High-rise buildings have been going up around downtown Oak Park over the last few years, but the village does not require developers, as a matter of policy, to either contribute funds to an affordable housing fund or to set aside a percentage of units at affordable rents.
Unlike some other municipalities, such as Chicago and Evanston, which require a certain number of units in each new development to be affordable to lower-income residents or for a cash contribution to an affordable housing fund, the village of Oak Park has negotiated with developers case-by-case for contributions to its fund.
That could soon change with a vote at the most recent Oak Park Board of Trustees meeting, where trustees directed the village to study the topic of a so-called inclusionary zoning ordinance and bring back recommendations for an ordinance.
The details – whether the ordinance will require new developments to include 10 percent affordable units or pay a specified amount into a fund, for example – still must be established and a final ordinance would be approved at a later date, but the affirmative vote from the board gives an indication that the board is poised to eventually approve an inclusionary zoning ordinance.
The vote was 5-2 with trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney voting against the proposal.
Advocates for the measure argued that the $1.2 million in voluntary payments to an affordable housing fund from luxury apartment projects like Vantage Oak Park, The Emerson and Eleven 33, would have potentially been much greater had the village had an inclusionary zoning ordinance in place a few years ago when developers brought their projects to the village.
David Kralik, chairman of the board of the Oak Park Housing Authority, which administers federal funds for affordable housing, told trustees that without a commitment to affordable housing “economic diversity will quickly evaporate” in the village.
Had a 10 percent affordable requirement been in place prior to the downtown developments, the village could have collected $10 million “even if you only assume $100,000 per unit,” Kralik said.
Oak Park resident Amy Dean, who advocated in favor of the ordinance, noted that the spotlight is now on Oak Park because of the television series America To Me, which has highlighted racial inequities at Oak Park and River Forest High School. “Oak Park’s progressive roots grew out of successful efforts to stop white flight and encourage integration, but we are failing to live up to that vision as everyday people struggle to stay in our community in the face of escalating housing costs,” she said.
The proposal was brought forth at the request of trustees Bob Tucker, Andrea Button and Simone Boutet. Tucker said the ordinance would bring transparency and predictability to the process of collecting affordable housing funds. “It needs to be geographically specific for Oak Park,” he said. “Different parts of town are different in terms of what can be achieved with development, and we need to recognize that. We need to be rational about this.”
Button said the ordinance is “overdue.”
“Until recently it was the position of most of the board, staff and the (Oak Park Economic Development Corporation) that it was more effective from a development standpoint … to avoid implementing an inclusionary zoning ordinance and instead just ask developers to contribute to affordable housing on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
Trustee Deno Andrew argued that it was unclear whether an ordinance was needed because 18.4 percent of the housing stock in Oak Park already is considered affordable.
“I’m fine with that amount,” Andrews said, suggesting the board research whether an ordinance is needed, rather than directing staff to draft a recommended ordinance.
“Inclusionary zoning should solve a problem that is measurable, but we don’t yet know what that problem is,” he said.
Trustee Moroney said the rising property tax burden in Oak Park is the culprit impacting affordable housing. “I think in addition to advocating for government regulation and government programming, we really need to start advocating for controlling spending,” he said.
The vote came just shortly after the board approved funding two new programs – both for Housing Forward, which aims to reduce homelessness in Oak Park – from the $1.2 million Affordable Housing Fund.
The board voted 4-3 to approve $230,000 for a flexible rental assistance fund and $268,108 to operate an interim housing program through Housing Forward. Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb joined Andrews and Moroney in opposing funding those programs.
The interim housing program provides units at two rental properties in Oak Park for those experiencing homelessness, and the rental assistance program helps those who are homeless but ineligible for funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.