By Dan Haley
As a kid I delivered the Chicago's American, a failing afternoon paper owned by the Trib. My route stretched along Austin Boulevard from Madison to Lake and I met all manner of folks as I tossed papers onto porches and into lobbies and tried mightily to heave papers to third floor back porches of the apartment houses.
One of my stops was the Chateau Hotel. On Austin just a bit south of South Boulevard. Maybe it was a real hotel once. By the time I encountered it, the Chateau was a landing place for an intriguing batch of souls. The souls who took the American were very old souls. I'd ride the rickety elevator up to one floor and then another, dropping papers in hallways.
That was the mid-1960s. Not more than a few years later, the Chateau started turning up regularly in the police blotter in the Oak Park World. Prostitution and drug dealing had squeezed the old white widows out the door to who knows where and Oak Park had a legitimate crime hot spot.
The solution was for the Oak Park Residence Corporation to boldly buy the building and convert it into subsidized housing, mainly for seniors and people with disabilities. Now I live two blocks from The Oaks and it is a mainstay of the neighborhood.
A decade ago, the Residence Corporation built the Ryan Farrelly Apartments a block south of my house. This was a custom job just for the disabled.
Twenty years back, Seguin Services wanted to buy a home on East Avenue as a sort of halfway house for young people with various disabilities. A lot of neighbors went nuts. Now I can't even pick out which house it is. And Seguin and other similar agencies have multiple other single family homes around the community for similar good purpose.
PADS has 20 apartments in Oak Park that are used in a transitional housing program either to keep families from becoming homeless or to get families back on the path to being independent. Not sure where those are. Same thing with Sarah's Inn, the shelter for people in abusive relationships.
Mills Park Tower and Heritage House have been around 30 years offering tall towers filled with government subsidized housing, mainly for elders. The YMCA still has its SRO units which attract a mixed bag of men in a lot of different circumstances. Then there are the hundreds of Section 8 apartments. They're scattered across Oak Park but, on the other hand, the village has a greater concentration than most any town.
Next we'll likely have the 51 units of affordable housing for working people over on Madison Street. There's some tension over it. That's kind of how this works. It's a process. One that makes us stronger.
It's a lot of housing options. Put it all together and it feels like home.
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