The Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) is facing a potentially debilitating budget cut after failing to turn in two reports to the village government on time. In its recommended budget for 2020, the village does not recommend the 47-year-old nonprofit housing center receive additional money on top of the $163,438 in Community Development Block Grant funding which the village authorized in September, “until such time as they demonstrate compliance with the Funding Grant Agreement for 2019.” 

The proposed 2020 budget document lists a budget reduction of $391,382, the entirety of the center’s village funding, which “the Village Board could restore either during the budget process or in the future if the OPRHC can demonstrate compliance with the 2019 Agreement which would call for development of a 2020 Agreement.” 

On Oct. 1, the village served a notice to OPRHC that further 2019 grant payments would be withheld until the center complied.

“At the time that we printed the budget, because they were out of compliance with the funding agreement and they hadn’t turned in any of the reports that they were required to do, as staff our job is to enforce the agreement the board adopts,” said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek. “We told them what they had to do to correct it and they’ve been providing us information; we’re right in the middle of the process of reviewing it.” According to Pavlicek, the village has been working hard with Athena Williams, the center’s recently appointed executive director.

The two reports – the center’s second quarter report and its semi-annual report, both of which were due on July 31 – were turned in on Oct. 22 along with the center’s hours of operation. But the housing center has yet to receive the withheld checks, said Williams. Williams also said she received no official notification of the funding status of OPRHC in the 2020 recommended budget. Tammie Grossman, Oak Park’s director of development customer service, could not be reached for confirmation.

“There was no official notification that we were zero for 2020,” said Williams, who just recently took on the executive director role after working within the agency for multiple years. “That would have been really nice.” Williams says she found out from a Facebook post.

 Williams wants to wean the center from village funding but says the center can’t begin to lay the groundwork necessary to do so without village funding in 2020.

“I’m new to this position, but I understand how funding should work for a nonprofit,” she said “Never should a nonprofit receive that much funding from one entity, but that’s how it’s been operating for all these years and, my first year in, I need that money to continue operating and help me develop ways to decrease that funding.” 

She said she needs that village funding as “leverage to get other funding.”

At the Oct. 28 finance committee meeting, community members took to public comments to voice their opinions on the potential budget cut. Most commenters defended the necessity of funding OPRHC and integrated housing, while a few advocated that the center had fulfilled its purpose in maintaining an integrated Oak Park and has become obsolete in recent years. Amy Dean, a member of the Oak Park Housing Programs Advisory Committee, voiced irritation that the committee hadn’t been notified of the challenges earlier.

At the meeting, Williams, along with Tracey Wik, OPRHC board president, and Maria Krysan, a board member, lobbied for 2020 funding in a presentation to the village board that included the center’s new strategic plan and its updated mission statement. 

Facets of the strategic plan include reducing staff turnover, updating the center’s technology and data collection process. Other goals within the plan include providing quarterly education to the community regarding the work the center does as an affirmatively furthering fair housing agency. The center also plans to grow relationships with property owners and community stakeholders. 

The center has also developed an app that looks at factors of integration and allows clients to choose the areas in which they want to live. Users are asked a series of optional questions that sets up an algorithm to provide them with available housing units within those parameters. 

“A successful OPRHC would look like a community that is not just diverse but integrated with supported inclusion equity housing situations,” said Williams. She also said that a successful center would include partnering with the village to do something about the large amount of vacant properties. 

“We have been partners for a long time, so that’s not new,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. 

“When I say partner, I mean, I don’t just want to see Tammie [Grossman] when it’s time to do an application,” Williams clarified. “I want to be able to have regular conversations about what we’re doing. I want partners from the village that come out to things we are hosting, to tell us what we could do better and to tell us when we’re doing better.”

Abu-Taleb countered, “I think this board has conveyed to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center what we’re looking for. We conveyed that last year, the year before and the year before.”

With 10 p.m. fast approaching, the mayor called for the meeting to move on to other items on the recommended budget. No decision has yet been made regarding village funding of OPRHC in 2020.

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