Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, tax increment financing has been the city’s primary economic development tool. More than $500 million of property tax revenues are siphoned into the program each year, but unlike the money directed into the city’s other budgetary funds, TIF money is controlled by the mayor and distributed with little public awareness or oversight.

And as this week’s cover story points out, TIF money isn’t reaching many of the neediest parts of the city. In fact, Chicago’s economic disparities may even be widened by the program.

From 2004 to 2008 the city spent about $1.5 billion through the TIF program. The three wards downtown—the 2nd, the 27th, and the 42nd—received about $626 million, or 43 cents of every dollar spent. The rest was divvied up among the other 47 wards, with some of the neediest getting almost nothing.

We recently toured the wards that received the most TIF dollars as well as some that were largely shut out. Here’s what we saw. Photos by Sam Adams.