Oak Park neighbors vent over Comcast building proposal

Vocal support and opposition to non-profit plan for low income apartments


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By Jean Lotus, Contributing Reporter

Editor's note: This story has been changed slightly from the original version. Attribution of one misattributed quote has been deleted. Wednesday Journal regrets the error.

Emotions ran high Wednesday evening at a public meeting to discuss the proposed makeover of Madison Street's long-vacant Comcast building into housing for "working-poor singles."

Around 40 neighbors and residents — close to 50/50 opposed and in favor — spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Veteran's Room at the main branch of the library. Interfaith Housing Development Corporation seeks to transform a building neighbors agreed was an "eyesore" into 51 apartments for low-income tenants who earn less than $26,400 annually (half the local median income).

Perry Vietti, the chief operating officer of IHDC, presented renderings by architect Dennis Langley of the original brick and decorative limestone skin, currently obscured by a crumbling cement façade. "This is a repurposing of an existing building instead of new construction." The building proposal is LEED certified and "very green," said Vietti.

But it was the expected tenancy of the new building that roiled the crowd. Vietti said that low-income tenants would be screened for verification of income and household size. The units are intended for single persons, at least 18 years of age — or a single adult with a child under 18 —who ideally live or work in Oak Park. "These might be veterans, low-wage workers or persons with disabilities who have an ability to live independently." Social services for residents would be provided by Catholic Charities.

Neighbors had mixed feelings about the proposed use of the building at Madison Street and Grove Avenue.

"As a paralegal for the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, I encounter on a daily basis individuals who would benefit from this project," said Claire Lombardo. "I work full time and last year earned around $15,000. A building like this would not only be accessible to people like my clients, but people like myself." Lombardo lives on the 800 block of South Grove Avenue with her parents.

Meridith Hill of the 500 block of South Grove told the group, "I am a person with a disability and I would like to be your neighbor in an apartment of my own. We already live here. We are your friends and neighbors. Let's face it, I don't want to live with my parents forever."

Many speakers asked the developers to consider mixed-income units. Anxiety was evident about a building occupied by only low-income tenants. "Putting people in a building like that creates its own ghetto," said a woman who owns a condo in the 30-plus unit building at the north end of the 400 block of Grove.

"My biggest concern is security," said neighbor Julie O'Shea, of the 400 block of South Grove, who said the block already had Section 8 apartments close to her home. "I don't expect every low-income person to be dealing drugs. But they may be on the fringes of life and maybe desperate and looking at our beautiful homes and at our garages."

Several speakers objected to a lack of 24-hour supervisors in the building. One person making that objection was the owner of a nearby six-flat. "I can't imagine having 51 units without a manager on site," she said. Vietti told Wednesday Journal that support staff and social workers from Catholic Charities will be on the site seven days a week, including evenings and weekends, but that having a full-time desk person would cost $100,000.

In the next few months, IHDC will seek building code variances from the village's Plan Commission to add two stories to the property: making it 55 feet instead of the maximum 50 feet allowed. The plan proposes 51 units up from 40 allowed. Also, the plan proposes 32 parking spots, fewer than required but an adequate number, Vietti insisted, for low-income residents in a "transit rich" neighborhood. "[For the most part] they don't have cars," said Vietti. A female voice yelled, "Their friends have cars!"

Members of Neighbors for Madison Renewal presented the results of a survey answered by 342 residents within a four block radius of the project. Seventy-four percent of residents within one block opposed it. Of the entire sample, 60 percent of respondents opposed the project with 30 percent in favor and 9 percent undecided.

The survey listed "density" as the most-disliked feature. Vietti pointed out that the neighborhood is already dense. The 400 block of Grove has fewer than a dozen single family homes. Large, multiunit buildings sit on the north end of the block and neighboring streets such as Kenilworth and Oak Park Avenue are lined with apartment buildings.

Some speakers urged the crowd not to let the opportunity to develop the building slip through their fingers.

"When you look on Madison Street, how much development do you see? Then look on Madison in Forest Park and even east on Austin," said Dave Hill of the 500 block of South Grove. "I'm afraid we're looking a gift horse in the mouth here."

Others called on the village's history of inclusion in housing. "People of Oak Park 40 years ago decided to be different. I ask that we revisit that history and the courage that Oak Parkers had to embrace change," said Rick Ashton of the 200 block of North Marion Street.

Bob Haisman of the 600 block of South Grove said he had toured other developments run by IHDC and was impressed by their "quality, cleanliness, and rules and regulations."

"I believe Oak Park is a better place. I moved here because it was a diverse community who promised — bragged about — social justice. It was the place I wanted to be. For my neighbors who perhaps don't agree with me I think we need to sit down and talk."

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Posted: May 11th, 2011 9:30 AM

Hey Dawn, I rented something to a family that had filed bankruptcy and was involved in a foreclosure. Guess what? They pay their rent on time and the checks clear. Ideal tenants.

Dawn from Oak Park  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 9:19 AM

A friends family bought a historic home in OP, brought the home back to its original grandeur,just in time for the housing market to tank. They decided to rent the home & after careful consideration, rent to a low-income family with 3 children w/the idea the family would be given a chance at a life in a better neighborhood.When no one was looking, the family moved in 9 extended family members, all sleeping on matresses on the floor of the basement. Family fueds ensued and police were called.


Posted: November 10th, 2010 10:03 AM

I don't equate the opening of a new corner pub with a conspiracy to segregate lower-income people to South Oak Park. However this Comcast development would add a high-density low income population to an area already that is already economically diverse. The census tract that includes the Comcast bldg already has the highest % of low income units in Oak Park. I don't think placing 51 low-income adults children in a segregated building is good for anyone. This model was discredited long ago.

Greg K from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 5:28 AM

My family and I visited Lalo's restaurant this evening and passed the new bar to the north. We will not return. South Oak Park Avenue has become an alcohol drinking venue (Not family friendly). No one states the obvious. The Village is pushing low income (lower class) individuals into an already socially declining area. Home values and rents are in dramatic decline in South Oak Park. Once again South Oak Park gets the short end of the stick. Does anyone believe this project would be even mentioned on Lake Street or farther north? Why does Lincoln Grade School have a "combined class" with over 50 students? Why does Lincoln Grade School have students in mobile homes for classrooms? The local governing bodies talk a great game but in reality are telling South Oak Park "talk to the hand". It is really a shame to see a situation in decline and no one will admit it.I was at a local party and the pictures were passed of different neighbor families who recently moved out of Oak Park. Many were jealous of our old neighbor's new homes and locales. I am sure the Village Line is "We did not need them any way". Oak Park is SO inclusive. Great. Talk to the hand.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 11:01 PM

The OP Diversity Statement states QUOTE To achieve our diversity goals, the Village of Oak Park must continue to support the Board's fair housing philosophy that has allowed us to live Side by Side and actively seek to foster unity in our village. UNQUOTE Side by Side means OP has open housing. For sure, the 51 low income residence of the Madison housing will live side by side, but that is not what the OP Philosophy is about. Some would say it is segregation.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2010 10:24 AM

Oak Park needs to change the way it cares about the World. Oak Park needs to become the mobile community that cares.Oak Park, go into the neighborhoods that need your help. Develop the school system's, solve the drug problems that drive the majority of crimes. Show the World Oak Park can be more than it is now.

Luke Casson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 27th, 2010 8:55 PM

Regardless of the fate of this project, I am learning more and more about our community. The project neighbors have cited reasonable concerns and it boils down to a simple concept--as conceived, it is doomed to fail. The prospective residents need community support, as in assimilation into the surrounding community. The housing concept does not allow that to happen. Putting the histrionics from the non-neighbors aside, the neighbors appear to oppose bad projects, not new neighbors.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 27th, 2010 3:03 PM

In the mid 2000%u2019s, the OP YMCA announced their move to RF and that they would not have singles only rooms (SRO) at that location. That decision led to a study organized by the housing clique to buy the YMCA building and keep the SRO. The effort failed. That did not daunt them. They decided to find another location. Last year the Y announced they were staying and keeping the SRO open. The housing clique dream did not end. Despite an ample supply of single room housing at the Y and in OP rentals, the cliques dream or nightmare continues.

Benn from Forest Park  

Posted: October 27th, 2010 12:36 PM

Mixed-income is the only way to go. Even CHA has figured that out.Also, Oak Park already has plenty of affordable housing.

Nick C from Oak Park  

Posted: October 27th, 2010 11:26 AM

This development is simply an awful idea. Anyone who disagrees needs to read up on their Chicago history. Stuffing a lot of low income families into a small building is not just bad for the neighborhood and those who already live there, but also for those low income families. Its unfair on so many levels. Just remember to ask - "Who benefits?"I'm all for developing that building,but I can think of at least ten better ideas for it. Here's a hint - We don't need more housing in Oak Park.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: October 27th, 2010 8:50 AM

Are the developers of this project being forthright about their intentions? There are plenty of low-income individuals who can benefit from low rent housing. Recent college grads who are trying to start careers while working service jobs. Grad students working part time.The automatic provision of social services suggests that the developers have other goals. Everyone deserves a decent place to live. But the community has a right to fully understand the real purposes of this project.

Anne Onymous from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2010 10:02 AM

"Specifically, we have asked for three modifications: 1) Include families; 2) Decrease the density; and 3) Include economic diversity. These are simple, common sense changes based on experience and research, not a rejection of those in need or closeted bigotry. friendsofgrove@gmail.com"EXACTLY. My family and I have struggled and suffered to be able to afford to live out here to have a safe place for our children. I don't think sensible and considered housing policy is too much to ask.

Friends of Grove from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: October 24th, 2010 11:31 PM

Neighbors surrounding this development are NOT opposed to helping those in need. In fact the vast majority support the mission statement of IHDC. Where we differ is in the execution of this project. Specifically, we have asked for three modifications: 1) Include families; 2) Decrease the density; and 3) Include economic diversity. These are simple, common sense changes based on experience and research, not a rejection of those in need or closeted bigotry. friendsofgrove@gmail.com

Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2010 9:40 AM

51 singles-only apartments? Gentlemen, it's party time!

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 1:20 PM

This is for John Murtagh and others who are basically saying that the Wall Street crooks are worse than petty thieves: what a ridiculous statement! I doubt that anyone at that meeting is judging the low-income people. But they are correct in their understanding that those who may be addicts (or at the moment are "clean")are not particularly stable. They cannot support themselves adequately and now a whole bunch are living together? Have mixed units! That way, there is more stability!

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 1:14 PM

@Mary Ellen: My take on that statement is that there will be people who may have been homeless and need support for mental health issues, substance abuse, etc. You act as if all low-income people have no issues whatsoever! I would wager that many of the homeless have mental health issues of some sort, including addiction. That isn't blaming; that is simply not looking at everything which such rose-colored glasses and ignoring possible serious issues. Haven't we learned anything from the projects

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 1:09 PM

Um...this is for Richelle and Yvette: everyone is kumbaya-esque until the problem hits home and affects YOU. I used to live in Berwyn and it seems that when they filled lots of North Berwyn apts. with Section 8, everything went downhill quickly. I lived there for almost two decades and only in the last few years was it noticeably hairy. It's not even necessarily the actual new people on Section 8 but their relatives, exes visiting them and wreaking havoc. This is a foolish idea IMO.

Anne Onymous from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 12:16 PM

Ah, this is an area where my experience clashes with my idealist liberalism. I live steps from Madison, and it's bad enough that I have to endure the utterly unwanted candle-to-the-moth-of-petty-crime ugly new Walgreens, further diminishing my property value. I think mixed income housing on a smaller scale is great, but this private, unadministered, housing project isn't. In my handful of years in OP I've only seen Madison Streetdeteriorate (except in Forrest Park where it has taken huge leaps forward). Is the Village intentionally ruining property values in that corridor with an agenda? Seems like it.

Brad Foreman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 11:12 AM

Many people in this community support charity work of every type. But Interfaith has not shown any need for this project in this locale. Housing projects in uban areas have been a failed social policy and have been demolished. Does placing one in a suburb make it a better policy? The target population need jobs for themselves and education opportunites for their kids.


Posted: October 23rd, 2010 8:43 AM

I oppose the development because it's too many units in too small a space. I opposed a proposed luxury condo development across the street for the same reason. As an aside, part of my job involves trying to place folks in buildings run by IHDC and similar groups. The fact is, people who need such housing will often (not always) have substance abuse and criminal backgrounds. Some of them will relapse. In Chicago, these developments are located in neighborhoods where they blend in better.

Chris Koertge from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 8:36 AM

The neighbors of this proposed project are overwhelmingly against it per a survey conducted and posted by NMR. To the rest of the community who has resorted to sophomoric and convenient name calling (elitism, NIMBY'ism), why not listen to and attempt to resolve the concerns raised by the neighbors instead of responding with blind, oversimplified and insulting accusations? Isn't everyone entitled to an opinion? Are you any better than what you're accusing us of being if you deny us our voice?

LA from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 8:21 AM

There are low and high income residents mixed throughout the buildings in this area already. I am not worried about low-income residents. But 51 units of housing seems like a dense amount in one fairly small footprint. The extra cars and visiting cars will likely be a problem, too. I park on the street, and the parking in this area is already very tight. So the density issue is what needs to be addressed.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 1:17 AM

Four people favoring the proposal posted negative comments about Wall Street. For example QUOTE Remember who was responsible for our recession. Wall Street bankers.UNQUOTE One of the questions raised about the proposal is whom will own the business. Important in case the business fails. Does responsibility fall on the village. The only answer so far is that money funds will be the owners. Remember Lehman Brothers. We need to understand the risks and benefits of the proposal a lot better.

Tom Coffman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 9:25 PM

At this point, we have the area vacant, which is quite different from the Kaos of the Comcast trucks that took over the 400 block of grove for any time in my memory.This is a reputable group, looking to house people in need. Anybody in opposition should just go ahead and check themselves into H%$#!!!We are suppose to support the people who need help in our society, not cast them aside. There is no real business in that area of Oak Park. Vote yes for morality.

Lisa from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 6:52 PM

Elitist attitude? Mrs. C, Think, etc. - how much time have you spent at the Taylor Homes? How about Cabrini Green? None? That's what I thought. Who is going to guarantee this building will be occupied by our local waitress or barista? You? Probably not. Look at the big picture. This proposal is a PROJECT.

Ms. M from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 6:18 PM

Why don't the people proposing this development spend a night in an apartment by the YMCA where low income people reside and see how "enjoyable" it is there. People from there yelling, fighting, hanging out after midnight, keeping residents in the nearby apartments awake. Yeah, let's bring the same disaster to Madison Street!

Mrs. C  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 5:13 PM

Wow! I'm amazed at the elitist attitude of so many postings. Low income does not equate to low character. So, your waitress at your favorite restaurant, your landscaper, your grocery store cashier are not fit to live in Oak Park? But it would probably be okay if a Wall Street money maker who stole millions lived next door as long as he could afford to.

Oak Park's deterioration  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 4:43 PM

The fact that Oak Park is planning on building a 140-room hotel, 85 condominiums, and a massive parking structure on Lake St but opposes low-income housing is truly sad. This is Oak Park's greatest weakness. The argument is undeniably based on race and class: its a battle between the sheltered rich and the neglected poor. Those preaching "not in my backyard" should be ashamed, especially if they are promoting total surveillance. Don't use crime as an excuse, you should be afraid of yourselves.

Think from Forest Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 4:09 PM

Did you naysayers read the article or attend the meeting? The tenants may include vets and people with disabilities. Do such people automatically mean trouble? No. Remember who was responsible for our recession-Wall Street bankers. Money has nothing to do with morals.

Mr. Inclusive from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 3:50 PM

I frequently hear complaints from friends in upscale condos about rude, inconsiderate or irascible neighbors. Conduct is not determined by degree of wealth. And Wall Street profiteering clearly shows that criminality has nothing to do with income either.The low-income people you opponents love to fear and demonize are the cashier at Walmart, the guy busing your table, the newspaper deliverer, the coffee barista. You're lucky anyone wants to live in your neighborhood of "NO."

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 3:31 PM

A tenet of Oak Park's Housing Policy since the 1960's has been residents living Side by Side. The resident live together irrespective of race, nationality, sexual preference, etc. The Madison Avenue Housing Proposal excludes many and isolates low wage singles. If there was a lack of housing for low-wage singles, perhaps an emergency solution would be merited. There is no shortage. The YMCA singles facilities have openings and the housing center reports that over one hundred single apartments.


Posted: October 22nd, 2010 3:09 PM

We already have the glorified homeless shelter known as the library.

Betsy F. from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 3:03 PM

It%u2019s unfortunate that some of the people posting comments have not educated themselves of the situation before making such snide remarks. This isn%u2019t about discrimination against poor people. The developer hasn%u2019t been able to be specific about the profile of potential residents. It is not a sure thing that disabled people will be living there. Not all people living there would be drug dealers or criminals, BUT statistically this model has proven to have higher rates of drug problems and crime in general. What happens to this building after its initial term is over? Another low -income project left to deteriorate? There are too many unanswered questions. This is just not a good idea.

Joel Sheffel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 2:44 PM

As a resident of The Oaks for the last 10 years, while there may not be supervisors on hand 24 hours but that does not say that the residents in a building will not find ways to be of use to each other and be sure to let management know of problems when they are back.I am a resident with a disability, a member of Oak Park's Universal Access Commission and Executive Director of Website Supplied Access News Association, A part of the community and do not do drugs but help the community.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 2:31 PM

It is not clear to me why, if this is simply housing for those with lower incomes, Catholic Charitieswill be providing "social services" to the residents. I'm not sure what those social services would be but are we assuming that low-income individuals are automatically in need of such services? Why? Low income citizens need better jobs and higher incomes. Let's not go back to the old days when it was presumed that the poor needed to be improved upon by social workers in order to be worthy.

Rick from Oak park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 2:22 PM

51 units of low-income housing and it is up for discussion? Totally ridicules. This would not fly in any other burb. Now anyone who does not like it is an elitist. Oak Park makes it a point have affordable housing which is great and working. It is to hard to police who lives in the apartment. Sure the main tenant could be single with a child, but after moving in anything goes, friends, more kids. I manage section 8 apts. and have seen it. Plus Lincoln School is already overcrowded.


Posted: October 22nd, 2010 2:00 PM

It's easy to criticize the neighbors for being upset if you live in another part of OP. VOP has neglected Madison St and surrounding streets for decades. Beautiful single family homes have been torn down in favor of crappy and packed townhouses. A Walgreens just got built without any traffic remediation. The traffic on Madison is more like the Eisenhower and less like a residential street (try crossing the pedestrian crossing at Kenilworth.) What's worse than being a NIMBY is being a YIYBY.


Posted: October 22nd, 2010 1:18 PM

I think property values have dropped enough the past couple of years in this area. I feel terrible for the people paying a pretty penny for their home and property taxes that live right around that building. Especially the people raising children.

Susan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 1:12 PM

I have lived in Oak Park for over 30 years and we have always been a community open to helping everyone. I think you are not listening to what the neighbors are saying. Let's make sure this building is successful and it needs to have a mixed and diverse community not just low-income. Oak Park has a program in place for low-income needs, stick to the plan. If there are no more section 8 voucheres available then use this building for something else that wil benefit the entire oak park community

Jeff F.  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 1:09 PM

I was at the meeting and I did not hear one person say we should not provide affordable housing in OP. This is not about low income housing, this is about 51 units all in one place. Call it what you want but this is a housing project and it has proven to be a failed system. Oak Park prides itself on developing creative solutions to social issues - dumping 51 low income residents into one building with little support does not feel very creative. It feels very outdated.

Brian H. from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 1:01 PM

Oh I'm sure Bob, Yvette, and Richelle live right there within a couple blocks of the building?? I doubt it. I don't want low income housing near me. Why would I ?? I pay high taxes, bills, mortgage. Having this development built, is just POSSIBLY asking for trouble. I don't want it, and I will fight it. And as Robert stated, low income housing does not work, why do you think it would in OP?And OP open minded ??? Yes, just as long as I think and feel the same as you.

Christopher Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 12:57 PM

I don't have an objection to the reuse of this building for affordable housing. It is difficult for many to afford a place to live in a reasonably safe neighborhood with good schools and amenities. But, at the same time, I think it is unfair to characterize those with legitimate concerns as lacking Christian charity. Few of us do well with change, especially changes that affect them closely and have potential negative impact. We don't label those with concerns about other local changes this way.

Bob Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 12:42 PM

I was at that meeting. A lot of euphemisms were tossed around. Terms like "density", "traffic", and "balanced development" substituted for "The Po' Folks Are Comin'!"

Robert Larson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 12:41 PM

Stacking poor people on top of poor people in housing projects has proven a disaster everywhere it has been tried - Robert Taylor Homes, Cabrini Green, etc. Why would we think it would be any different in Oak Park?

Yvette from Chicago  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 12:35 PM

I used to live in Oak Park and I loved it. I'm apalled at the residents comments about the low-income people moving into the neighborhood. Whatever happened to love thy neighbor? So let me get this right, you prefer the rich over the poor because you fear for your safety? They're not the ones you should be afraid of. You should fear yourself because of the hatred and bigotry in your heart. I wonder how Jesus would feel about your thoughts. hmmmm.

Richelle K. Cross from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 12:18 PM

I've been a resident of Oak Park for 15 plus years. I am by no means low income and I always thought Oak Park was known for it's open mindedness and diversity. I see that is not the case for some Oak Parkers. So let me see if I get this right, people earning a low income are all criminals and drug dealers? Only people with high salaries are welcome in Oak Park?

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