Is it our turn to move out?

Opinion: Columns

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By Jack Crowe

Neighborhood streets in Oak Park have their own time. Over decades, the residents of the houses on a street turn over from longtime residents to start-up families.

There is continuity too. Old Victorians are refurbished. Block party traditions get handed down as families move out or in.

When we moved onto our street over 25 years ago, there were few young couples. Then, seemingly overnight, there were many. Retirees sold their homes and moved to local apartments. A few moved to the Oak Park Arms. Some left town.

The older homeowners were replaced by 20- and 30-somethings. Middle managers in industry and commerce with a sprinkling of lawyers and doctors. They drove Volvo station wagons, pushed baby joggers and attended soccer games.

In the '90s, we bonded with nervous parents dropping children off for the first day of school. We remained friends for the next 20-plus years, seeing one another at church or the grocery store or the Lake Theatre.

Recently, at a late-summer high school graduation party, some old friends reassembled. We caught up on which daughter had the public relations job, which son was attending graduate school. We talked about being empty-nesters.

And then talk turned to Oak Park and plans for the future. Many — most? — said that they are leaving. It didn't feel like the retirees we had met on our block when we first moved in. There was a sadness, even bitterness.

"This isn't a place where we can retire."

"We can't afford Oak Park anymore."

"The taxes are killing us. We're moving."

My question is: Has Oak Park reached a tipping point and approved one or three tax referenda too many or is this normal turnover?

In building a shining city on a hill — has Oak Park become a place where the people who made it interesting can no longer afford to live here? Will people who fought for an inclusive community find themselves excluded — not by discriminatory practices, but by living expenses?

Will a modern-day Bobbie Raymond move here and impact housing access? Will another Dan Haley found whatever the modern equivalent will be of a local newspaper? Has the Oak Park social experiment had its day?

Paying $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 in real estate taxes for a house might make sense during prime earning years, but not when this is the amount a retiree can expect annually from social security. Few are the people in town who, like a retired OPRF teacher, will earn $100,000 a year from a pension.

Maybe we shouldn't care. Maybe the younger, wealthier people in Oak Park will be glad to be rid of us. Having the world's best schools and park district and everything else is why they moved here, and they are willing to pay for it. 

Until their tour of duty is over and it's their turn to move out.

Jack Crowe is an Oak Park resident and executive director of Year Up – Chicago.

Reader Comments

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Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 4:56 PM

The day the class of 2024 graduates, the sign goes up. If we can last that long in Oak park. Then hopefully I can find some family willing to buy my house and pay, in eight years or so, probably $12,000/year in taxes on a 1500 sq. ft. home.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 2:12 PM

Jack.. Thank you for your honest writing. This year I have to come up with another $1,500 in property taxes and another $600 or so in income tax. Add on to that the sugar tax, bag tax, bottle water tax, higher minimum wage, red light cameras, etc. one is looking at a LOT of extra fees that goes down the black hole of local government. That is another $2,500 or so I can't spend at The Lake Theatre, The Brown Elephant, The Sugar Beet, etc. Multiply my scenario by 15,000 in Oak Park and by millions in Chicago and we have a recipe for a fiscal disaster. Soon Oak Park will become another Wheaton or Hinsdale and they will have their $50,000,000 pool project, and beautiful high rises, but the diversity which Oak Park has claimed to embraced will soon be gone. I for one have been here over 20 years and will be putting my house on the market next spring.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 11:59 AM

@ Leslie and Mike: Disagree completely . Taxes maybe high in Illinois, however homes in other parts of the country are reasonable. Taking property away for non payment of back taxes is not the problem. Taking property away for back taxes should be limited to the taxes owed, and not the total value o the home lost to the ex home owner.If you own anything you must up keep up and or insure the item if the item retains value. I had a town house I bought on North Harlem Avenue. In paid $49K My initial mortgage for 41K was $419 a month. My apartment rent was $200. Prior to selling in 10 years I could rent the town house for $1100, making $600 a month and my old apartment was renting for $900. Owning real estate, is like drinking scotch, an acquired taste. These condo buyers for whatever their reason are home buyers. I would maybe take a condo if it were free, but they think they like it, until they have kids or the guy 4 floors below them has an accidental fire and they cant get out of the 18th floor window.I cant think of anyone who ever died jumping out of a ground floor ranch house window. Just me. No, I will pour myself my weekly double scotch on crushed ice. Cheers.

Leslie Roberts  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 11:29 AM

Mike Hanline: Exactly. When our homes and land can be taken away from us for not paying taxes, it is only an illusion that we own them. And we also get to do all the repairs. If you think about those reverse mortgages, the ads always say you still own your home -- that is so you are still responsible for the property taxes and maintenance, not the lender, Mortgage companies likewise don't say they own your home, although if you miss some payments they can foreclose and take your house to sell.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 10:12 AM

The concept of home "ownership" is all but dead. High property taxes ensure that you will continue to pay "rent" on the property you own free and clear until you capitulate and move out, or die.

Leslie Roberts  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 10:32 PM

We have a place for elders, more like concentrated areas: Belmont..., Oak Park Arms, and the HUD Mills Park Tower, and some building on Lake Street served by Meals on Wheels. Generations segregated, unlike other cultures in which multiple generations live together and help each other and respect their elders.

Leslie Roberts  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 10:24 PM

This turnover is great for the commissions of real estate agents, and the taxes benefit some government entity(s). Also, the banks benefit from the fees and because, like us, we have paid off our mortgage early long ago, so the new people will have to have a new mortgage with interests to pay. In other words, there is no incentive to help people who want to stay in their homes, in their community. With people moving all over the country, families are split up. Generations are separated. The pseudo-grandparents, pseudo-aunts/uncles and general elders are driven out along with their wisdom from experience. That is a loss of irreplaceable resources for a community. Since parents of 0-22 age children need both to earn money, they are not available for all the volunteering needs of the community, which the retirees provide. Gently kicking out the retirees, diminishes the resources, talents, of volunteers. If we eliminate these volunteers, the younger working folk will have to put out more money/taxes to fulfill the function they get from volunteers for free. Young and middle age people will miss the experience of what is like to grow older and how to do it gracefully, what to expect, and the joy of helping their elderly neighbors. Hmmm. reminds me of Soylent Green only 65 instead of 30 years old. Just thinking.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 8:56 AM

Get out while you can.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: August 15th, 2017 8:34 PM

Look at the bright side, the changing demographics/wealth will solve the "equity" dilemma. I'm sure, though, that we'll keep the various "equity administrators." When D97 goes to all-day PK-3 and PK-4 (y'know, for the children)....we'll price out the rest of the "undesirables" - of all colors.

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: August 15th, 2017 7:25 PM

The people moving in replacing you are likely dual income professionals who are probably at the edge of what they can afford house-wise, and who have no idea how they are going to pay for college for their 2.1 children, and beyond that, almost nothing saved for retirement. So, they'll be moving out in 20 years too.

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