Right tone. Wrong tone.

Opinion: Editorials

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When the Oak Park village board gathered last Tuesday to receive and discuss the report from HOPE Fair Housing Center that spelled out multiple instances of discrimination in rental housing, it did a lot of things well. And Village President Anan Abu-Taleb badly overstepped the boundary between a board that sets policy and one that manages the village and its staff.

It is to the credit of the village board and administration that this damaging report ended up quickly and prominently on the board's agenda. The board made no attempt to hide the findings or to downplay the import. Housing discrimination based on race or disability, which the report documented, is totally unacceptable in Oak Park, the village board made plain.

In discussing the report, the board clearly emphasized that strict enforcement actions, including litigation, ought to be part of the village's response, along with heavily stepped-up education and training measures for both landlords and potential renters. That is the proper balance the village's response must achieve.

The board also took a very wise step in rethinking an initial proposal that this report be sent out to three separate village commissions for their independent review and recommendations. Talk about a good way for an important topic to be buried. This would have been it, even with the best of intentions.

Instead, the board created an ad hoc commission made up of the three village board members — Colette Lueck, Glenn Brewer and Bob Tucker — who serve as liaisons to those commissions: the Housing Programs Advisory Committee, the Community Relations Commission and the Disability Access Commission.

By gathering all the key players into a small working group and giving it a short timeline to bring back recommendations, the board has ensured that this issue will be addressed, that weaknesses in the current systems will be identified, and that the village will refocus on its historic support of fair housing.

The misstep at the board table came from President Abu-Taleb who, during testimony to the board from Tammie Grossman, the village's lead staffer on housing and business issues, aggressively interrupted and demanded to know who ought to be fired from the staff. "I would like to know," he said to Grossman, "and you don't have to name names for me. If you say by tomorrow, 'Fire the person in our village who should be accountable for this,' do you have somebody in mind? And if you don't, why don't you?'"

The village president and village board have a single employee. That is the village manager. Everyone else at village hall works for the manager. That line is clear and it is there for very good reasons.

As this ad hoc commission goes to work, we suspect it will find accountability issues at the staff level, the village board level, the commission level. To us this feels like everyone took their eye off this ball. Perhaps, in the end, the village manager will decide staffing changes are necessary. But that will be her decision to make.

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 4th, 2014 10:41 AM

The village board held a Special OP Board Meeting last night. The purpose was to plan how to form a Task Force to recommend steps to ensure that discrimination enforcement is improved. I attended the meeting, as a resident, and read the statement below at the start of the meeting. "The Hope Survey Human Rights Violation is an iceberg. We see the ice on the surface, but have no idea of how deep and massive it really is. We know that our process to protect those seeking Fair Housing is broken. The simple fix is to have more frequent housing surveys to detect violations quicker. The simple fix will not reveal why boards, village staff, commissions, and partners never asked the questions, ""Are we enforcing discrimination laws properly?" Are we focusing enough resources on enforcement? The simple fix does not answer the question, "Why did a village, with seven housing organizations, fail to detect a crucial failure? The human rights event also challenges the village's sense of exceptionalism. Are we really as good at government as we claim? How much have we lowered our Human Rights, Fair Housing, and Diversity standards? The board has the opportunity to begin restoring our exceptionalism. It is time to find out how big the iceberg is!" The board made some decisions at the meeting including its the task force size, twelve, its length, six to nine months. It also determined that the Task Force should have two or three board members, three Commission Chairs, two representatives from the realty business, and a representative from HPAC, the village housing arm. Three more people will be appointed. I do question the skill, professionalism, human rights capability of the nine selections, but question the objective and thoroughness of a team with little incentive to do any harm to our housing structure. It's hard to discover the depth and mass of an iceberg without getting your feet wet.

hey clueless guy  

Posted: March 2nd, 2014 1:48 AM

Hey overkissed backside, for the record several cities in Arizona, Texas, and Cali have populations 4 and 5 times OPs size and they have city managers. Nothing works the same in OP because it's OP..but other places aren't experiencing the same problems just because of govt form.

Everyone in Oak Park can kiss my backside  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 5:56 PM

The Village Manager system sucks. Grow up and have the elected people be accountable like a real city. Do you know why Berwyn is so successful. BECAUSE THEY ARE A REAL CITY WITHOUT A CITY MANAGER!

LakshmiV@gmail.com from Oak park  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 5:22 PM

This outrage is justified. But Mr. Anan was wrong to look for blame from anyone other than the racist landlords. Look at these posters and you will see that there are racists among us. That is not to blame on anyone but the racist actor.

R U EFFIN SERIOUS?  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 5:11 PM

Refusing to show housing to black people because you don't think they can pay is A FORM OF DISCRIMINATION. Hello.

Just sayin  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 8:48 AM

Renters being turned away b/c of race is just one piece of the puzzle. What is OP doing to attract the kind of diversity we value? That's the real question. Communities need to be proactive about attracting a variety of people from all backgrounds or things end up de facto segregated. We can't wait to see if there's discrimination. Prevention is worth more than a cure.

Trump Jr.  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 8:10 AM

In NYC it's pretty standard to see an income requirement listed right there in rental ad, typically 40X the monthly rent. It seems perfectly reasonable, protects renters from getting in over their heads, and saves everyone alot of time.

Jack Hudak from Oak park  

Posted: March 1st, 2014 6:47 AM

Great analogy on the clothing and groceries and pad in TriBeCa but remember that this is oak park and everything is about race.

Lots missing from Op  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 8:40 PM

You know when you write a report and give the overview? # of apts #units #renters. Basic demographics of current renters? It is overlooked in this report. My understanding is there were 15 trials. I like data. 15 trials test against what number of units/Properties? If we discriminate, what does the current population of renters reveal? How many complaints does OP get a year? 15 trials without any other info is a small start, not a definitive report.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 6:34 PM

Just saying, wtf does fair housing mean? Seriously. You either can pay the rent or you can't. I'd love a 3,000 sqft loft in Tribeca, but my meager salary can't afford it. Do I get to claim fair housing some how so I can get a sweet pad I could otherwise not afford? Most of us working stiffs move where we can afford and not force others to foot the bill of our desires by claiming it isn't fair.

Blll D  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 6:06 PM

Oh for God sakes, I encounter "income bias" every time I think about how I'd really like to drive a Porsche, Just Sayin. The simple fact is, I CAN'T AFFORD IT. So I drive a Nissan. So, to be clear, you're talking about "affordability." OK. That I can work with. But "income bias"? Get real.

Just sayin  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 4:23 PM

I don't know that anybody has all the answers yet. The blame isn't all on landlords, let's not make them the villains. It's about banks lending more money. It's about having a variety of housing types so that something in a neighborhood is affordable. It's a big, society-wide problem. I was just providing food for thought as we move forward on the Fair Housing issue.

@ just saying  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 4:17 PM

I'm guilty of discrimination for making a good business decision? Some people can pay some can not. That doesn't make them lesser people it just means I won't rent to them because they probably can't pay their rent. Some people will always have more $ than you and some people will always have less $ than you. Fairness is a fantasy of kindergartners. Sorry

Just sayin  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 3:07 PM

Joe was right on, Bill, so I'll only add that the day is coming when landlords won't be able to use credit checks. (It's already illegal for job hiring.) The question is how do we provide fair housing for all that doesn't see some indicator as "less than?" It's complicated. My point was income bias is just as much discrimination as skin color. Let's not pretend this is only about race.

Blll D  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 2:25 PM

That's quite a mouthful, "Just Saying,"that "only renting to people who can pay is a form of housing discrimination." So, then, by logical extension, only selling groceries to people who can pay is discrimination, because people have to eat? Demanding that they pay for clothes is ipso facto discrimination because people have to be clothed? Same with transportation? Gas? People need to be informed, so, free internet? Your sort of thinking makes it so painful to defend my liberal/moderate views.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 11:43 AM

agreed, socioeconomic status matters more to a landlord than race. Many landlords have the opinion that folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are more of a risk to rent to because of evictions, repairs and lost rent. Some of this comes from bias, some from experience. It may be illegal to discriminate based on income in cook county, but if low income folks are more costly for the landlord, it makes good business sense to try and steer rentals to folks with higher income anyway.

@ just saying  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 11:23 AM

So I am supposed to GIVE someone a 2 br unit for free, pay their bills and pay $6k in taxes for them too? How bout I make them dinner every night too? Oh, and I'll get a second job to help clothe them.

Just sayin  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 10:29 AM

Magic Number, you only renting to people who can pay is a form of housing discrimination as well. Just sayin. Everybody needs a roof over their head.

Whats the magic number?  

Posted: February 28th, 2014 9:30 AM

Seriously all of this debate because you uppity white liberals want to "enforce" diversity. As a landlord I'm insulted. I lease to people who can PAY, skin color does not matter. How many of you outraged people have managed buildings? I'd like to know.

Mimi Jordan  

Posted: February 26th, 2014 3:57 PM

One might prefer a different choice of words on Anan's part, but not the message. He was expressing his own and many taxpayers' frustration at the fact that we have both staff and multiple committees and commissions all devoted to housing issues, human rights issues, and discrimination issues. We boast about our diversity. Yet this report indicates we are no better than any other community. Although firing might be too much, demanding accountability never is.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 26th, 2014 2:01 PM

I assume that 10 or 15 years ago when Discrimination Enforcement was skinned down by budget cuts in the Community Relation Department and changes in discrimination adjudication was executed, the decision was made by gathering key players in a small working group to make changes to a critical housing responsibility. That technique is changing. D200 used a citizen group to hammer out the distribution of surplus funds in less than a year. The board, staff, and OPDC negotiated a major change in the how economic development will be conducted in a matter of months. The village staff has reorganized and has quickly changed business processes to better serve residents and businesses in a matter of months, not years. Dan Haley, in writing a 40th Anniversary tribute to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center closed his article by writing, "We offer thanks and we suggest reflection on what we have created and how it can be improved and sustained." His comment was on the mark. He was also on the mark in 2009 when he wrote that Oak Park cannot "Rest on its Laurels" when it comes to diversity. The Hope survey revealed mistakes by the village. I can understand Anan's rage, but fear witch-hunts. The boards, village staff, commissions, and housing partners did not uncover the crimes and did not vehemently challenge the cuts and changes made that corrupted the village's ability to properly handle discrimination enforcement. Any results from the key players in a small group will, right or wrong, be questionable. An independent commission will be better able to undercover flaws and objectively assess what has occurred. Simultaneously, it will be able to grasp the underlying processes. I do not favor a commission charged with making recommendations. That is the village staff job after the commission provides an in-depth study of why the failure occurred. How long would that take? It should take no more than six or eight weeks.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 26th, 2014 9:10 AM

I think you're wrong on the "tone" question. When an employee, in this case a dept head (or bus unit leader) presents to a board, it is perfectly appropriate for the board chair to challenge all aspects of their performance. Frankly, the board has played nice with some of these folks for too long. Assuming the HOPE report is valid (of which I remain a bit uncertain), it means there has been some pretty egregious oversight on the part of some village employee(s). There should be consequences.

James  

Posted: February 26th, 2014 7:50 AM

Maybe he should fire himself.

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