Christian Harris, 28, is the youngest candidate in a crowded race for Oak Park village trustee, but the candidate said his age is one of the things that informs his unique perspective as a decision maker.
Despite his age, Harris is no novice to public life. He is a board member of The North Avenue District community group, a board member of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce and, since 2017, has served on the Oak Park Library Board. Harris also works with Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly, which works to help seniors stay in their homes and find affordable housing when needed.
Harris also is an entrepreneur who is co-owner of Maid Pro, a cleaning service he runs with his mother.
Harris said he ran for library board because of his desire to make a difference, following the election of President Donald Trump.
“My passions are economic equality and educational equality, and the library deals with these issues every day,” he said.
Harris, who lives in an apartment on North Avenue, said the current board needs greater diversity and does not adequately represent people of color or young people. The existing board is all white, except for Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
He is campaigning, in part, on the idea of establishing a unified referendum schedule, which would help the village’s various taxing bodies better coordinate for expensive referendums and capital projects.
It has long been argued that the village, school boards and other taxing bodies inadequately communicate on spending, which results in large tax increases.
“In order to slow the rate of tax increases, we must work more cohesively as six taxing bodies and increase our sales tax revenue,” Harris said in a recent survey of candidates. “As I’ve learned since being elected to the library board, all the taxing bodies tend to work in silos.”
Harris has paired his campaign with running mates Joshua Klayman and Tim Thomas, all three of whom are endorsed by VOICE Oak Park, a political organization established in 2018. While the candidates are not on an official slate, they are appearing together at press conferences and other political events.
Affordable housing is one of Harris’ top priorities, he said, noting that rents and home values in the village have increased in a way that is unsustainable. Harris said he supports the inclusionary zoning ordinance now being considered by the Oak Park Board of Trustees.
He supports allowing developers to contribute fees in lieu of including affordable units in their buildings, but he said that is not ideal. Including affordable units in luxury apartment buildings would help create diverse developments, he said.
“We have to start with what are our values,” he said.
Harris said he also would focus on fixing parking issues in Oak Park, particularly the high cost of parking for renters. The village should consider implementing a sliding scale for residents who park in village-owned parking lots.
Oak Park also should consider expanding on-street parking for renters, Harris said.
It was a topic that was considered last year by the Oak Park Board of Trustees, when the Transportation Commission floated the idea of establishing a parking pilot project that would allow more on-street parking for renters. But that idea was quashed by the board after homeowners complained that renters would end up parking in front of their homes.
“We need to look at larger parking reform,” Harris said.