Despite the pandemic, or perhaps in part because of the pandemic and the large number of people who are fleeing the congestion of downtown Chicago, Oak Park is experiencing a boom in rental housing development. 

Last week’s Wednesday Journal reported on two new developments to be built in the village. One, on the former Drechsler, Brown & Williams funeral home site, proposes the addition of 191 units in an eight-story building. The second proposal calls for construction of a six-story building with 84 units on Lake Street just east of Unity Temple. Each development will offer high-end rental apartments in an elevator building.

Several years ago, Oak Park adopted an inclusionary housing ordinance that was put forward to increase housing opportunities for low-income individuals and households at affordable rents. In order to obtain village approval for construction, developers have to choose between designating at least 10% of the total units in a proposed development to be affordable for low-income renters or, alternatively, making a one-time payment of $100,000 per designated affordable unit in lieu of actually supplying affordable housing.

The ordinance is well intentioned. Unfortunately, it has failed to increase the supply of affordable housing in the village. Most developers, like the developers of the two newly proposed projects, have opted to make the in-lieu payment. These funds can be used to help support low-income residents, but to date they have had little impact on increasing the supply of accessible affordable housing

I am a member of Arbor West Neighbors, a grassroots, intergenerational organization of residents that supports and enriches aging through community building and advocacy. One of the greatest needs of our low- and moderate-income older residents is affordable housing in accessible dwelling units. 

Few of the affordable units in our service area are in elevator buildings. I believe that it is time for the village of Oak Park to restructure its inclusionary housing ordinance to assist the large and rapidly growing number of mobility-impaired older persons and other persons with disabilities in our community who could benefit by living in buildings like the newly proposed developments.

To learn more about Arbor West Neighbors and its goals, please visit our website at arborwestneighbors.org.

Edward Solan

Advocacy committee

Arbor West Neighbors

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