Affordable housing: Proposed new development at 7 Van Buren St. at Austin Boulevard. | Provided by Oak Park Residence Corporation

We support the Austin-Van Buren project proposed by the Oak Park Residence Corp. 

From the years Oak Park passed its Open Housing Ordinance (1968), through the years it has reaffirmed its Diversity Statement, the village has sought (hoped for) residential development that seeks to achieve racial and economic diversity. This is the outcome the village wants.

For-profit developers have generally been reluctant to include affordable housing units in their projects. They resist giving the village the outcome it wants. Usually, rather than include the required number of affordable units in the project, they opt to make a cash contribution to the village. This “buy out” leaves it up to the village itself to take actions to meet its stated need/desire for affordable housing.

The Oak Park Residence Corp. is a not-for-profit corporation governed by a board made up of Oak Park residents who have for years been at the forefront of the effort to provide affordable housing in the village. Its Austin-Van Buren project is the embodiment of a simple idea we and others have long espoused: The best way to achieve the outcome you want is to do it yourself.

On Oak Park’s wish list, this project checks box after box:

It will provide affordable units — within a multifamily building designed to attract an economically-diverse tenancy.

It will be handicapped-accessible, being the only elevator building in the entire Southeast Quadrant of Oak Park.

It will generate more revenue via greater real estate taxes.

It will demonstrate that a building reliant on renewable energy sources can be economically viable.

It will be a transit-oriented development — fewer cars! 

It will demonstrate that residential development is attractive along the Austin Boulevard corridor, an area where there has been almost no significant development for more than 50 years.

It will not require outlandish zoning variances.

It will be unique and attractive, adding to Oak Park’s reputation for architecturally-significant buildings. Just compare it to the sidewalk-to-sidewalk blockhouse private developers plan for the Drechsler-Brown site.

Most importantly, it will be under the management and control of a local organization run by Oak Park residents with a long history of promoting fair and affordable housing in the village.

We are, of course, aware that some neighbors predict disastrous consequences if this project is approved and built. However, we want to point out, from many years of direct experience in development disputes in the village, that objections such as these are almost always raised whenever a major project is before any board or commission. And after the construction is finished and the building is occupied, the dire predictions virtually never come true. While the objectors deserve to be heard, we suggest that this historic truth should not be lost on the decision-makers.

The Residence Corp. proposal gives the village what it wants. Do not be afraid to say “Yes” to this project. To say “Yes” is to live into the ideals the village stands for. It has talked the talk. It’s time to continue to walk the talk.

Gene and Ann Armstrong have been actively involved in Oak Park public affairs for four decades. As an attorney, Gene has represented applicants and advisories before the Plan Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Board of Trustees in respect to numerous contested development projects. 

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