Nonprofit says proposed Oak Park apartment project won't be segregated

Opponents want mix of incomes in Comcast building development


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

A local nonprofit says a controversial apartment building planned for Madison Street near Oak Park Avenue will not result in socioeconomic segregation, as some opponents of the project have charged.

The proposed apartments would be located in a neighborhood where the median income is $86,077, Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, said at an Oak Park Plan Commission meeting last week. He believes affordable housing will add to the economic and racial diversity of the neighborhood, rather than destroying it.

Breymaier, whose housing center works to promote racial integration in Oak Park, said he wanted to address some of the "rhetoric" he's heard circulating about the development, a four-story apartment building that would replace the abandoned Comcast facility at 801 Madison St.

He contends the 51 units would only increase the number of apartments in the neighborhood census tract — bordered by Harlem and Oak Park avenues, South Boulevard and Madison Street — by 2 percent. Such an increase would be "insufficiently small to create a segregative effect," he said.

William McDermott, 63, a 35-year resident of Oak Park, disagreed with Breymaier's claims. McDermott focused on the nearby blocks that would be most affected if the apartment building is ever constructed.

"Putting 51 low-income people in one building is not diversity. As much as they'd like to believe it is, it just isn't," McDermott said by phone.

Chicago-based Interfaith Housing Development Corp., the developer, is targeting as tenants, people who live or work in Oak Park and who earn less than $26,300. They are partnering with the Oak Park Housing Authority and Catholic Charities to bring their proposal together.

Last week's hearing picked up where the last one left off, as neighbors continued to testify in opposition. Patricia O'Shea, of the 600 block of South Oak Park Avenue, believes supporters are viewing the project through "rose-colored glasses." At the last meeting, supporters noted that their grown children would be eligible to live in the proposed building. But college-age kids wouldn't be interested in such a living situation, she said.

"Are the charitable organizations involved really in the business to provide supportive services to 20-somethings with entry-level jobs who could easily move out of their parents houses by getting roommates?" she asked. "It just doesn't make sense to me."

O'Shea also expressed concern about the "concentrated poverty" proposed in the building, and called it a "Cabrini Green" approach to addressing a social issue.

Dave Heidorn, of the 500 block of South Grove, formerly lived near a building that served the disadvantaged in Chicago. There, he said, he witnessed drug use, sex acts and people hanging out on the stoops of neighbors, all of which make it "impossible for me and my family to fathom that Oak Park is even considering this."

Breymaier challenged neighbors who compared the project to Cabrini Green, saying that those failed Chicago housing projects were far larger in scale, and located in impoverished neighborhoods. He labeled the housing center as "neutral" on the topic because the nonprofit deals in racial integration rather than affordable housing. The agency is not affiliated with any of the three groups that are proposing the project. However, it does rent out units for the Oak Park Residence Corp., a sister agency of the housing authority.

The Oak Park Plan Commission is scheduled to continue its deliberations on Feb. 17, and hopes to make a recommendation to the village board in March.

Reader Comments

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Roger Ephart from Oak Park  

Posted: February 12th, 2011 3:15 PM

I understand the benefits of segregation, but I would also support Governor Quinn's decision to send the national guard to Madison St and Oak Park avenue.

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: February 12th, 2011 10:34 AM

What is the point of Breymaier's testimony? By his geographic parameter, Interfaith could put up a skyscraper at Grove-Madison and it would be statistically insignificant. Try the stat of increasing housing units on a very short block by 100%. Any block would fight a for profit project with that impact, as a similar Schiess project there was fought. The lost point is the proposal embodies segregation. Only singles, no families, no disabled, all low income. Warehousing people doesn't work.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:27 PM

I was the first to complain when the initial story was posted last Friday. I thought it important to call out that the article posted was out of balance. Now that this update has been posted and printed I want to say thank you for writing the whole story. Next time it might be a good idea to wait to post a story until you have time to write the whole thing. I get the need for speed. However, in this internet age there are probably many who will never circle back.


Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:56 AM

Thank U JG & Adele - and @OP Resident no one is being "cold"-people are being realistic about this specific project -speaking personally I would love for all to succeed and do everything possible w/in my means to support organizations that make sense & spend wisely. This is a plan that does not make sense, is a corporate tax shelter & does not fill the true Oak Park need of housing for families. There are many affordable studio and 1 BR apts in Oak Park that can serve the need of mother/child.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 1:04 AM

My mother is up for retirement FROM DCFS. Unless it's in the plans that all or most of the tenants will be wards the state, there's no reason to throw DCFS into this conversation. Is the plan to have all of the tenants be teenage state wards? What happens when they're emancipated? And why hasn't this been expressly stated in all the talk about this project? Most people with low incomes are not state wards, so I'm missing why DCFS is being name dropped in the defense of this project.

Dutch Elm  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 12:21 AM

Went to Circle's last show at their new place on Madison. Compared to Forest Park, this stretch of Madison is a desert. Reminds me of crossing through Checkpoing Charlie from West to East Berlin. Sad that the best new development our village can offer is publicly funded low income housing. Guess that's the mindset of our leaders. Inspiring, isn't it?

Adele from OP  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 10:07 PM

Where's Violet? I miss her aura....

Adele from OP  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 10:05 PM

@OP Resident Lord: I didn't realize you were the resident Lord. either way, How can I not act so cold when it is 4 degrees outside? This does NOT have human welfare at its heart. It is designed for one thing: To Make Money. This is not about single mothers with baby Einsteins in tow. This is about a developer getting HUD $$ and DCFS $$ and God knows what other$$ to support low income ghettos in Oak Park. They depend on our...ahem "tolerance". Plz wakie uppie

OP Resident  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 7:54 PM

Do not act so COLD! The homes are zoned for one adult and one child. The funds are coming from DCFS and HUD. These babies need a place to live. Show some respect please.


Posted: February 8th, 2011 7:47 PM

These are 1 BR apts. - not family apts. this plan does not make sense.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 7:41 PM

Single mothers and their babies are NOT the resident profile. They won't live here as the project is designed except as an exception. The applicants stated, this is not a location for families. Please do your homework before accusing others of having "no shame".

OP Resident from Lord, pray for us sinners  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 6:58 PM

Lord Pray for us sinners. DCFS and HUD have funds sorely needed for single mothers and their babies. What kind of future do these babies have in the ghetto? So far all of IHDC's transition homes have been in areas with poor schools and services. Please help these babies. Have you no shame? We elected Obama. We want this salvation. These babies are our future.

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: February 8th, 2011 9:15 AM

The "proposal" does feel like a fait accompli. And when public input is finally sought, the opposition is characterized as anti poor people. I thought putting affordable housing there was a good idea, but the plan is not good. There's a rumor that the old Wags will be a dollar store. This area could be as vibrant as FP's Madison. There is a new drug store, a nice restaurant, a playhouse, and several indy shop owners. Meanwhile,$ is to be spent (again) beautifying Marion Street/South Blvd? Why?

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: February 7th, 2011 3:59 PM

I addressed the inconsistency of the village staff's wide support for the Madison Avenue Housing Project and the OP Comprehensive Plan to highlight the fact that Interfaith, the OP Housing Authority, and the Village Staff managed to create pounds of paper, and hours of speechmaking without mentioning race. The OP Comprehensive Plan-Housing says specifically that projects that COULD cause segregation or resegregation require extraordinary review. Is the Comprehensive Plan still in effect in OP?

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 7th, 2011 10:13 AM

@FYI: This is good information and appreciated, but I believe it's already established that this neighborhood is one of the most diverse areas of one of the most diverse suburbs of Chicago. The concern with economic (not racial) segregation is specific to this building. Going back to the dictionary to post the definition of segregation has me more convinced than ever that this development IS segregated. I don't see how any reasonable person could read that definition and state otherwise.

FYI from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2011 2:07 PM

One can use any demographic characteristic or geographical area as appropriate for a specific site. It appears Mr. Breymaier addressed economic and population race characteristics for Census Tract #8128 (5,358 persons). Finer-grain census data per Census Block Group (#2, 987 persons) or Census Block (#2500, 150 persons) for the Comcast site is at > Fact Sheet > Oak Park, IL > 2000 census; then select a demographic characteristic & associated map for 801 W. Madison.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2011 9:41 AM

I thought the issue was economic, not racial segregation. The residents of a high-density housing project for low-income residents, including many on permanent government assistance, would not be well-served, regardless of race.

FYI from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2011 9:29 AM

Clarification re. diversity vs integration. Diversity index measures the probability that any two residents, chosen at random, would be of different attribute. Dissimilarity index measures the evenness which two groups are distributed across a component spatial area relative to a larger area. The index ranges from 0.0 (complete integration) to 1.0 (complete segregation). The component spatial area could be anything, such as a census tract (as per Breymaier), census block or the building itself.


Posted: February 6th, 2011 8:45 AM


Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 4:58 PM

On Comcast...John Murtagh's planned testimony to the Oak Park Plan Commission (not delivered yet) is now posted at!/pages/Concerned-Citizens-Madison-Avenue-Housing-Project-Oak-Park/183305981700320 (to use this link, highlight it, press Ctrl and C on your keyboard. To paste into your address bar in your browser, press Ctrl plus P)

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 3:54 PM

The Oak Park Comprenhensive Plan states that all project that could result in segragation or resegragation requires extraordinary review. I sent a letter to the Plan Com for their consideration. I did not state that the Madison Avenue Housing Project would be segragated. I merely stated the rules that govern the village. That is -- a fact. As has become too typical of the housing clique, they respond to facts with opinions. Breimeyer's statment is an opinion or spin. Spin is not news.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 1:51 PM

@Adele: D'oh! What is up with me? In any case, with the vacancy rate of OP apartments, the very fact that the village would even think about this is odd.

Adele from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 1:42 PM

Actually Violet, its "There are" and not "here are" :)) Just joshin'. Agree about paper's pro support. This project is not being built to address housing needs of individuals. Many apartments available throughout OP. The "drop a ghetto" in Beverly Hills diversity argument is disingenuous as Koertge points out. This is NOT needed. There WILL be correlational problems - and not just more dollar stores.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 1:00 PM

Before I get nailed for this: "here ARE already..." and not "is."

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 12:59 PM

As others have commented, there is already sufficient units available in OP so what is this REALLY about? If low-income folks were dispersed into various apt. buildings in the village, this would create a more diverse mix of incomes, etc. The money spent on an unnecessary building could be used in such better ways! UGH!!!!!!

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 11:51 AM

On Comcast @Chris...really good point about this forum. I appreciate it too.


Posted: February 5th, 2011 11:44 AM

@ Demetrios there are other properties besides those available through the Regional Housing Center - google apts. for rent in Oak Park and you will come up with many units.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 10:47 AM

I have to agree with Patricia that the local papers have taken a strong pro slant on nearly all coverage. Onesidedness is appropriate in editorials, but not an article such as this. This paper's opinion on this project has been made clear from day one, prior to any fact-based discussion, by on what they have chosen to and NOT to publish. Still, offers the closest thing to open, public debate on this project and I firmly believe that the debate is healthy for this community.

Demetrios Pappageorge from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 10:45 AM

@wplanek - Rob Breymaier stated that there are only 15 one-bedroom apartments available at any time throughout the entire village. Are you saying there are more units available than cross his desk? Also, does Rob's regional office really cover all the property owners in the village?

Dutch Elm  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 10:36 AM

I love how the WJ presented this as some kind of equally balanced meeting. Opponents clearly outnumbered supporters but you wouldn't know it from this little puff piece. Opponents better get hyper organized, maybe even seek legal help. We're about to get steamrolled by our betters.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 10:28 AM

@Speechless: Ed Solon, Director of Oak Park Residence Corp and a resident of the area of Oak Park you describe, said it best when asked at a July neighborhood meeting on the development what he would do if this project was proposed in his neighborhood: "I don't have a Comcast building in my neighborhood".

Speechless from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 10:06 AM

This proposed project should do wonders for commerical development on Madison... If it's such a great idea, build on the north end of town, now that would be diversity, how many low income people live west of Ridgeland and north of Lake St.?? Thankfully I don't have property to sell near there... from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 9:02 AM

There are plenty of affordable studio & 1 BR apts. available in Oak Park. The need is for affordable family housing in this community. This project does not make sense and you have to wonder why it is being pushed so hard.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 8:52 AM

From the Merriam Webster dictionary: "Segregation: the separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area." Well, sure seems to fit the way this project is envisioned, doesn't it?

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2011 8:00 AM

This isn't news. It's a house organ for the tiny cadre of Oak Park visionistas who have a much better idea than the rest of us how Oak Park should be. That's worked really well, hasn't it? Love the art deco parking lot. Love the rebuilding and rebuilding of downtown and one more cake store opening soon. Love the parking garage to get teachers off the street at any cost. Love being panhandled in line at McDonald's. Love the hubris of making the Ike go away. Love the Dollar Store. Thanks!


Posted: February 4th, 2011 8:14 PM

Oh, good god, Patricia, the WJ has sufficiently covered your side, over and over and over again. We get it.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 4th, 2011 7:54 PM

On Comcast..2/3 of this article is for the proponents. There were approx. 6-7 who testified against last night. Not one quote from those speaker. Some spin. Since this newspaper isn't covering it, for those interested in seeing what some of the opponents had to say, go to!/pages/Concerned-Citizens-Madison-Avenue-Housing-Project-Oak-Park/183305981700320 . If you agree, "like" the page so we can show the village how voters feel.

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