Last week’s piece by Marty Stempniak concerning the relationship between affordable housing and property values touched on a number of issues of special consequence to the Village of Oak Park [Would affordable housing lower Oak Park property values? News, Sept. 22].

In the broadest sense, the current discussion Oak Park is having about affordable housing really concerns the adaptation of our historic dedication to diversity to present circumstances. Oak Park’s commitment to integration and its specific legacy with respect to housing should always form the foundation of the village’s approach to housing and development. The village cannot, however, afford to let outdated social models influence present policy. Whatever erroneous public perceptions may exist about affordable housing, it is clear that the relationship between affordable housing and property values is far more complex than that which once existed between racial attitudes and home prices more than 30 years ago.

The “white flight” phenomenon of the 1970s stemmed from fears that an influx of African-American families would cause a steep decline in existing home values. In an effort to address these concerns and prevent “white flight,” the village created an “Equity Assurance Program” to insure property values from any decline as a result of integration. Since its inception in 1978, no one has received a payout from the program. No applications for coverage by the program have been made since 1994. In 2008, the funds set aside for the program were slashed in half, from about $500,000 to $250,000. These are particularly interesting numbers when considered in light of a suggestion that the remaining funds allotted for Equity Assurance be diverted to address a drop in home values resulting from the construction of affordable housing. This proposal, while clearly in its infancy, is misplaced on both policy and fiscal grounds.

First, it presumes a relationship between affordable housing and home values that does not exist. Indeed, any efforts to tie a drop in property values to the development of affordable housing would inevitably be flawed. It is impossible to quantify the relationship between the two trends. Multiple studies — including one, most notably, by Habitat for Humanity — establish with a fair degree of certainty that affordable housing has little or no impact on adjacent property values. In fact, the evidence suggests that property values are generally tied to larger economic trends, specifically large-scale commercial developments. The village and its residents ought to draw two lessons from this information. First, those who are concerned about the proposed development of affordable housing in their neighborhoods, and its impact on home values, ought to widen their advocacy efforts to address the prosperity of their neighborhood as a whole — and how that prosperity might be enhanced.

The other inescapable conclusion is that the Equity Assurance Program should be terminated. It is built on a faulty premise. And during a period of economic uncertainty and budget shortfalls, there is simply no justification for these funds to sit unused.

Adam Salzman is an Oak Park resident, lawyer and chairman of the village’s Universal Access Commission.

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