Large residential developments have been popping up in and around downtown Oak Park over the last couple of years, and although the village does not require units to be affordable, staff has quietly negotiated contributions toward an affordable housing fund.

That fund has grown to about $1 million dollars as a result of those negotiations with developers, and now the Oak Park Board of Trustees is looking for ways to use the funds to advance affordable housing in the village.

The board ultimately directed village staff to put together a request for proposals from affordable housing organizations for ways to use the money. The RFP seeks proposals for programs that would spend the full $1 million and for $500,000, giving trustees more options.

Trustees invited the heads of affordable housing and homeless advocacy organizations – the Oak Park Residence Corporation, Housing Forward and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center – in the village to help build a blueprint for using the windfall.

The village’s Development Customer Service Department noted in a report that the village currently spends about $544,000 a year to fund single-family and small-rental rehabilitation programs.

“Combined, the programs typically rehabilitate seven single-family and 10 small multi-family rental units per year,” according to the report, adding that using the full $1 million would enable the village to roughly double its affordable housing rehab programs for two years.

Lynda Schueler, executive director of Housing Forward, made a pitch to the village board that the funds could be used to help individuals who are on the verge of homelessness. 

She told trustees that using the funds for short-term rental assistance would fill a need, because such individuals are not eligible for federal programs until they are literally homeless.

“This is a problem and can only be solved by local funding,” she said.

Schueler; David Pope, executive director of the Oak Park Residence Corporation; and Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, discussed not only potential uses for the funds – such as creation of a rental assistance housing fund or investment in expanding the supply of affordable rental homes – but also the need for establishing an ongoing stream of funding for affordable housing efforts.

The three spoke as members of the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition, a group of more than two dozen organizations and government entities.

The coalition recommended in a memo that “the village investigate and identify strategies to ensure that the funds are continually replenished to address the ongoing needs of individuals and families experiencing or most at risk of homelessness.” 

The RFP is expected to be issued later this year, giving trustees time to explore ongoing sources of funding for affordable housing.


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