Oak Park may discontinue a garage grant program, which provides up to $8,500 in funding to local residents for repairing or replacing their garages. The program targets low-income homeowners, helping them make repairs needed to bring garages up to code, whether through demolition or replacement.

The grant amount is decided based on an owner’s “gross household income as it compares to the median income for a household of the same size,” according to village documents.

Only privately owned, 1-4 unit properties are eligible for the grant. After approving $90,000 in garage grants last week, the village still has about $100,000 in available housing bond funds for the program this year.

Some village board members feel the program should be revoked or at least changed.

Village President David Pope said the program was created in 2002 for three reasons: upgrading the quality of residential infrastructures, offering the repair option to lower income residents and improving public safety.

“I think that there may very well be far better ways to achieve those ends, in particular when we talk about public safety,” Pope said at last week’s board meeting.

The village pursued a pilot program, which helped residents near Barrie Park put automatic lights in the alley to enhance safety as part of the park renovation program, Pope said. Perhaps, he said, the $200,000 allocated to the garage program in the village budget could be earmarked for helping more Oak Park residents install automatic lights?

“That’s one of many different alternatives that warrant consideration, and I’m just not sure that something as narrowly targeted as a garage repair and replacement program is the best way to be able to achieve those ends,” Pope said.

“We need to examine all spending for the remainder of this year and do some belt tightening to determine whether we can achieve a balanced budget,” Trustee Ernest Moore said of the program.

Trustee Greg Marsey disagreed with terminating the program. He feels the board should hear testimony from neighbors on its benefits, along with viewing it in the context of a difficult 2008 budget.

“Let’s allow people to comment on that publicly before we make that kind of a sweeping decision,” Marsey said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the public, and I don’t think it’s in our best interest.”

Others feel the garage program does address the three areas Pope mentioned, like Greg Sorg, chair of the Housing Programs Advisory Committee (HPAC) which oversees the garage program.

Sorg would rather the village find ways to make the program more efficient, than simply eliminating it.

HPAC has never used more than $122,000 of the allocated funds in a year. Changes can be made to better target low-income residents and utilize funds.

“At the time we instituted this [program] five years ago, we realized there were a lot of really dilapidated garages out there, and there were also a lot of people that couldn’t afford to fix them…This has really helped those people,” Sorg said.

After last week’s discussion, the board unanimously approved 16 garage grants, which awarded the applying residents about $90,000 in total.

The board will discuss the grant program in budget discussions in the coming weeks, and will likely decide on the program’s fate sometime later this year.

Join the discussion on social media!