I am amused, as someone who has lived in the Village for 40 years, to keep hearing how wonderful and progressive we are here.
The past two decades have achieved very little for the average resident but has been a haven for the corporate real estate developers and management firms. We have seen four high-rise apartment buildings go up in the downtown area and now a fifth building to be built in the quaint Pleasant District. No lower rent set asides for the most part was provided for the middle-class residents who have been here for years, but the amounts are placed in a fund that does very little to stop congestion in the downtown area and little evidence of placing poorer folks in any housing. We have got a downtown that’s a mere shadow of its past, and empty storefronts, which are made worse by the empty street-level frontage on most of the high-rises. Not very inviting for shoppers at all, unless you’re in the market for a pizza.
Added to all this mess that village hall so proudly promotes is the fact that longtime residents are being forced out in droves. The new rental buildings are too expensive for many seniors ($3,000+ for a two bedroom, come on!), and the existing older apartment owners are somewhat upgrading their properties to get on the increased rental cost bandwagon. Rents that were in the $1,200/month range a couple of years back are getting a facelift, and these same buildings are being marketed at the $2,200 range in buildings that are over 50 years old. Where do the people go, especially seniors who may have a decent retirement savings but cannot afford an increase on 70%+ in rents? Higher housing costs are forcing many out of Oak Park and we’re losing some of our most productive and loyal residents as a result.
We hear daily now about why we should vote for one candidate or another and what they will do to improve our village. Terms like equity are thrown around but what of the minority seniors who are facing the same rent pressures as everyone. Contacting the village on this issue I received one decent email response and one with a single line stating Oak Park cannot control rents. No one was asking for rent control, but it appears that the trustees only pay slight attention to the voters, especially seniors when it’s election time.
The village will be the loser here, just as it was in many of its debacles, such as closing then reopening Lake Street. Our representatives at village hall make their decisions and act all sure of themselves, but it’s the residents of Oak Park who face the consequences for decades to come. The current high-rise surge with the accompanying high rents will play out over the years, albeit with many productive seniors and minorities of lesser means no longer part of the Oak Park community. That’s a real loss for our village.
Progressive? Not by my understanding!
Jim Agin is a 40-year resident of Oak Park.