A village trustee responded to a neighbor about the Interfaith/Oak Park Housing Authority effort to build 51 low-income housing units at Grove and Madison [Opposition forming to proposed Madison apartments, News, July 28]. Our development process already achieved an empty lot for bus parking at the corner of Grove and Madison. In 14 years living on the Near West Side, where aldermen acted as mediators in the development process, I can’t get over how elected officials here seem free not to assist neighborhoods in the most important decision-making process this village faces.
Without a real geographical constituency from whom to seek re-election, they appear free to represent only the vaguest ideas over people. Thus, my response to these comments – “I hope residents can at least allow this project to be fully reviewed in a respectful and open manner,” and, “One of the greatest needs in the Chicagoland region is affordable housing.”
I wish I could feel the same thoughtful balance. Trouble is this project has gained quite a bit of steam by the work of the Housing Authority without any input from us neighbors. My fear is that one neighbor’s presence on the Housing Authority board, and that a small group on Neighbors for Madison Renewal once had an opportunity to ask some questions, gives the impression that the neighborhood is involved. Until asked recently, neither the neighbor on the board nor Neighbors for Madison Renewal have shared any news with nearly all of us neighbors.
We are already paying for the project’s advocacy by professional staff of the Oak Park Housing Authority. Does anyone in Oak Park have a sense of responsibility to represent the neighbors? From every indication, they overwhelmingly oppose the project as it stands, which will double the housing units on a very small and already dense block that will see greater congestion from the new Walgreens development. Open-mindedness is difficult.
Also, this is not about needing to help the disadvantaged. Oak Park is already a guiding light with regards to low-income senior housing, Section 8 housing, church homeless shelters and an SRO (single-room occupancy). We also have low-income populations all around us. More than 30 percent of Austin’s population is below poverty. Berwyn’s is nearly 8 percent and Maywood’s more than 13 percent. Ours is 5.6 percent. All this while Park Ridge – also next to Chicago, with transportation to jobs – does nothing. If the goal is economic diversity, why not Park Ridge with a 2.4 percent poverty rate? If it is to serve low-income individuals, other areas need this project more.
I want to live in a diverse community with a heart. But what exactly is Oak Park’s fair share of economic diversity? At what point does a project like this tip the balance and make living here too difficult a decision, thus defeating the purpose for which we all moved to Oak Park? In the face of the attractive tax asset this project presents, please think long and hard about that careful balance.
Dave Heidorn is a lawyer who has lived in Oak Park for 11 years, just south of the proposed development. He says he doesn’t believe that representational democracy exists here, and the village’s development process shows it.