Website Design

How Chicago Aldermen Spends Their $100,000 Microgrants

When Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced her 2022 budget, she offered each councilman a sweetener of $100,000 to spend in their neighborhoods pretty much however they saw fit.

Nine months into the year, some of their priorities are emerging: emergency shelter for the homeless, private security to bolster the police, voter “mobilization”, a new neighborhood website, mentoring for youth, trees and raising awareness of residents on “what makes them feel safe and unsafe” are some of the areas where the money is going.

Freshman north side Ald. Andre Vasquez spends $23,000 on a new 40th Ward website. He also paid $15,000 to a pressure group to engage residents on their perceptions of their level of safety and “think” about public safety solutions that do not involve the police.

On the other side of town, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea hires private, unarmed security guards to patrol commercial corridors in the Beverly area.

His $100,000 micro-grant will be split three ways among Beverly-area trade associations that will hire private, unarmed security groups from Moore Security, Security Logistics Group and Law Dogs, according to records and his office of piece.

O’Shea pointed out in a June newsletter to voters that the program – to “provide a visible security presence as well as additional eyes and ears in the community” – was developed with input from the police department. from Chicago, security and business experts. But the guards are totally different from the Chicago police and will only report suspicious behavior and stay on the scene until the cops arrive.

“In the face of troubling shortages of DPC staff, we as a community must do all we can to support, appreciate and respect the profession if we expect people to seek employment,” O wrote. ‘Shea. “In the meantime, we must also explore other opportunities to promote public safety in our community.”

Aldus. James Cappleman, who announced he will not run again next year in Uptown’s 46th Ward, is spending a large portion of his grant on housing homeless people in hotels and motels.

Cappleman has awarded Cornerstone Community Outreach $7,000 to help Heartland Alliance Health provide vital supplies such as phones and Ventra cards for a pilot program to provide shelter for the homeless, according to the contract. An additional $48,000 will go to the nonprofit organization Trilogy, primarily to find emergency housing for more than 50 homeless people in motels and hotels, at around $100 per night, according to the contract. . The remaining $45,000 was awarded to Heartland Alliance Health to help those living outside with temporary housing.

Cappleman’s office aimed to invest the micro-grant money in “pilot programs focused on long-term results to reduce chronic homelessness” that could be replicated elsewhere in the city, a staff member said.

It’s unclear how all the aldermen plan to spend the money. The city’s budget office only released information on some of the projects and said more documents were not immediately available. The Tribune filed a freedom of information law request for all existing contracts.

The $5 million “micro-grants fund,” split among the 50 neighborhoods, was touted by the mayor as a flexible “tool” to tailor investments in a diverse city to the needs of each community. Lightfoot often brags about not buying votes, but the program was also seen as a bargaining chip for aldermen’s support for the $16.7 billion budget that eventually passed.

“You know this, that a good alderman has the pulse of the neighborhood, knows the pain points of residents, and we want to further equip each of you with the tools to help meet the needs of your residents,” Lightfoot said at the unveiling. of its budget. plan last September.

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In the Vasquez neighborhood, the biggest take-up so far has been a project titled “A Better Website for the 40th Ward,” according to the city’s contracts and awards database. The company tapped to design the $23,000 website before the end of the year is Ravenswood-based Eat Paint Studio, registered as SuperVoid.

According to a form filled out by Vasquez’s office, $1,831 is needed for city-mandated insurance and a subscription to a user testing service, and $21,169 will go towards creating the website. The designer needs at least 50 to 80 hours per month for at least seven months, starting in June, to complete the website, the form says. This averages out to about $60 an hour, assuming it only takes 50 hours a month for seven months, although the alderman’s office notes in the budget form that the designer typically charges $95 an hour. hour.

The website “will be rebuilt using WordPress with the goal of creating an accessible and maintainable web presence that is a hub of current and future information for members of the Chicago 40th Ward community,” the form states. . “The current website is not accessible, not kept up to date and difficult to use and maintain.”

Vasquez told the Tribune that only two bids were submitted for the project, and he opted for the most expensive because “it would provide the most accessibility to the most people.” But he said he thought the $23,000 cost was fair.

“We were asking around, weren’t we? Vasquez said. “Before we got the deals, we were sort of spreading them, offering them to everyone who makes websites. And that (price) is kind of what we were getting in return, or at least of those who submitted bids, that’s what we got.

When asked what makes his current website inaccessible, Vasquez said it was confusing to access certain parts of the website and the entire design needed to be reformatted.

“It’s not as easy for people to get to certain parts of the website,” Vasquez said. “When it comes to details, the designers of the website would know a lot more than I do.”

The other organization Vasquez has contracted with, Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality (ONE) Northside, is a progressive advocacy group that will receive $15,000, most of it going to staffing knockers canvassing neighborhoods through September. A total of one full-time paid organizer, four volunteer facilitators and four additional paid canvassers will work 16 three-hour shifts per week for 12 weeks, the budget form says.

Vasquez’s office said on the city’s budget form that the goal of the solicitation will be “to engage voters in the 40th Ward about what makes them feel safe and unsafe,” and that the door-to-door porte will target low-income renters and immigrants, as well as youth. The form also encourages thinking about solutions to crime beyond law enforcement.

“We look forward to exploring public safety resources and new solutions with neighbors so we can move beyond punitive and harmful means of policing,” the program description reads.

Asked about the purpose of the program, Vasquez said the dialogues weren’t about asking residents to support political issues, but about giving them information and learning how they define safety.

“There are lots of different ways to measure public safety, aren’t there?” Vasquez said. “The ability to have mental health resources, the ability to have help for those who need it, right? They (ONE Northside) wanted to get an idea of, first, what are the different concerns of people on the ground, and second, do people know what their resources are? »

Vasquez said he also allocated $15,000 each to community groups Centro Romero and Indo American Center for similar door knockings, but specifically for the Latino and South Asian communities, respectively. And he’s paying $12,000 to HMF Communications, a consulting firm founded by Hannah Fierle, a former spokeswoman for Cook County Council chairman Toni Preckwinkle, to create a manual on ‘everything the ward office can do. , did and the means to reach the neighborhood office”.

Other uses of micro-grants include:

  • Aldus. Daniel La Spata, 1st: $50,000 for an anti-violence program in Logan Square, $25,000 to run a forestry program and $25,000 for a health and wellness program.
  • Aldus. Pat Dowell, 3rd: $16,000 for a street outreach program.
  • Aldus. Michele Smith, 43rd: $50,000 for youth mentorship and education.
  • Aldus. Maria Hadden, 49th: $5,000 for “voter education and mobilization” within the South Asian community and $5,000 for a pantry service.

“We seek to empower the South Asian community to advocate for change that directly affects them, reallocating and building power in this community,” said filings with the city on the 49th Ward contract, noting that language barriers often leave South Asian immigrants “uninformed and uninformed.

In some cases, programs have external funds to supplement the use of micro-grants.

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