Village and community officials, and neighbors of Brooks Middle School are at odds over a transitional housing property that doesn’t yet exist.
With the West Cook YMCA set to move to Forest Park, the question of what will become of its 100-plus single room occupancy (SRO) housing development has sparked a conflict between a group of neighbors and the YMCA.
A village ad hoc committee has met in recent months to discuss an alternative to the SROs upon the YMCA’s move. The committee has proposed conducting a feasibility study to consider alternatives.
The YMCA, Oak Park Township and Catholic Charities, are among the funders of the study.
The YMCA, located at 255 S. Marion, has a 124-unit SRO for transient individuals. Rents are charged to individuals per night, week or month.
Richard Blaurock, a volunteer member of the YMCA board of directors and chair of the Y’s building and grounds committee, noted that there are no plans currently to build anything, anywhere.
Blaurock said he’s not directly involved with the ad hoc committee, but said the feasibility study will determine what the real need is for the community.
He acknowledged that some neighbors are up in arms over a “proposal” that doesn’t exist.
“They’re all wrong,” he said. “Neighbors are all excited but nobody has gotten anywhere where anything has happened. Fears are running wild and there’s nothing for them to fear.”
Some of the neighbors, however, disagree.
A group calling themselves the Brooks Neighborhood Association formed in the last few months in opposition to the study.
The feasibility study, the group says, is really facilitating a plan supported by the YMCA and ad hoc committee to replace the SROs with an equally large transitional housing unit, which they say will be built on the parking lot owned by the YMCA.
Unlike the Y’s current SRO, the group fears that a new housing complex will be open to individuals with problems other than, say, homelessness, but issues such as drug addiction or a history of crime.
Teresa Frisbie, assistant executive director with the Brooks group, said they’re not against affordable housing or transitional housing for people who need it.
Frisbie noted several problems with building an SRO-replacement on the YMCA lot. One is the lack of “natural surveillance” because residential housing surrounds the lot.
“If a crime is committed, there’s no way to see it,” she said.
Also, with Brooks students arriving at school at around 8 a.m. and leaving school at around 3 p.m., Frisbie said the group worries about the kids’ safety.
“It’s just not a safe mix,” she said.
Another problem is having a transitional housing unit of between 80-100. Frisbie said the group researched a 2004 HUD report and found that only 5 percent of the nation’s 7,000 transitional, or supportive, housing units had more than 40 units.
Frisbie said the group could support housing units that are dispersed out instead of in one large area and near their school. They’ve also asked that the village create an ordinance for affordable housing.
“We’re trying to ask the village to protect our kids,” Frisbie said. “In general, we support affordable housing, but what is your definition of affordable housing?”
Blaurock responded to some of the concerns, saying that transitional housing residents don’t normally remain there for extended periods.
“The rent is not like an apartment. People rent for a month or a week and there’s a lot of turnover,” he said, adding that with most transitional housing units, less than half of the units are empty.
Greg Marsey, a member of the ad hoc committee and village trustee, did not return a phone call.
David Powers, a spokesperson for the village, said talks between the YMCA and the committee are still at the policy level and the matter has not yet become a zoning issue where the village would be more directly involved.
“Everyone is waiting for the feasibility study to see what the next steps are,” Powers said.