I would like to thank the editorial board of Wednesday Journal for its editorial [Playing on Fears, Our Views, Aug. 4] that addresses several of the criticisms lobbed against the proposed redevelopment of the Comcast building on Madison affordable, one-bedroom apartments. I would like to respond to the two questions that the editorial cites as unanswered.
The partners in this development – Interfaith Housing Development Corp., the Oak Park Housing Authority and Catholic Charities – all recognize that a number of apartments and condos sit vacant under the current real estate climate. You ask, “Is there a way to convert that existing and widely dispersed stock to use for affordable housing?”
The affordability of these vacant units remains a question. Although rents have dropped in response to the real estate slump, we doubt anyone could find a one-bedroom apartment in Oak Park, in a newly rehabilitated elevator building, with all utilities included, for $704 a month. A current market study shows that comparable units rent for well over $704.
Also, rents may be lower today, but will most likely increase once the real estate market regains its footing and vacancies are absorbed. The funding for our proposed redevelopment will require that rents remain affordable for a minimum of 40 years.
Not all condominium associations allow rental units, and associations often prefer or require owner occupancy. Even if funding were available to acquire condos outright, the supportive component of the housing would be lost. The low-income individuals who we wish to serve need more than an affordable unit; they need a safety net. They often require the assistance and the sense of community that are inherent in supportive housing. Making use of existing condos and apartments would not provide affordable housing for the long term, and would not be suitable for the population we are trying to serve.
With regard to the second question, “If a child is allowed in the unit, what would be the impact on already taxed school enrollment?” Under the Fair Housing Act, we cannot discriminate on the basis of familial status. We can restrict the occupancy to one adult, but if that adult has a child under the age of 18, we cannot reject that household simply because they have a child. The “loft-style” one bedrooms envisioned by our architect have been designed specifically for single adults. The maximum occupancy of these one-bedroom units will be one adult and one child, but it is unlikely that an adult with a school-age child will want to live in the building due to these design factors.
In the remote chance that a single person with a child moved into the building, the property taxes that this new development will pay would more than cover his or her use of District 97 resources. Consequently, any child residing in the development will be fully entitled, as all children who reside in Oak Park are, to enroll in the Oak Park school system.
This letter was written by Gladys Jordan and Perry Vietti, president and chief operating officer, respectively, for Interfaith Housing Development Corp., which is proposing to buy the vacant Comcast building to convert it into affordable housing.