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.
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