Athena Williams, executive director, stands for a photo outside on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, on South Boulevard in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

Editor’s note: This story has been updated as of November 9, 2021 to better reflect the comments by Bob Tucker, chief operating officer of the Chicago Community Loan Fund.

The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has worked to promote integration in housing since its founding in 1972. Now, the non-profit organization is looking to create housing itself at the site of its current offices – which it now owns.

The housing center purchased the building, 1037-1041 South Blvd., from the estate of Fay Fong Wong for $750,000 and closed on the sale Sept. 8, according to public record. Athena Williams, its executive director, told Wednesday Journal the intention is to either renovate or redevelop the building for a combination of offices and a combination of affordable and market rate housing.

“It’s not 100 percent clear yet which route we’re going to take,” said Williams.

Chicago Community Loan Fund is holding a $1.2 million mortgage on the building. Former Oak Park village trustee Bob Tucker, who serves as chief operating officer of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, said his organization does not comment on client projects without the permission of the client. The amount of the mortgage includes pre-development costs making it higher than the purchase price of the building, said Williams, who added that application fees and inspection reports qualify as pre-development costs.

The housing center is now looking at different sources of funding for construction of the project. As it is still early in the process, no designs have been developed.

Williams was unsure of how many stories the development would be, stating the project would eventually have to go through the Oak Park Plan Commission. Regardless, Williams made it clear that the housing center’s offices will remain on the property.

OPRHC has not chosen an architectural firm to design the project at this point.

“We’ve only been interviewing different development partners because we’re very new to this,” she said.

The housing center has already begun conversations with the village of Oak Park’s development customer services department, according to Williams.

“The development customer services department has been aware that we were going to do this probably since the inception,” said Williams. “We’ve reached out about asking for different types of waivers just through email.”

Tammie Grossman, director of development customer services, confirmed her department had received a request from the housing center to do a zoning analysis on the property and to waive the planned development process related to a request to reduce parking, setbacks and increase height.

“We prepared a zoning analysis and explained that there is not a process to grant relief on those issues outside of the Planned Development hearing,” said Grossman.

Williams did share that the development, whatever form it ends up taking, will not be leased fully at market rate and will “definitely not be all low-income” housing.

“If it was market-rate [housing], then we would have to pay into [Oak Park’s] affordable housing fund,” said Williams. “It’s definitely not going to be 100 percent market rate.”

Rather, rent will be determined on a sliding scale, taking into account the tenant’s financial situation and the size of the unit, according to Fabiola Candlish, president of the center’s board of directors.

“We know that we need to try to figure out how to meet the demands of the community, while at the same time trying to be financially responsible,” said Williams.

The housing center’s bylaws prohibit it from serving in the capacity of landlord, said Williams. Whether the center will have to engage the services of a management company, Williams would not say.

“I can’t answer that for you 100 percent because we’re still looking for partners and we still have to draw up an understanding and agreement around what that would look like,” she said.

The center’s mission is to promote and sustain housing integration in the village. While for years, that integration was specific to race, Williams said, the concept has evolved beyond that.

“Moving into the next 50 years, it’s going to be race and economic [integration],” she said.

This project, Williams said, will help the housing center continue in keeping Oak Park an integrated community racially and economically.

“Whatever goes up here is really for the residents in Oak Park.”

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