Section 8's virtues

Opinion: Editorials

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By Editorial

A tenants' rights group came to Oak Park last week to stage a protest against a major landlord, charging that the firm, Oak Park Apartments, no longer accepts federal Section 8 housing vouchers.

That is pretty much the case, according to Bill Planek, the active Oak Parker who started the company some 30 years ago and built it into one of the village's largest landlords with nearly 1,000 apartment units. Planek says his firm now has fewer than 10 Section 8 tenants and is no longer accepting new tenants under the federal program that pays a portion of rent for poor clients.

Under current law, Planek is within his rights to deny Section 8 applicants. At the county level, housing activists are working to expand a city of Chicago law that would call Planek's approach housing discrimination. We will see what comes of that effort.

A few thoughts on the issue:

Oak Park Apartments, Planek's firm, is a strong landlord for Oak Park. The owners invest heavily in their buildings and maintain them at a high level. Both Planek and his firm are devoted to the community and active in many worthwhile causes. Planek makes the valid point that while he is closing out Section 8 vouchers gradually, his firm works with a number of local charities to provide housing. Do we disagree with his position on Section 8? Yes. But are we fans of his work overall? Yes, we are.

The Section 8 program is administered locally by the Oak Park Housing Authority, an organization we greatly admire. In addition to administering the program, the Housing Authority/Residence Corporation has 90 Section 8 voucher holders among its 837 units. They actively work to spread voucher holders among various of their buildings with no more than 25 percent of tenants in any single building having a Section 8 voucher.

Holders of Section 8 vouchers consider themselves lucky to have access to the highly-sought-after program and work hard to maintain their status in the program. So not paying their portion of the rent, is, according to the Housing Authority a rare occurrence in Oak Park.

Before protestors descend on Oak Park to object to any aspect of our town's Section 8 program, they need to consider that a large number of Section 8 tenants — 540 vouchers locally out of 9,900 rental units — already call Oak Park home. Protests might be more fairly aimed at the many towns that have vigorously rebuffed all Section 8 units.

Finally, Section 8 is a critical housing program that has done a lot of good nationally and in Oak Park specifically. It is one of the reasons Oak Park has remained racially and economically diverse. And for that we are grateful.

Reader Comments

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Cosmic Queen from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2013 3:01 AM

Dear Dis: Nope they don't buy them but a neighbor of mine owns one and he rents his out to Sec. 8 all the time. He says he is happy to do so because he always gets his rent on time.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 11th, 2013 4:59 PM

Dis - I suspect we grew up in very different communities, with different experiences. I've just seen too many of my own people (and family) fall into life-long dependence on government programs to have anything but resentment about them. I drive into the city sometimes through neighborhoods that look like the one I grew up in, and it does indeed "hurt my feelings." Entitlement programs are the lifeblood of those neighborhoods. We disagree.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2013 9:23 AM

Just because it hurts your feelings doesn't mean it's useless, dear. Buck up! Meanwhile, the man who lives in the condo neighboring another friend here in Oak Park is driving people up the wall. Hmm... I'm pretty sure section 8 doesn't buy condos, but I guess I could be wrong....

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2013 9:15 AM

Your bitterness over paying for services you don't use simply doesn't change the nature of reality. Yes, unfortunately, a lot of these programs are not efficiently helping people to actually become self-sufficient. This does not mean that everyone who uses them abuses them. I personally don't know anyone who has just stayed on aid (to my knowledge). Unfortunately, it does happen. I don't disagree that some improvements should be made, but you're talking about two totally different issues.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2013 9:08 AM

I do know people who have used these services to get ahead. One of my best friend's family stated out in the projects and used government assistance to help them provide a better life for their children. My friend went on to get her masters (after using section 8 for a short time herself) and has been doing well on her own since. One of our mutual friends became pregnant at 16 and used section 8 for a short time after school. A short time, in both cases, while in college.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 5:05 PM

In my early adulthood, I saw people go two ways. Some were strivers, and some settled into lives of government dependency and poverty. It's ridiculous that we, as a nation, even give people the choice. This isn't theoretical if you've seen it happen. I personally can't name one person I know who has used gov't entitlement programs as a springboard to independence. I'm sure it's happened, but not in my experience. I can name several people who used entitlement programs to allow them to give up.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 4:59 PM

Dis-You seem pretty sure of yourself, but it doesn't match my experience. I've lived in two different apartments with Sec 8 neighbors. I worked hard to pay my rent, and to get out of that setting. My efforts had no discernible impact on the motivation or work ethic of my neighbors. Maybe it should have, but it didn't. Why should I have had to to work to pay my own rent, and to subsidize the rent of my neighbors who didn't work? It ticked my off then, and it ticks me off now.


Posted: January 9th, 2013 2:49 PM

Unlike you, I'm not a transplant. However, when I was in school I met quite a few who were! Living here creates a different set of challenges. If you're living in a building in which *everyone* is receiving some form of government assistance there isn't the same motivation and inspiration to get ahead. There isn't the same shame associated with being a link card holder. Yes, being around people who are more successful does a better job of inspiring people to succeed on their own.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 2:40 PM

You've asked why you should pay. You've asked why people feel entitled. You asked why people can't live amongst their own (in so many words). Now you're pretending to be concerned with progress. I've already stated that such programs need to be managed properly, so that was not the point of disagreement. Our tax dollars go to education even if we don't have children, and to many other services we many not use. It was your sense of entitlement that I was speaking to.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 1:37 PM

Dis - I understand how Section 8 is supposed to have worked. I argue that the results haven't matched the intent. It was intended, like many decades-old programs, to act as a "safety net." It was not intended that people never leave the net, nor that they raise successive generations inside the net. The unintended consequence of giving people just enough to get by is that it keeps them poor, and reduces their incentive to change their circumstances.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 11:36 AM

Why assume that "seeming" less poor has anything to do with the matter? That's a pretty narrow minded assumption, and ill informed. A community raises a child, not just the parents. The friends they have, the schools they attend, their neighbors, their exposures to a various views and experiences in life... There is a benefit beyond "appearances" to living in this community. I don't pay the taxes here for appearance...

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 11:28 AM

OP Transplant - It doesn't seem that you've really read (or comprehended) a thing I've stated below. My comments were not to the demands of others, and in fact I stated that such decisions should be up to property owners. Your issue isn't with the "demand" but the existence of such services. You've already stated that you don't know much about the matter, so how can you know about its successes? It's blind bigotry and nothing more.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 11:06 AM

Disappointed-Sometimes what society deems best is wrong. If you are so poor that you cannot afford decent housing, you have a problem that you need to solve. The solution will normally require that you change something about yourself. Asking the gov't for other people's money so that you kinda seem less poor doesn't solve your problem, because it doesn't require you to change. This has not proven to be a successful model. Good intentions and good results are two different things.

OP Resident 396 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 9:22 AM

I don't take issue with Section 8 or affordable housing. I take issue with people who suggest that Oak Park isn't carrying its fair share of the load. The stats are stated in the article. Concerned parties should push for parity in other communities that can afford to help, not further pushing resources already stretched thin in Oak Park. There is a fiscal breaking point to every model. The results of toeing that line would be catastrophic for everyone here, rich and poor alike.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 8:50 AM

I don't have a problem with leaving it up to the landlord to decide. The choice between security of section 8 income with, in my experience, higher upkeep costs verses less secure income from a rental with, again in my experience, lower upkeep on average is a business decision. Requireing a landlord to accept section 8 would mean that folks who recieve this entitlement become a protected class. There is a reason I chose to live in OP and not a housing project. what is the benefit to society?

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 6:10 AM

You should pay because you live in a society which deems it beneficial to aid the needy. A society which has decided that it is more beneficial to feed the hungry than have them dying on the street... than to arrest them for steeling food to feed their families... than constantly worry about being robbed. A society which hopes that these various services can improve the quality of life for all of it's members. The real problem is with the poor management, and not their mere existence.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 5:54 AM

It seems instead that many feel entitled to... pick their neighbors. You pick where you rent, you pick where you buy. You can't pick who moves in next to you, and it's your entitlement which says otherwise. Yes, it may be entitlement to expect tax breaks. It's not entitlement to use the tools provided by your society. These services were created for their social benefits, and are beneficial when maintained properly. As to your race, I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with being a bigot.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 8th, 2013 2:29 PM

Disappointed - I'm not from Oak Park, so I don't immediately cower when someone accuses me of bigotry. I'm also neither black nor white, so I don't belong to either of OP's officially approved races. I still say that to expect money from the gov't so you can live somewhere you can't afford is entitlement. I've been poor. I've lived in crappy apartments. I didn't look to anyone but my wife and me to solve that problem. Now, you explain why I should pay my own mortgage plus some stranger's rent?

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 7th, 2013 11:02 PM

You people are ill. When the government offers tax breaks, are those who use them suffering from "entitlement"? Micheal, As I already stated, it is a fact that plenty bad neighbors pay full rent. So, your experience with Section 8 neighbors is a moot point. Like I said... excuses to cover bigotry.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 7th, 2013 5:05 PM

"I can't afford this, but I still want it. The government should give me money so I can have it." How is that not entitlement?

MichaelO from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 10:14 AM

(cont.) I came home one day and found the neighbor across the way had a chicken penned up in our shared landing. Turned out it was dinner for her snake. She also had several dogs and a young son in a small one bedroom apartment. Some visitors didn't understand door bells and would shout to get the attention of the neighbors. Absurd? Yes. If you want to voice your opinion you would be better served if you understood what you're talking about.

MichaelO from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 10:13 AM

Disappointed, you've never lived in an apartment or condo yet you can dismiss those how have experienced section 8 neighbors and had bad experiences? They're childish? Let me share. I lived in an apartment complex in Oak Park east of Ridgeland for eight years. 5 of those years were fine. Then the landlord discovered the security of a steady stream of section 8 income. Over the course of two years the complex began to resemble a tenement. (cont.)

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 1:44 AM

That said, I don't have a problem with any property owner choosing not to accept Section 8. My parents accepted a family on Section 8 when I was a growing up and it turned into a nightmare for them. But to apply one or two bad experiences to all people, and posit that Section 8 recipients are somehow louder than any other inconsiderate neighbors is absurd. I've never lived in an apartment building or condo, but I've heard the horror stories about those who pay full rent. The claim is childish.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 1:39 AM

It's really sad that -in 2013- such things would need to be explained to adults. It's sad that, even considering our recent economic downturn which made new Link and Medicaid recipients out of a LOT of people who didn't think it would ever happen to them, we're still viewing all who receive public assistance with such prejudiced eyes and closed minds. With proper regulations in place, the claim of "entitlement" is nothing more than an excuse to cover bigotry.

Disappointed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 1:33 AM

The value, ideally, is in giving opportunities to others. The hope is that with a little (hopefully temporary) assistance, some who are "less fortunate" can get a stable foot on the ground and provide better opportunities for their children (in many cases). Ideally, in a safer neighborhood and a better school, there are fewer risks and few negative influences. Ideally, this child has a better chance at adequate education, and won't need aid as an adult. The value is to society collectively.

Edwin Garcia from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 10:12 PM

Section 8 recipients are unfortunately not a protected class (i.e. disabled, race, religion, etc.). For those of you eager to change the law to create easier access for Section 8 recipients, would you also be as eager to change the laws so ANY tenant who does not conform to their rental agreement can be evicted quickly? We all know the process is laborious. Just a thought.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 4:31 PM

Dylan, your huffy self-righteousness does little to convince me, as does your assertion that anything is "universally agreed on." I've been "poor and working folks," but it never occurred to me that I ought to live someplace I couldn't afford, simply because I wanted to. Some of us are old enough to have seen the trap of the entitlement mindset keep people locked in a cycle of poverty and dependence. I believe that your heart is in the fight place, but I don't think you're right.

Dylan Bellisle from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 24th, 2012 11:32 PM

So yes... lets just give Section 8 to folks so they can get housing in the poorest of neighborhoods because they don't bring "any benefit to the community." OP Transplant. Housing IS a Human right. This is a Universally agreed on right. The cost of housing IS an issue. Have you and other every thought that perhaps poor and working folks want to also live in safe communities with decent schools and services? Why not go live on a block with half the houses boarded up. Then you may understand what housing rights are about...

OP Tranpslant  

Posted: December 21st, 2012 2:23 PM

Brendan - I simply disagree with your aims. Your ideas are predicated on the concepts not only that people have a "right" to live in housing and communities they cannot afford, but also that they have a "right" to live in specific buildings where the owner does not take their form of payment. These "rights" seem to belong only to Sec 8 voucher holders: you and I have no such rights. It's a shameful display of entitlement from those demanding something for nothing.


Posted: December 21st, 2012 1:09 PM

Why do we need to pay for people to live in neighborhoods they cannot afford? I grew up in Oak Park and realize it is a wonderful place; however, I knew growing up in OP was a priveledge, not a right. I would think that the supporters of Section 8 would realize that its purpose is to provide housing assistance to people who are in need of financial aid, not quality of life assistance to people who want to live beyond their means. Or is this diversity for diversity's sake?

Brendan from Winnetka  

Posted: December 21st, 2012 10:28 AM

OP Transplant, first I work in Winnetka and do not live here. As far as we, a group of advocates, voucher holders, landlords, clergy members, elected officials, and others have organized to advocate for Cook County to Amend its Fair Housing Ordinance to include Housing Choice Vouchers. We currently have 68 endorsers including elected officials from across Cook County. We want to make sure that tenants with housing vouchers are given the same chance as all other tenants.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 2:15 PM

Brendan - When you say "As a group we..." who are you referring to? I'm going to suggest that living in Winnetka insulates you from the reality of your ideals. Winnetka is not legendary for its abundance of housing for the poor.

Brendan from Winnetka  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 1:39 PM

A a group we are trying to grant equal rights to all tenants regardless of their source of income. From personal experience I have tried to locate housing for tenants with vouchers, the tenants were qualified and yet it was nearly impossible to find people willing to accept vouchers. If a voucher holder qualifies with credit, housing history, etc. they should not be told no due to their source of income.


Posted: December 20th, 2012 1:14 PM

I agree with OPT's comments. What is the community benefit for attracting and actively soliciting for poverty? Diversity? At what cost? Cheap labor? Do the Sec 8 folks work 16 hour days in the Oak Park orange groves? Or at the Oak Park chicken processing plant? I fail to see the benefit to OP. If Sec 8 folks are such honored members of the community, wouldn't their presence be of more value in those "bad" communities they are trying to move out of? How will those "bad" 'hoods ever improve?

Bethanne Puccinelli from OAK PARK  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 12:59 PM

I wish someone would pay for me to live for free and have more than I do now....But, They don't and THAT IS LIFE. I have pride and will do it myself. Even if the property values have gone down and the taxes up! Suck it up and put on your work boots!

Monica Klinke from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 10:28 AM

Dan - thanks for once again pointing out the obvious. I recently heard the saying, "Common sense is just not all that common." So true here in the People's Republic of Oak Park. OP Transplant - think long and carefully before committing to living in OP. It is a frustrating and expensive place for anyone with common sense.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 10:08 AM

Sad - I don't know how Sec 8 participation breaks down racially or ethnically. I'm only saying that a community that intentionally makes itself a magnet for the unemployed and for the poor is not doing its own police department or school district any favors. You don't often hear community leaders saying, "We need to increase the rate of poverty and unemployment." But then, I'm not from here.

Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2012 9:35 AM

A friend lease an apt. at Lake & Forest for $1,250.00 per month. His neighbor was a Section 8 tenant paying about $300.00 per month. My firend had to move due to excessive, noise, partying, on the part of the Section 8 tenant. I fail to see any virtue, kindly enlighten me.


Posted: December 20th, 2012 9:03 AM

Looks like the WJ agrees with you OP Transplant. Is it fair to say that the real message is we don't want more minorities (Section 8 in OP is overwhelmingly minority) unless they have money, because we have our fair share? That seems to inevitably be your point and the point of the editorial. Progressive?

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 19th, 2012 6:25 PM

I can't fathom what possible advantages to the village come from more Section 8 housing. I don't think it should be a goal to attract more people to OP who are unemployed and/or living at or near the poverty level. I've never heard of a community benefiting from higher rates of unemployment and poverty. As a village resident, what's the upside?


Posted: December 19th, 2012 3:03 PM

This editorial is a lot of words that seem to say ultimately that we agree that less Section 8 in OP is ok. Gentrification of OP at the expense of true diversity marches on. Agree or disagree, that is the message.

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