Housing Center to discuss past, future

Opinion

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J. Michael Willians, One View

April is Fair Housing Month. In most places, that statement would evoke a yawn from almost everyone. I hope that in Oak Park, where for more than three decades we have worked to assure open housing for all and to welcome people of all backgrounds, it is cause for celebration, reflection, and?#34;you guessed it?#34;more hard work.

To that end, the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, of which I am a board member, is sponsoring a forum at the Oak Park Public Library on Thursday, April 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. Entitled "The Housing Center: Our Future," the forum will provide an opportunity to reflect on where Oak Park has come from, as well as where it is going, and on how the Housing Center can best fulfill its historic commitment to racial diversity in the rental housing market.

Anchoring the forum will be three Oak Park residents: Bobbie Raymond, the founder of the Housing Center in 1972; John Lukehart, vice-president of the Chicago-based Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities; and Reggie Winston, vice-president of the board of the Housing Center. Refreshments will be served, and there will be time for questions, answers, and mingling.

For those who need some background, the Housing Center is a non-profit apartment finder, funded in part by the Village of Oak Park but relying also on private support, which operates free of charge to its clients. The mission of the Housing Center is to achieve meaningful and lasting racial diversity throughout Oak Park and surrounding communities. It does this by counseling clients as to the apartments available in the village, making clients aware of pro-integrative housing choices among the listings available, providing escort services to its clients, and partnering with apartment owners to assure that apartment buildings are tenanted by a racially diverse population.

Prospective renters are free to make, and in fact do make, their own housing choices. However, as the result of the Housing Center's efforts, enough people make pro-integrative choices that Oak Park, unlike virtually any other place in the U.S., continues to enjoy a diverse population from all backgrounds living in its apartment buildings, as well as in its condos, townhomes, and single family residences.

Notwithstanding our successes, there is much work still to be done.

Some have suggested that the diversity wars have been won and that the Housing Center, though once instrumental, is no longer needed. This is a short-sighted notion, and it flies in the face of the experience of communities all over this country.

Experience has shown that the market does not create diverse communities. Communities that have relied solely on the market to develop or maintain open housing and diversity have seen themselves drift, and in some cases, spiral, toward segregation.

Oak Park has maintained racial diversity because it has not relied solely upon the market, but instead has adopted an interventionist approach to achieving housing integration. The Housing Center is an important and effective part of that effort, and you owe it to yourself to learn about it. Even if you are a homeowner, the rising property values that you have enjoyed derive in no small part from the work of the Housing Center. I urge you to attend the forum at the library on April 21 at 7 p.m. Now, as much as ever, the Housing Center deserves our collective support.

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