During its June 15 meeting, the Oak Park Village Board made headway regarding distribution plans for the $980,107 payout Oak Park will receive from the Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CDBG CARES) Act through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The funding helps grant recipients, like the village of Oak Park, to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19, as well as enabling assistance to eligible people whose financial state the disease has negatively impacted.

“These funds are specifically allocated to assist individuals who are low- to moderate-income,” said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.

Of the almost $1 million, the village board voted unanimously to approve an application made by Housing Forward to use $400,000 of the funding to provide rental, mortgage and/or utility assistance for people affected by the pandemic.

“Staff has been working very closely with Housing Forward as they developed this proposal,” said Tammie Grossman, Development Customer Services director.

Grossman said this has been a topic of conversation for the last several weeks within the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition, of which she is a steering committee member.

“We’re excited to give Housing Forward this additional funding to help households in need,” she said.

Housing Forward would not use the $400,000 to provide isolated shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

“They’re applying for FEMA assistance, emergency solution grant dollars from the state of Illinois, as well as some other homelessness prevention funds for the actual hotels,” she added.

The $400,000, Grossman explained, would be used to either move individuals from hotels to apartments, paying for a three-month period, or help people at risk of being homeless.

“Housing Forward has been a terrific asset to the village of Oak Park,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. “They have been a great partner to work with during this pandemic.”

The mayor praised Housing Forward leadership and its board.

“I thank each of you for supporting Housing Forward,” Abu-Taleb told trustees.

In addition to sharing the funding with Housing Forward funding, staff recommended that $300,000 of the grant money go toward helping small businesses through the creation of a “Business Assistance Loan Program.”

Under the program, small businesses could receive forgivable loans of up to $5,000 provided the businesses “create and/or retain jobs for Oak Park persons with incomes at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for Cook County.”

Trustee Deno Andrews asked the legality surrounding prioritization of certain businesses for these loans.

“Is it legal for us to put preferences in that would put people to the top of the list?” he asked. “I would love to see businesses that employ ex-offenders have some preferential spot in line.”

Grossman said she would check into the legality of preferences.

Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla wanted the board to use a “racial equity lens” and prioritize Black- and Brown-owned businesses, while Trustee Jim Taglia wanted to exclude businesses that received loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Walker-Peddakotla, along with Trustee Simone Boutet, wanted some of the CARES Act funding to go to Beyond Hunger, whose client list has grown considerably throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrews said he would further like to prioritize businesses that intend to use the money for payroll over rent.

The board decided that businesses must have 10 or fewer employees to be eligible to receive the village’s loan. If the funds are not exhausted after giving loans to businesses with 10 or fewer employees, the eligibility requirements could expand to include businesses with more than 10 employees.

As part of the consent agenda, the village board also voted to pass an ordinance amending the budget for fiscal year 2020; the budget was amended to address the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the village of Oak Park.

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