After weeks of tense efficacy discussions and impassioned community pleas, the Oak Park village board unanimously voted Monday to fund the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) in 2020. The housing center will receive $300,000 in direct village funding next year. That is a reduction from the $360,000 the village paid in 2019.

“I’m more than relieved,” said Athena Williams, housing center executive director. “I’m just glad we can move forward.”

The housing center came under village board fire after failing to submit its semi-annual and second quarterly report for 2019 on time, resulting in the village withholding 2019 payments. On Nov. 4, the board moved to release those checks to the center.

Williams is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

“I couldn’t have done this on my own,” she said. “It took the village.”

In the Nov. 25 meeting, Trustee Jim Taglia said 2020 should be viewed as a “rebuilding year” for Williams and the housing center and that an abrupt fund shut off would negatively impact the center operationally. 

Taglia suggested the village give the center $250,000 instead of the requested $300,000, of which some board members approved.

Williams held out for $300,000, saying it was necessary to maintain day-to-day operations and allow the center to hire a bookkeeper and development coordinator, two necessary but vacant positions.

Trustee Simone Boutet became emotional discussing the necessity of keeping Oak Park an integrated community, the housing center’s sole purpose. 

“White people are not moving to black neighborhoods except when we gentrify them and move black people further out,” Boutet said. 

She continued, “Either racial enclaves will develop in this village or we will become all white and African American families move back to the West Side.”

In making the decision to provide the center with $300,000 in 2020, the board cited the willingness of Williams to modernize the housing center, collaborate with both village staff and board members and plans to wean the center from village funding.

Citing the newness of Williams’s tenure as executive director, the board also expressed a desire to give her the chance to correct the center’s past mistakes and implement necessary operational changes.

“It’s time to look at doing things a little differently,” Williams said. “It’s time to move the legacy forward.”

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