The Interfaith Housing Development Corporation of Chicago, as a partner to the Oak Park Housing Authority, has developed a proposal for the old Comcast building at Madison and Grove. The village board plans to vote in May.
The proposal includes 51 one-bedroom apartments for low-income residents with a preference for residents who live and/or work in Oak Park, along with a commercial component. Because of the financing model, if approved, the Comcast building will be a low-income building through about 2053.
I have spent countless hours over the past several months learning about this proposal. To ensure I understood the situation, I attended meetings, pored over documents, attended the Interfaith tour, and read every piece of news and online opinion I could get my hands on. I have developed an opinion based on my analysis.
First, I am opposed because I believe this development is not aligned with the values of Oak Park and that it is a form of segregation. The Oak Park Diversity Statement reads, "To achieve our goals, the Village of Oak Park must continue to support the board's fair housing philosophy that has allowed us to live side-by-side and actively seek to foster unity in our community." It bears repeating — the goal is to live side-by-side.
Does a building designed to have 51-102 individuals living in a multi-floor apartment building surrounded by a parking lot and retail to the west, a busy street to the south, and a bank to the east fit that definition? I say no. Low-income residents will not live side by side with anyone but each other. It is form of segregation.
I understand that Oak Park has an opportunity to leverage federal funding. Village officials probably don't want to walk away from that. I'm not suggesting that we should. However, I do recommend we go back to the drawing board on the resident preference. All evidence points to senior housing being the primary need here. The Oak Park Housing Authority (OPHA), as the local partner, determines the resident preference (it also must be approved by financiers). It is the OPHA which chose low-income Oak Park live/work. It seems the agency is ignoring the research it recently participated in. For example:
The Oak Park Housing Program Advisory Committee's "Report on Affordable Housing Strategies (08/18/10)" stated the first area of need in Oak Park is for senior housing.
Per Illinois Housing Providers Meeting Minutes (07/08/09), housing that is lacking in the community is assisted living for seniors, a need to replace SRO (Single Room Occupancy) units at YMCA, and apartments sufficient in size for large families.
In a letter to the village dated 10/12/09, Edward Solan, executive director of the OPHA, expressed a need for affordable assisted-living facilities for low-income seniors.
Now is the time to decide whether or not you support the proposed design for this 40-year commitment. If you share my concerns, you can make a difference by taking a moment to contact the village board. If you would like more information or want to do your own analysis, visit www.madisonprojectinfo.com where you can find a history, documents, links, frequently asked questions, a list of questions for the village board, and more.
Patricia O'Shea is an Oak Park resident and working mother of two.