SBIF FAQs

A list of Frequently Asked Questions about the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) is listed below. Additional questions can be directed to SomerCor at sbif@somercor.com.

Questions can also be brought to one of the monthly rollout webinars, typically hosted by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and SomerCor on the first Wednesday of each month.

Informational brochures containing a program overview and the 2022 application rollout calendar are available in English and Spanish.

Who can apply for a SBIF grant?

A business or property owner can apply to the SBIF program if the location for the grant is within a TIF district that is accepting applications. For additional information, visit the Eligibility page.

Can start-up businesses apply for SBIF grants?

Generally speaking, yes. Start-up applicants must provide detailed business plans and 36-month projections of income and expenses. The City of Chicago reserves the right to impose additional conditions for funding in connection with start-up grants.

Additionally, businesses that have been open less than three years must provide future projections to equal three years’ worth of data. Finally, start-up taverns, bars, hotels and motels are not eligible; those businesses must have been open at least one year.

Can business owners who live outside of Chicago apply for SBIF grants?

 Yes, if the business or property is located in a SBIF-eligible area.

Can residential projects apply for SBIF grants?

No. Residential projects can find relevant resources from the Department of Housing.

Can buildings with both residential and business uses apply for a SBIF grant?

Yes, however, all costs associated with interior residential work are ineligible for reimbursement through SBIF. Generally, exterior work such as roofing, tuckpointing and façade improvements can be eligible for SBIF when the work is done in support of a commercial space.

What is the maximum grant amount?

  • $250,000 for industrial properties
  • $150,000 for single-owner commercial properties
  • $250,000 for multi-tenant commercial properties, with a $75,000 maximum per tenant
  • $250,000 for multi-tenant industrial properties, with a $100,000 maximum per tenant
How much of a project can be funded by SBIF?

The reimbursement percentage will be determined according to the application type: landlord, tenant, owner-occupied or industrial.

Landlord Applicants
For commercial landlords with no interest in the business leasing the space, the percentage is based on personal net worth with a liquid asset cap of $500,000.

  • $0-$3 million: eligible for 90 percent reimbursement
  • $3-$6 million: eligible for 60 percent reimbursement
  • $6-$9 million: eligible for 30 percent reimbursement

Tenant Applicants
For commercial businesses that rent their space, the percentage is based on average gross sales over the last three years.

  • $0-$3 million: eligible for 90 percent reimbursement
  • $3-$6 million: eligible for 60 percent reimbursement
  • $6-$9 million: eligible for 30 percent reimbursement

Owner-Occupied Applicants
For businesses that also own their properties, both of the above caps apply. If the business falls into different categories for sales and personal net worth, the lesser of the two percentages applies.

Industrial Applicants
Both building owners and tenant businesses with less than 200 employees are eligible for up to 50 percent reimbursement, regardless of sales or personal net worth.

Can applicants receive more than one SBIF grant?

Yes. Applicants may receive more than one grant, up to the maximum amount permitted for their project type. Once this maximum is reached, applicants must wait three years to reapply for the program.

How are awardees selected?

If the number of eligible applicants exceeds the available funds in a certain TIF district, a lottery is conducted to determine the order in which each grant application may be accommodated. If any surplus funds become available, the funds will be allocated to waitlisted applicants.

Recent lottery results can be found on SomerCor's website.

Are awardees selected differently in INVEST South/West neighborhoods?

Yes. In the event demand exceeds available funds in an INVEST South/West neighborhood, applications for properties located on the INVEST South/West priority corridor will be selected first in the lottery.

For example, in Austin, the lottery would prioritize applicants with a business along Chicago Avenue between Kilpatrick Avenue and Austin Boulevard, before moving on to other applicants.

The INVEST South/West corridors are listed below, click the link for a map of the area.

For additional questions on this process, email dpd@cityofchicago.org.

Are any other areas prioritized?

Yes. The SBIF ordinance approved by City Council in 2020 designates a dozen “SBIF Target Corridors.” These function identically to INVEST South/West Target Corridors. In the event demand exceeds available funds in the affected TIF district, applications for properties located in the SBIF Target Area will be selected first in the lottery.

The SBIF Target Corridors include:

In the event that a TIF district has both an INVEST South/West Target Corridor and a SBIF Target Corridor, the lottery will first select businesses in the INVEST South/West corridor, then the SBIF corridor, before moving onto businesses located elsewhere in the district.

For additional questions on this process, email dpd@cityofchicago.org.

What kind of design guidelines must be followed?

Recipients of commercial SBIF grants of at least $25,000 are required to invest 10 percent of the grant amount on exterior improvements. All SBIF projects must conform to design requirements including DPD's Neighborhood Design Guidelines and any applicable community plans.

DPD and the City of Chicago strongly believe in the power of design to transform communities, so DPD planning staff will provide training, support, and guidance to SBIF applicants when exterior design changes are required.

What is a scofflaw check?

Each individual who is applying for a SBIF grant and has an interest in the business or the property as an owner, tenant, partner, member, or board member must complete a scofflaw check with the City of Chicago. This process checks for any debts owed to the City, and it most commonly finds unpaid parking tickets, water bills, or past due licensee fees.

By ordinance, the City cannot provide SBIF grants to any business that has a member of ownership who owes a debt to the City or back property taxes to Cook County. Additionally, all ownership members must be current on child support payments, if applicable.

Business owners must submit Economic Disclosure Statements and affidavits as a part of the application process to confirm this information.

What is escrow?

SBIF recipients have the option of either financing their project up front and receiving a reimbursable grant upon completion, or creating a construction escrow account at Chicago Title & Trust.

With a construction escrow account, the SBIF recipient is only required to deposit the portion of the total eligible project costs they are responsible for into their escrow account at Chicago Title. Once those funds have been deposited, sourced from their own equity or through a loan, the City will deposit the SBIF grant funds into a SBIF recipient's escrow.

Funds are then paid directly to contractors from this account during the course of project. Note that there are fees associated with this process, which will be paid for by the SBIF grant.

Bars, taverns, hotels, and motels are newly eligible for SBIF grants, are there any special requirements for these businesses?

Yes. Bars, taverns, hotels, and motels must have held their tavern or hotel license and been in business for at least one calendar year to be eligible for the SBIF program. Additionally, bars, taverns, hotels, and motels that have pending license discipline cases or community meetings for public nuisance issues may be determined to be ineligible for the SBIF program.

Are there responsibilities after getting the grant?

Yes. If the applicant owns the property, ownership must be maintained for three years from the close out date. If the applicant leases the property, the business must not relocate outside of the TIF district for three years. If the applicant is a tenant, the lease term must have more than three years remaining when applying.

After their projects are complete, SBIF recipients must submit annual statements to SomerCor for three years showing they are in compliance with the close out agreement.

What happens if I move or close my business in the first three years after getting a SBIF grant?

Depending on the circumstances, this may be a violation of the grant agreement. Partial restitution to the City may be required.

My business is located in a TIF district but there is no SBIF funding available, when will there be?

The current rollout calendar has tentative dates for funding through 2023. If a TIF district does not have SBIF grants available on the calendar, applicants may contact the local alderman and DPD (dpd@cityofchicago.org) to request future SBIF funding.