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.