Oak Park advances affordable housing

Village to study inclusionary zoning ordinance

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

High-rise buildings have been going up around downtown Oak Park over the last few years, but the village does not require developers, as a matter of policy, to either contribute funds to an affordable housing fund or to set aside a percentage of units at affordable rents.

Unlike some other municipalities, such as Chicago and Evanston, which require a certain number of units in each new development to be affordable to lower-income residents or for a cash contribution to an affordable housing fund, the village of Oak Park has negotiated with developers case-by-case for contributions to its fund.

That could soon change with a vote at the most recent Oak Park Board of Trustees meeting, where trustees directed the village to study the topic of a so-called inclusionary zoning ordinance and bring back recommendations for an ordinance.

The details – whether the ordinance will require new developments to include 10 percent affordable units or pay a specified amount into a fund, for example – still must be established and a final ordinance would be approved at a later date, but the affirmative vote from the board gives an indication that the board is poised to eventually approve an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

The vote was 5-2 with trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney voting against the proposal.

Advocates for the measure argued that the $1.2 million in voluntary payments to an affordable housing fund from luxury apartment projects like Vantage Oak Park, The Emerson and Eleven 33, would have potentially been much greater had the village had an inclusionary zoning ordinance in place a few years ago when developers brought their projects to the village.

David Kralik, chairman of the board of the Oak Park Housing Authority, which administers federal funds for affordable housing, told trustees that without a commitment to affordable housing "economic diversity will quickly evaporate" in the village.

Had a 10 percent affordable requirement been in place prior to the downtown developments, the village could have collected $10 million "even if you only assume $100,000 per unit," Kralik said.

Oak Park resident Amy Dean, who advocated in favor of the ordinance, noted that the spotlight is now on Oak Park because of the television series America To Me, which has highlighted racial inequities at Oak Park and River Forest High School. "Oak Park's progressive roots grew out of successful efforts to stop white flight and encourage integration, but we are failing to live up to that vision as everyday people struggle to stay in our community in the face of escalating housing costs," she said.

The proposal was brought forth at the request of trustees Bob Tucker, Andrea Button and Simone Boutet. Tucker said the ordinance would bring transparency and predictability to the process of collecting affordable housing funds. "It needs to be geographically specific for Oak Park," he said. "Different parts of town are different in terms of what can be achieved with development, and we need to recognize that. We need to be rational about this."

Button said the ordinance is "overdue."

"Until recently it was the position of most of the board, staff and the (Oak Park Economic Development Corporation) that it was more effective from a development standpoint … to avoid implementing an inclusionary zoning ordinance and instead just ask developers to contribute to affordable housing on a case-by-case basis," she said.

Trustee Deno Andrew argued that it was unclear whether an ordinance was needed because 18.4 percent of the housing stock in Oak Park already is considered affordable.

"I'm fine with that amount," Andrews said, suggesting the board research whether an ordinance is needed, rather than directing staff to draft a recommended ordinance.

"Inclusionary zoning should solve a problem that is measurable, but we don't yet know what that problem is," he said.

Trustee Moroney said the rising property tax burden in Oak Park is the culprit impacting affordable housing. "I think in addition to advocating for government regulation and government programming, we really need to start advocating for controlling spending," he said.

The vote came just shortly after the board approved funding two new programs – both for Housing Forward, which aims to reduce homelessness in Oak Park – from the $1.2 million Affordable Housing Fund.

The board voted 4-3 to approve $230,000 for a flexible rental assistance fund and $268,108 to operate an interim housing program through Housing Forward. Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb joined Andrews and Moroney in opposing funding those programs.

The interim housing program provides units at two rental properties in Oak Park for those experiencing homelessness, and the rental assistance program helps those who are homeless but ineligible for funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Amy Dean  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 2:27 PM

Susan, The 18.4% data point was calculated five years ago before the development boom. In 2019, real estate developers will compete the process of adding 1,129 luxury homes. In stark contrast, Oak Park's affordable housing stock has failed to keep pace with our rapid luxury housing development. Right now, you need to make at least $24.23 an hour to rent a 2 bedroom apartment in Oak Park. As wages stagnant, healthcare costs rise and taxes skyrocket, Oak Park is growing increasingly out of reach for too many people. For Oak Park to be inclusive as we claim we want to be, we must be also be affordable. An Inclusionary zoning ordinance is one tool in the toolbox to help ensure that Oak Park is within reach of everyday people.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 9:07 PM

To make housing affordable, relax the zoning and build more of it. Instead of the luxury high rises, allow more no-frills 3-4-6 flats on standard lots that won't cost a fortune to build and maintain. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-12/ben-carson-and-hud-get-ready-to-take-on-the-nimbys

Neal Buer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 5:05 PM

Kent, in fairness you should call us the "fully taxed crowd". Here is what affordable housing looks like in Oak Park currently - The developers in downtown Oak Park receive generous zoning variances after agreeing to pay into the affordable housing fund rather than have 10% affordable units in their building. Then the village uses the funds to build a 100% low income units in south Oak Park. If we want a fair affordable housing plan, every development has to have affordable units. Paying into the fund shouldn't be allowed.

Susan M. Bending-Wienke Roberts  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 4:32 PM

If Deno is correct and we have 18.9% affordable housing, we need to have a number in mind for our achievable goal. Also we need to know how we compare to surrounding communities.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 3:44 PM

Hello Kent. The reason you don't see screeching from anyone online when tax breaks are given to developers is because those deals are done behind closed doors. Trust me, most Oak Parkers are not on board with subsidies given to developers. We already have a very diverse community and my concern is whenever gov't gets involved to "fix" something, things often go awry (war on poverty, war on drugs, 3 strikes rule, etc).

Brian Souders  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 2:59 PM

Hi Kent, I know you would find lots of comments from "the anti-tax crowd" against subsidies and breaks for developers and the opaque process of awarding them, both on this site, various Facebook groups and soccer shops across town. I hope we do come up with an effective Inclusive Zoning ordinance that's linked to concrete goals. Then I look forward to the affordable housing activists like you joining the anti-tax crowd with the goal of dramatically slowing the growth of Oak Park taxes to keep current dwellings affordable. There are stories all over town of taxes causing seniors and other low and mid income folks to leave. It's easy to forget about these people.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 2:34 PM

Having an economically diverse community is important and I am very much in favor of affordable housing but I do not believe this program works and actually does the inverse overall over time. It creates a larger chasm between the expensive and affordable housing effectively eliminating the middle. I would love to see a unbiased (if it exists) study on the effectiveness of this program.

Kent Dean from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 1:13 PM

The anti-tax crowd is confusing this effort with increased taxes. As noted repeatedly, this program is resourced by the developers - not through taxation. I do not hear such screeching when there is a proposal to cut taxes to developers or provide tax dollars directly for development. As ever, while claiming their concern is simply economic and thereby "neutral," the libertarians feel compelled to weigh in on this effort to expand the bubble of opportunity or put the concepts of equal protection into actual play. Court decisions and good intentions will never change the course of our progress toward true democracy and full participation without economic progress for those most negatively impacted by the randomness and structural inequities of the economic system. The very system that has placed the so-called " current residents" in their current positions. In this instance they find objectionable even this (revenue neutral) attempt to extend the franchise of home ownership beyond that of wealthy, established, families with generations of wealth and established roots standing behind them - creating the very conditions that allow them to do what? ?.Own a home. This selective outrage is telling. -KDean

Michael Nevins  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 12:47 PM

Just a suggestion, but why don't some of the posters here move off the small island of Oak Park and introduce "diversity/vision" - via they and their families - and move to Austin? Property taxes are less there and their kids will benefit by being social-justice pioneers in those schools, too - a win/win.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 10:21 AM

Kate, Thank you for being so "inclusive" and "tolerant' of others.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 10:10 AM

Thank you Alice. Gov't intervention in the market to make housing, medicine, education,etc. more affordable, has a horrific history of failures. Typically, the opposite happens. Just because something sounds good, or has good intentions, does not equate to similar results.

Kate Ronan Upholstery  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 9:27 AM

Tom MacMillan, YOU have go to go. You are the farthest thing from an Oak Park citizen - unless you just moved into that swanky new high rise - then it makes sense.

Sara Sensenbrenner Giloth  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 9:06 AM

In my opinion, an inclusionary housing ordinance is a win win for the Village and its residents. It would require luxury developments to contribute to a municipality's affordable housing inventory in exchange for concessions on zoning regulations. The Village does not currently have such legislation to articulate this much needed standard and ensure that an economically and racially diverse community can call Oak Park home.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:33 AM

The sad truth is that there are no success stories on forced affordable housing contributions, in fact there are many correlations between these programs and higher housing costs and homelessness. Please do some thoughtful research rather than knee jerk feel good decisions which. Look at San Francisco to see their unintended consequences.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 9:19 PM

The people who need affordable housing already live here but are spending 50% or more of their income on housing as renters or owners. We have plenty of people who want to build luxury apartments for the downsizing rich, but aren't so interested in seniors or young families who aren't seeking luxury but affordability. Part of the answer has to do with increasing state support for education to ease local property taxes and increased wages too. But a key part is an inclusionary zoning ordinance which will help our residents stay in Oak Park and maintain socio-economic diversity.

Henry Fulkerson from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 4:24 PM

Note the statement below was presented on behalf of Housing Forward to the Village Board on Tuesday, September 4. On behalf of the Housing Forward Board of Directors I express my heartfelt thanks to the Village Board and in particular Trustees Boutet, Tucker and Button for leading us to this historic moment. We stand on the cusp of creating an innovative Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that will address the new challenges of affordable housing - challenges that threaten the racial, social and economic diversity our community so cherishes. We understand Inclusionary Zoning is not the single solution to our affordable housing problems. However, a well crafted Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance can be one effective tool in providing affordable housing set asides or fees in-lieu to complement other Affordable Housing strategies. These strategies should include partnering with non-profit organizations like New Moms; or providing seed money for limited equity coops put forward in several Village strategic plans over the decades. Oak Park prides itself in being an inclusive community with a justified national reputation for leading in Fair Housing. Passing a strong inclusionary zoning ordinance, grounded in this 50 year tradition ?" transitions Oak Park from the old problems of white flight to 21st century solutions of providing affordable housing to preserve and expand our diversity. It is a community value statement that recognizes many people of color, seniors and families of modest income struggle to stay in Oak Park because of rising rents and housing prices. Finally, we ask you to encourage staff to work with nationally recognized Oak Park experts in Inclusionary Zoning to design an Oak Park specific ordinance. We further ask you to keep this ordinance on the front burner and ensure that our voices are heard and incorporated.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 1:34 PM

If someone can't afford to live here, they are not a citizen of Oak Park, but the trustees want to throw money at them. Meanwhile people who live here already are told to pay more taxes as part of their rent or along with their mortgage, making it less affordable for actual citizens of Oak Park. We have got to get rid of the five trustees who just do not get it and think that sort of thinking makes sense. They have got to go.

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