as is the case for any site in Illinois,

that portions of the site violated the Illinois law prohibiting a cannabis facility within 2,500 feet of a school, p lace of worship or residence,

that the site needed to be subdivided to separate from other property owned by the seller, and to the divide the purchased parcel to permit financing and to satisfy the 2,500-foot requirement, and

d. that a zoning variance would be required to accommodate the phased configuration of4Front’s intended facility and to permit the smaller lots created in order to effect the subdivision.

27. Nonetheless, 4Front and Savills agreed that if these issues could be overcome and if the right price and incentives could be negotiated this site would be suitable for 4Front.

28. Savills led separate but coordinated lengthy negotiations with the owner of the site for a contract to purchase and with the Village of Matteson for the maximum incentives.

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29. On or about February 22, 2021, 4Front entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the owner of the site for a purchase price of approximately $6.5 million. The tcnns of the purchase and sale agreement gave 4Front and Savills the time needed to conclude the incentives negotiations and approvals and for all parties to address the other site issues identified above.

30. Savills was deeply involved in overcoming each of the obstacles referred to in paragraph 26 above. Savills oversaw the preparation of the 298-pagc special use permit application and the 50-page variance application. Because these two applications were so lengthy, Savills created a written summary narrative for the Village of Matteson Planning Commission and the Village of Matteson Board of Trustees. Savills also created presentations which were jointly presented by Savills and 4Front to a Village of Matteson planning workshop session, the Village of Matteson Planning Commission and the Village of Matteson Boardof Trustees. Savills working with 4Front obtained the unanimous approval of all bodies.
E. Savills Secures Valuable Tax and Other Economic Incentives.

Savills Identifies, and Qualifies 4Front for. Class 8 Benefits
31. Cook County Class 8 benefits substantially reduce real estate tax liability by reducing the assessed value of the land and any improvements on the land from 25% of market v a l u e t o 1 0 % o f m a r k e t v a l u e ( a 6 0 % r e d u c t i o n ) f o r a p e r i o d o f t e n y e a r s , f o l l o w e d b y a n 1 1t h y e a r at 15% of market value (a 40% reduction) and a 12th year at 20% of market value (a 20% reduction). Savills identified the Class 8 program to 4Front and handled all aspects of 4Front qualifying for it, including negotiating with government officials, sccU1ing their support, preparing the application and, aft.er it had been signed by 4Front, filing it as required.

32. In order for a project to be classified in Class 8, the municipality in which the project is located must support the private party’s application. Since the Matteson site met all the

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technical requirement ofthe Class 8 program, obtaining the Village of Matteson’s support was the crucial step. Savills handled all aspects of obtaining that support.

33. In March 2021, during the process of Savills’ obtaining the Village of Matteson’s support for the Class 8 classification, 4Front ignored Savills advice and several warnings and made a public announcement of the project which caused the project to be disqualified from receiving EDGE credits. The availability of EDGE credit~ had factored significantly in 4Front’s decision to select the Matteson site and their loss adversely affected the project’s economics.

34. To overcome this loss, Savills conceived the idea of seeking an additional ten-year term for the Class 8 classification. While additional terns arc authorized by the Class 8 program rules, the Village had never before supported an additional term for any project and, in order to persuade them to do so in this instance, Savills conceived and arranged for (and 4Front paid for) an Economic Impact Study to be prepared by an independent economic consulting firm. The $12 billion of economic impact identified in that report helped persuade the Village to support the additional 10 years of the Class 8 classification.

35. 4Front readily acknowledged Savills’ critical role in obtaining the Village’s support for the Class 8 classification. That support was officially given by the Board of Trustees on Ap1il 26, 2021. That evening, after the Board had acted, Ann Marie Collins, the head of Savills incentive team, emailed 4Front that “Class 8 Just Was Approved at the City Council Meeting!” and later that evening 4Front replied “This is fantastic news. I cannot thank you enough for the continued hard work on this, as well as all ofthe incentives opportunities.”

36. Importantly, the Village of Matteson Board of Trustees supported both the regular 12-year term and the additional 10 years.

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37. Throughout the entire Class 8 process and continuing until and even after 4Front closed on the purchase of the site, Savills refined and presented to 4Front Savills’ calculation of the dollar value of the Class 8 classification. This calculation was based on very conservative assumptions, including that there would be no increase in the project budget and no growth in the tax rate or the Cook County Equalization Factor du1ing the 22 years. An increase in either will increase the value of the incentives. Even using these conservative assumptions, the value to 4Frontofthe Class 8 benefits for the 22-ycar tem1 is over $121,000,000.

38. Clearly, with respect to the Class 8 Benefits, Savills has earned its Fee, and the initial 50% of its Fee is overdue.

Savills Identifies, and Qualifies 4Front for, Enterprise Zone Benefits
39. Enterprise Zones are governmentally designated economically distressed geographic areas in which, in order to spur growth and development, Illinois and its local governments provide tax and other incentives. The site that Savills identified in Matteson, Illinois,

is located in the ‘Nill Cook Enterprise Zone, which covers portions of Will and Cook counties. The Will Cook Enterprise Zone provides a package of business development tax incentives, including exemptions from state, city and county sales tax, utility tax exemptions, investment tax credits and reduced pem1itting fees.

40. Savills identified the availability of these Enterprise Zone incentives and oversaw all aspects of the application process, dealing with the government officials as necessary, and prcpaiing 4Front’s application. 4Front signed the application on April 2, 2021, and Savills then filed it with the government.

41. On May 5, 2021, the Enterprise Zone application was accepted. 4Front has already begun to enjoy Enterprise Zone benefits. For example, 4Front has received a Building Mate1ials

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Exemption Certificate confim1ing the exemption from sales tax of the materials bought for the project. In another example,just last month a building pcrmit.was issued to 4Front upon payment of a 50% discounted filing fee that is only available to qualified participants in the Enterprise Zone.

42. Throughout 2021, Savills refined and presented to 4Front its calculation of the value of the Enterprize Zone incentives, demonstrating that the value of those incentives is not less than $7,796,399 over 11 years.

43. As concerns the Enterprise Zone Benefits, Savills has earned its Fee, and the initial 50% of its Fee is overdue.

Savills Identifies and Pursues EDGE Credit. Benefits for 4Front, \1/hich 4Front Forfeits
44. Savills also identified and pursued EDGE Credit qualification on 4Front’s behalf. EDGE Credits arc negotiable economic incentives that provide businesses income tax credits that

arc calculated based on the withholding tax revenue that results from new job creation. In order to obtain EDGE Credits, the applicant must demonstrate that the credit is a “but-for” cause of the development project, meaning the project would not have occurred but for the EDGE Credit incentive.

45. Prior to securing EDGE Credit qualification, and despite Savills’ warning that doing so would cost it a valuable incentive, 4Front announced that it. would be constructing a new manufacturing facility in Illinois. This announcement. caused the 4Front.project to be disqualified from consideration for the EDGE credit on the ground that 4Front failed the legally required “but for” test.

Development Agreement.
46. To provide greater assurance to 4Front that it. would receive the additional IO years

of Class 8 incentives, Savills, with counsel engaged by 4Front, negotiated a detailed development

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agreement outlining Matteson’s commitments to 4Front, including a specific commitment cove1ing the additional IO years. 4Front approved the development agreement, which Matteson signed on October 7, 2021, locking in the benefits that Savills had obtained for 4Front.

Summary
47. All told, Savills created, identified or negotiated for 4Front incentives exceeding

$I29 million in value: (a) $7,796,399 over 11 years for the Enterp1ise Zone incentives and (b) $ I21,577,578 over 22 years for the Class 8 incentives.

48. Under the terms of the Incentives Agreement, 4Front is obligated to pay Savills a Fee calculated based on 15 percent of the Benefits obtained upon its “receipt of any required upfront government approvals,” with half the amount to be paid within 30 days, an additional 25 percent to be paid one year later, and the last 25 percent to be paid one more year later.

49. The Incentives Agreement also provides that the Fee calculation shall be updated (up or down) to reflect actual information or updated estimates when the 2nd installment is due and again when the 3″1 installment is due and that if there is any such adjustment the amount payable as the 2nd installment shall instead be equal to 75% of the updated Fee, less the amount of the first installment, and the amount of the 3’11 installment shall instead be equal to I00% of the updated Fee, less the amount of the first and second installments. For example, as indicated above, the 01iginal calculation was based, in part, on the assumption that the Cook County Equalization Factor would not increase over the 22-year period of the incentives. However, it has already increased by 10 percent from 2.916 to 3.2234. Savills is expressly reserving its rights under that provision of the Incentives Agreement and fully expects that that adj ustment will be upward.

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F. 4Front Materially Breaches the Incentives Agreement By Refusing to Pay Savills for Its Services.

50. On October 22, 2021, Savills offered 4Front an accommodation to allow it to manage its cash flow. Inst.cad of an approximately $9.7 million payment due immediately, with two subsequent payments of approximately $4.85 million, Savills stated that it would accept a payment plan with a $6 million current payment, followed by four annual payments of $3.35 million if 4Front agreed to this payment plan by October 25, 2021. However, 4Front did not reply to Savills’ offer by Savills’ deadline, and it was subsequently withdrawn.

51. On or about October 27, 2021, Savills sent 4Front an invoice for its services in the amount due and owing of $9,703,048. That invoice expressly indicated that the 21u and 3rd installments would be billed in accordance with the Incentives Agreement. 4Front did not respond to the invoice.

52. Having heard nothing from 4Front for more than a month, Savills, on December 1, 2021, through its General Counsel, informed 4Front by letter that it would refer the matter to outside counsel if within ten days of 4Front’s receipt of the letter Savills did not receive payment or a written proposal regarding payment.

53. On December 16, 2021, 4Front finally responded to Savills’ requests for payment in a letter from 4Front’s CEO, Leo Gontmakher. In the letter, 4Front states it would not be making any payments anytime soon, contending that, “from 4Front’s perspective, payments to Savills arc generated when 4Front agrees to planned benefits, necessary governmental approvals have been received, and when 4Front receives actual financial benefit.”

54. The Incentives Agreement expressly provides for all the incentives desc1ibed in this Complaint to the contrary of 4Front’s stated position about when the Savills Fee is earned and when it is due. That Agreement expressly provides that the Fee is earned and requires 4Front to

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begin paying the Fee upon the receipt of the “up-front government approvals” for the Benefits, not when 4Front itself receives the actual financial benefit over a pe1i od of22 years. As the Agreement states: “The Fee with respect to any Benefits shall be (a) earned upon approval of such Benefits by the Client and receipt of any required upfront governmental approvals, and (b) payable as follows: (i) 50% within thirty (30) days of being earned, (ii) 25% one year after being earned, and (iii) 25% two years after being earned.”

FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION BREACH OF CONTRACT

(Non-Payment of Savills Fee When Due)

Savills repeats and realleges Paragraphs 1-54 as if fully set forth herein.

The Incentives Agreement is a binding contract between 4Front and Savills.

Savills has perforn1ed all of its obligations under the Incentives Agreement

necessary to earn its Fee.
58. 4Front’s failure and refusal to pay the amount of the Fee now due and owing to

Savills is a material breach ofthe Incentives Agreement.
59. As a resultof4Front’s mate1ial breach, Savills has sustained damages in an amount

no less than $9,703,048.

SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

(Balance of Savills Fee Accrues on Specified Anniversary Dates)
60. Savills repeats and realleges Paragraphs 1-59 as if fully set forth herein.
61. An actual case or controversy presently exists between Savills and 4Front regarding

Savills’ entitlement to the second and third payments due under the Incentives Agreement.

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62. Savills contends that the 2nd installment of its Fee is due no later than the first anniversaryofwhentheptinstallmentbecamedueandthatthe3rd installmentofitsFeeisdueno later than the second anniversary of when the pt installment became due.

63. 4Front contends that Savills is not entitled to any fee until 4Front actually receives the financial benefit in the form of reduced tax payments over a period of22 years.

64. 4Front’s letter to Savills of December 16, 202 1, demonstrates that it docs not intend to pay the second and third fee installments when they come due under the Incentives Agreement. 65. Declaratory relief is therefore appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 2201 to detem1ine the rights and obligations of the parties under the Incentives Agreement, as concerns when the second

and third payments of the fee are due.
THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION

BREACH OF CONTRACT (Costs of Collection)

Savills repeats and rcallcgcs Paragraphs 1-65 as if fully set forth herein.

Article 8 of the Incentives Agreement provides that, “[s]hould any such sums [due

under the Incentives Agreement] be collected by or through an attorney at law, Client [4Front] shall in addition be liable to Savills for attorneys• fees.”

68. Savills informed 4Front by letter dated December 1, 2021, that, “[i]f, by the 10th day after the day of this letter, we do not receive payment or a w1i tten proposal from you with respect to payment, we will be forced to assume that you intend not to honor your obligations to us and we will turn this matter over to our outside counsel for further action.”

69. 4Front did not respond within 10 days of the letter. When it did respond, 4Front did not include payment or a w1i tten proposal with respect to payment. As a result, Savills was forced to retain counsel to collect the Fee owed.

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70. Under Article 8 of the Incentives Agreement, 4Front is liable to Savills for the legal fees and expenses Savills incurs in seeking to collect its duly earned Fee from 4Front, including those incurred in prosecuting this action.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Savills requests judgment in its favor and against 4Front as to each Cause

of Action as follows:
(a) On the First Cause of Action, an award of compensatory damages in the amount of

$9,703,048;
(b) On the Second Cause of Action, a declaration that the 2nd installment of Savills’ fee

under the Incentives Agreement has been earned will become payable on the first anniversary of the due date of the JS1 installment, and that 3’11 installment of Savills’ fee under the Incentives Agreement has been earned and will become payable on the second anniversary ofthe due date of the 1st installment;

(c) On the Third Cause of Action, under Article 8 of the Incentives Agreement an award ofSavills’ attorney’s fees and expenses it has incmTed and will incur to collect its Fee from 4Front, including the legal fees and expenses incmTed in prosecuting this action;

(d) An award of Savills’ pre-j udgment interest at the contractual rate of 12 percent per annum; and

(e) Such other and further relief as this Court deems j ust and proper.

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Dated: New York, New York January 26, 2022

James W . Perkins
Daniel Friedman
One Vanderbilt Avenue New York, New York 10017 (212) 801-9200
(212) 801-6400 (facsimile) perkinsj(m.gtlaw .com friedmand(a)gtlaw.com

Attorneys for Plaintiff Savills Inc.

Cook County Treasurer Says Vacant And Abandoned Properties Are Sucking Up Tax Revenue, Wants To Make It Easier To Auction Them Off

By Dana Kozlov

CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of abandoned and vacant properties are costing Cook County taxpayers billions in lost property tax revenue.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Friday night, efforts are under way to help get that money back.

They’re just sitting there – vacant, sometimes dilapidated properties that have been abandoned, or empty lots where the structures were cleared away one way or another. Those lots have unpaid taxes attached to them, and according to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, it adds up to $5 billion in lost property tax revenue.

That is more than a fifth of the current Cook County budget.

“If you look at these numbers, they’re frightening,” Pappas said.

So Pappas is trying to get more people interested in buying the properties. Every other year, the county has a so-called scavenger sale – which amounts to an auction of all properties with at least three years of unpaid property taxes.

This year, more than 31,000 properties are on the auction list. Until now, anyone who wanted a copy of that list had to fork over $250.

“So we scratched that,” Pappas said.

It is now free on the county Treasurer’s website, along with an interactive map to make it easier for potential buyers.

“If more people are on the tax sale roles; if more people pay more money, the other people who already live in houses would be paying less,” Pappas said. “So this is a question of economic development.”

Maywood is one of several communities with dozens of properties on the list. Its mayor applauds the Treasurer’s moves. But waiving that $250 fee isn’t as simple as waving a magic wand – because there is a law requiring it.

“My legal department looked at this, and I said, ‘Can I waive this $250 fee?’” Pappas said. “And they said yes.”

Auction bids start at $250. Once a property is purchased, the original owner has a set amount of time to pay the back taxes.

If that does not happen, the property goes to the scavenger buyer, who pays the taxes.

“What you want to do is make it economically attractive for somebody to build on it or to live there,” Pappas said.

The auction will take place at the George W. Dunne Cook County Office Building, 69 W. Washington St., over two weeks beginning on Valentine’s Day. Each day, properties from specific towns and cities will eb auctioned off.

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