Greg Marsey’s [Viewpoints, Oct. 17] and Rick Kuner’s [News, Oct. 3] recent scrutiny of the Diversity Assurance Program (DAP), a primary village program designed to avoid segregation, shows that a major crisis in open communication exists within village hall. Such scrutiny is puzzling to us members of the Housing Programs Advisory Committee (HPAC).
Several ideas proposed by Marsey have been previously proposed, debated and rejected by the Housing Programs Advisory Committee (HPAC).
First, a “three-strikes-you’re-out!” policy, which would require the village to track, quantify and comparatively evaluate the racial make-up of properties in the DAP is plainly illegal. It would require the village to set a benchmark against which building owners would need to adhere – a prime example of a quota.
Second, it needs to be made clear that neither the Housing Center nor the Village of Oak Park refers tenants to other agencies or municipalities based on their skin color. If such a view is perceived, trustees need to familiarize themselves with the Housing Center’s role to discourage inappropriate allegations or concerns. Furthermore, any allegations against HPAC and any of the parties involved with the DAP are unnecessary. I would like to extend an invitation to every Village of Oak Park trustee and anyone else who wishes to further understand the DAP and its benefits to attend HPAC meetings. Trustees need to be educated on how the program applies to the renting process before making any adverse decisions in their rulings on affordable housing.
Broad knowledge of the area demographics, social needs and economic development are all indirect services provided by the Housing Center, which serves as a catalyst in helping landlords achieve their goals and tenants in finding their ideal place to reside. It encourages prospective tenants to buildings and areas that are seeking to improve diversity and wish to participate in the DAP. The Housing Center also conducts property evaluations and improvement recommendations. Such service is imperative as it encourages landlords to make property improvements and helps them compete in the market. The Housing Center does not have an ability to require property owners to choose one tenant over another or prohibit landlords from renting to any specific racial groups. Once again, this decision ultimately lies with the landlord.
To incent owners to participate in the DAP, the program offers an option for 80 percent reimbursement of the last rent for up to three months to fill an affirmative vacancy. Most of the landlords in the DAP were able to achieve their desired diversity mix without dipping into the village funds. Of those who did use the rental reimbursement option funds, there has not been an instance of a single abuse since the program’s implementation.
HPAC has been successful in administering DAP for over 20 years. The recent hold on a rental reimbursement option by the village trustees is an example of how easily diversity can fall. As the result of the trustees’ decision, HPAC has seen a 50 percent dropout rate from the rental reimbursement option and out of that group, 50 percent of participating units dropped out of the program altogether. The effects are evident in several apartment buildings in the village.
All members of HPAC worked hard on updating the program and making new proposals and recommendations. The process involved considering tenant and landlord needs, housing bond and budget limitations, Village of Oak Park’s role in administration of the program, demographic and social needs of specific neighborhoods as well as future economic effects on monetary changes. During DAP redevelopment, none of the village trustees attended HPAC open meetings to propose ideas or address concerns. Six months after new recommendations were submitted, the legal department at village hall rejected HPAC’s proposal. This past month, HPAC went back to the drawing board. Outside the Housing Center, no other party attended our meetings to constructively make suggestions or propose ideas as to how they would like the program to look.
Anyone who chooses to scrutinize DAP needs to read the program and attend HPAC open public meetings. Oak Park exemplifies itself by doing an outstanding job maintaining diversity compared to so many other suburbs around Chicago. This program, in my opinion, is the only reason Oak Park continues to attract individuals from so many ethnic, cultural and social groups and why it remains such an attractive place to live.
Anne Kellman is a member of Oak Park’s Housing Programs Advisory Committee.