The Oak Park Regional Housing Center rightly got a reprieve Monday night as the Oak Park Village Board approved $300,000 in direct funding in 2020. That’s an appropriate $60,000 whack compared to the $360,000 allocated this year. And the village subsidy ought to continue to be reduced steadily over coming years. Not to zero, as Oak Park village government needs the housing center as a partner in integration, but to an amount that is more symbolic than sustaining.
The role of the housing center in Oak Park and in the communities around us, especially in Austin, is important. The housing center needs to shake off cobwebs, though, and make that connection vital, irreplaceable. Sharpening the focus, increasing internal expectations, exploiting technology for both marketing and reporting purposes, and finding new revenue sources starts with this nonprofit’s board of directors. This board has not distinguished itself in recent years. Time to step up.
The main burden, though, will fall on Athena Williams, the staff member recently promoted to executive director. Williams accepts, even welcomes, reductions in village funding if accomplished gradually. She is already at work on seeking foundation grants. Aiming high, she announced this week that with five partners, the housing center has reached round three of the MacArthur Foundation’s mammoth 100&Change competition with a proposal aimed at reducing housing segregation in metropolitan Chicago and Greater Richmond, Virginia.
That’s great. But the future of the housing center’s work in Oak Park has to be built brick-by-brick, grant-by-grant, innovation-by-innovation. And every year, the housing center will need to prove its value once again.