I would like to express my continued disappointment with what I consider to be an attempt by well-meaning groups in Oak Park to perform a bait-and-switch on the unsuspecting public with respect to the impending closure of the Y and its SROs.
I have had several e-mails forwarded to me announcing small group meetings to discuss “preserving the YMCA SROs” and have sat in on one such meeting where the YMCA housing effort is being framed as “preservation of the SROs.” This is simply not true and undermines the credibility of those who espouse it.
According to Mr. Pusitari, author of the feasibility study, the proposal being recommended could take several forms, up to 127 units of apartments ranging from 100 percent affordable to 100 percent “permanent supportive housing,” requiring “supportive services.” The preferred option–and the one for which the YMCA’s Ad Hoc Committee changed its name to the Western Cook County Supportive Housing Initiative way back on July 20, 2006–is permanent supportive housing requiring supportive social services to maintain housing.
In contrast, few if any of the current residents of the YMCA receive any services. All, if not nearly all of these men will be displaced, including many who have lived at the YMCA for many years. To avoid further confusion, and since the loosely written, highly touted feasibility report lacks definitions of the proposed use, we have located the following definitions:
Permanent supportive housing for homeless persons with disabilities is another type of supportive housing. Basically, it is long-term, community-based housing and supportive services for homeless persons with disabilities. (www.hud.gov)
Permanent supportive housing can also take the form provided through Section 811 of the National Affordable Housing Act. That is a federal law which establishes a program of supportive housing for very low-income persons with disabilities. To be eligible for admission, you must be a “very low-income” family. A family is “very low-income” if the income does not exceed 50 percent of median family income for the area. In addition, you have to be a “person with disabilities.” (www.hud.gov) There may be other forms as well.
Supportive Services: According to the Supportive Housing Providers Association (Snapshot of Permanent Supportive Housing in Illinois), supportive housing residents face a multitude of challenges and come from various backgrounds. For example, an individual recently released from prison may suffer from mental illness. A person who is homeless may also struggle with a chronic health condition. Issues in addition to being homeless, the association highlights, Illinois’ supportive housing residents include people with a mental illness (34 percent), people with drug-related problems/issues (21 percent), people with alcohol problems/issues (18 percent), formerly incarcerated (16 percent), physically disabled (11 percent), developmentally disabled (8 percent), veterans (7 percent), people with chronic physical health issues (6 percent), and victims of domestic violence (3 percent). In addition, a review of published literature indicates many supportive housing residents suffer from more than one disability.
We feel strongly that affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are a necessary component of community-wide residential policy. A community-wide approach has historically been the approach of Oak Park to achieve balanced diversity. Instead, the feasibility study focuses on a very large project-based solution (for example, few supportive housing developments in the country, either permanent or transitional, are over 100 units per HUD data and most are under nine units).
To find a solution(s) to community issues such as this requires open and honest dialogue, and should start with an accurate and honest portrayal of what is being recommended in the feasibility study that Oak Park taxpayers helped to fund.
Brian Lantz is executive director of merchant banking at Morgan Stanley.