‘Unbelievable” is the word to describe what is now being proposed by an ad hoc group formed to investigate how Oak Park can save the 124 SRO units at the YMCA when it moves to Forest Park. The model is currently located in the notorious Cabrini Green housing complex in Chicago, run by a not-for-profit that describes its typical tenant as “many who have histories of substance abuse and/or chronic mental illness.” This is transition housing for the chronically homeless, not what is provided by the YMCA at present.

Further, the location being pushed and for which the proposal has been determined, is in the South Lot which is completely surrounded by residences facing onto the streets of Wisconsin, Madison, Home and Randolph. This is a remnant lot without public right-of-way access. The group has ruled out the former YMCA building site. We question whether the full board of trustees is aware of what is currently being pushed by this committee, of which Trustee Greg Marsey is a member. We don’t believe the feasibility study took this into consideration–without neighborhood participation.

The YMCA, according to their own rates and fees schedule, currently charges $40 per room night at minimum (Daily Transient Rate Per Night) and between $123 and $135 per week for the first four weeks (in other words, between $492 and $540 for the first four weeks). After that, the YMCA charges Permanent Weekly rates of $109 to $121 per week, or between $436 and $484 per four weeks based on these rates. These rooms do not have kitchen or rest room facilities in the units and only a few have wash basins within them, so we would assume quite a discount on an equivalent market rental rate.

Per the Report of the Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee to the Village Board (July 28, 2003), studio apartments advertised at the time of the report rented for $385-$665 per month (adjusting for the 0.7% annual historical rent inflation cited in the report, a current rent equivalent is $443-$683). We assume these units had restrooms and kitchenettes. Per Table 2, 1,104 units within the village rented for rates at or less than what the YMCA offered, roughly 10 percent of the housing stock available. Table 3 noted that the number of studio units in the village was 1,121. Assuming the least expensive for-rent options would be those with no bedroom, the YMCA rate–even without bathrooms and kitchenettes–is at the high end of the range of market-rate studio units. We assume that if those units had restrooms and kitchenettes, the YMCA would charge more.

The YMCA does not provide social services assistance nor substance abuse or mental health counseling for its residents. It doesn’t have to because this is not the type of renter its profile caters to. The rooms it delivers are open to the public at market rates. Despite this, the YMCA’s move to Forest Park will not include any residential housing. That is because YMCA national, per Scott Galaas current president of the West Suburban YMCA, has determined that the SRO population and the YMCA’s core services are not compatible. In other words, there’s likely too much liability to the organization in providing both rooms to transient or permanent male populations and the services to women, children and families.

In one of the more diverse neighborhoods within the village, the rents and gross housing values, as studied by the Affordable Housing Committee, are some of the most reasonably priced in the village as well. Other areas of the village are either mostly, or completely underserved by affordable housing.

The neighborhood has obviously embraced affordable housing, and its residents have embraced diversity. Otherwise we wouldn’t live here. The neighbors who oppose this dramatically different type of substitute housing–pushed deep within the alleys of Home and Wisconsin–cannot be dismissed as NIMBYs. The children run free on the streets and Brooks Middle School is nearby. This is not compatible with a new concentration of men, many of whom suffer from substance abuse, criminal backgrounds or chronic mental illness who will be living in our alleys. 

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