It was interesting to read in a previous Wednesday Journal the letter written by Wayne Pierce, board chair of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, titled “What the Residence Corporation stands for.” ResCorp has a long and significant history within the village of Oak Park. But what needs to be explained is how the proposed building at 7 Van Buren fits and meets ResCorp’s stated mission and purpose.
Per their tax forms, which state, “The organization was established to promote the progress and general welfare of the residents of the Village of Oak Park, Illinois by improving or causing to be improved substandard Oak Park housing stock and developing projects and activities for the prevention and elimination of blight.”
Nowhere in this mission statement does it state that ResCorp is a developer, that it is in the business of constructing new developments, or that their purpose is to construct new, luxury housing. How does the role of developer fit with their mission? It does not. While ResCorp argues that it is providing affordable housing within this proposed building, it actually is creating a de facto loss of three affordable units at this location. The remaining 36 units will be rented at market rate — and an expensive one at that. These units will be priced at 90-95% of the market rate of Class A buildings, such as the pricier luxury apartments in downtown Oak Park. The price a renter was paying for a two-bedroom apartment ($1,200, including utilities) at the current building will not pay for the smallest studio apartment at the proposed building.
The average rent at the proposed building will be $1,795, not including utilities or parking. This rent is considerably higher than most other ResCorp units in the area (average rents are $985 to $1,145) and other apartments in the neighborhood. In fact, a large two-bedroom apartment on the 900 block of South Humphrey (one block away) rents for $1,335 versus a two-bedroom unit in the proposed building that will average $2,304.50 — $1000 a month more. So how do apartments that cost $500-$800 a month more than anything else in the neighborhood create more affordable housing? ResCorp is creating apartments that are, in fact, much less affordable.
ResCorp says it wants to invest in the area and construct a new building at 7 Van Buren. That is fine, but build it within code, and build one that actually provides affordable apartments. The AMI proposed for this building is 60%, with its tenants required to use 33% of their income for rent, and that does not include utilities.
If ResCorp truly wants to provide affordable housing, it should have an AMI that is renting at a lower threshold to provide housing for those most in need of affordable rents. Construct a building that has a higher percentage of its units dedicated as affordable and set the rent of the market rate units at an amount that is more financially accessible to a larger population of people.
We would gladly welcome truly affordable and financially accessible housing, just as this neighborhood has done for decades.
Frank Vozak is an Oak Park resident.