Village to fund Housing Authority budget shortfall

Oak Park Village notes

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

The Oak Park Housing Authority is no longer faced with the threat of having to end its financial support of between 20-30 low income families over the next two months, after the village board agreed Thursday to subsidize the organization's $150,000 budget shortfall.

A freeze in federal funding led to the budget crisis, which has already forced the Housing Authority to stop issuing new vouchers after a family leaves the program.

The organization is authorized to issue 427 vouchers, but is currently only supporting 412. Without village support, the Housing Authority would have had to cut the number of vouchers it issues to roughly 390, said Ed Solan, Housing Authority director.

"If we don't receive [any funding], that's the dire consequence we face," Solan said.

At a study session last week, the village board showed unanimous support for assisting the Housing Authority.

"If the board rejects the opportunity to provide funding, a significant number of families will be displaced and children will be displaced from our schools," said Village President Joanne Trapani. "That's unacceptable to me, and I hope that's unacceptable to you. We need to put money where our mouth is in valuing diversity."

The village will use dollars from its housing bond fund to support the Housing Authority this year.

Solan said the average "profile" of a voucher recipient is a single parent with 1-2 children.

Because the federal government is not expected to increase its support of low-income housing in coming years, village board members also expressed concern that the budget crisis will persist.

"I fully support this subsidy, but I'm really concerned how this will be handled a year from now," said Trustee Gus Kostopulos.

Trustee Robert Milstein proposed the village consider a multi-year funding commitment. The village board did not rule out looking at funding options in future years, but many said they were not prepared to approve at this time a multi-year agreement.

Trustees will vote on the subsidy at its next regular board meeting.

Board approves raise for Swenson

Following an annual performance review conducted in closed session, the village board last week voted 6-1 to increase Village Manager Carl Swenson's base salary by $2,000 and grant him a raise of 4.5 percent.

Trustee Robert Milstein was the only board member to vote against the contract amendment.

In an interview last week, Milstein said he felt the raise was too high, and said the board is "always too gushy" in its review of the Village Manager.

"There's never any real look at the pros and cons. I don't believe he's followed up on personnel issues," he said. "That's not to say he hasn't done some things very well."

Milstein also voted against renewing Swenson's contract last year.

The majority of board members, however, praised Swenson's performance over the last several years.

Trustee Ray Johnson said Swenson does "an outstanding job."

"You know the challenges, and you work hard to overcome them," he said, specifically citing Swenson's financial management of the village. "You show your strength through your leadership and your ability to lead by example."

Vote on UIC, Roosevelt plans in March

The village board is expected this month to vote on a redevelopment plan for Roosevelt Road and UIC character plans for the Oak Park Avenue/Eisenhower and Harrison Street business districts.

The board first received the Roosevelt Road plan, conducted by planning firm Farr and Associates, in February of 2003; the UIC plans were received in fall of that year.

Trustees continued to express some reservations about the documents, especially the UIC character studies.

"The [UIC plan] left a lot to be desired. There was a lot of citizen involvement, but it fell apart in interpretation," said Trustee Gus Kostopulos.

There were also concerns about an increase in property values on Harrison would eventually drive out artists.

There was also previously some debate over whether the village should create a joint body with Berwyn that would review development on Roosevelt.

Overall, however, the board agreed to move forward with the plans.

"There's a perception that we're paying attention to one part of town and not others," said Village President Trapani. "We don't want to be left with people saying we're not moving on these. I don't think delay serves residents well."

Village Planner Craig Failor said the plans will serve as "guidelines" even though some details still need to be addressed.

"There are more good things in these plans than there are bad," he said. "If adopted, this sends a message to business districts that the village is interested in what's happening in those areas. People in these areas are clamoring for recognition."

Trustees also emphasized that the village will not be purchasing and bulldozing single-family homes, which was one of the more bold recommendations in the UIC plan.
CONTACT: kgrayson@wjinc.com

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