The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has worked to end housing segregation and promote fair housing in Oak Park for decades. The symbiotic relationship between the housing center and Oak Park’s village government has helped to maintain an integrated community. That partnership has begun to sour in recent years, however, due to the center’s habit of being late in turning in its financial audits, a required measure in its funding agreement with the village.
“This has gone on since 2019,” Trustee Jim Taglia said Monday night. “It’s the same discussion, different year.”
The current village board now seeks to break the frustrating cycle through a partial funding agreement and plans for a study session later this summer.
Founded in 1972, the housing center was a radical effort to counteract the troubling and rapid resegregation of Chicago’s West Side taking place at the time – part of a series of Oak Park initiatives which proved successful in fostering racial integration. Since then, the non-profit has expanded its offerings, using affirmative marketing to attract people to the village and providing free services to both residents and property owners.
Understanding the invaluable contributions made by OPRHC, the previous village board continued to provide funding to the center despite its tardiness in providing its yearly fiscal audits to the village.
Each time, OPRHC Executive Director Athena Williams would answer to the board for the late audits, as she did again Monday night regarding the center’s 2020 audit, which was submitted April 29 but was due Nov. 30.
The village board voted to release the $125,000 that was being withheld under the center’s 2021 funding agreement due to the center’s failure to turn in the 2020 audit on time. The board took a relatively sterner stance on the center’s 2022 funding agreement, which was also up for discussion that same night.
Rather than approving a funding agreement effective Jan. 1, 2022 in an amount of $300,000 for this fiscal year, the board voted 6-1 to approve a funding agreement worth $150,000 through June 30, 2022 of this year. Village staff held off on presenting the center’s 2022 fiscal year funding agreement until after the center turned in its 2020 audit. The center’s 2021 fiscal year audit is due at the end of June, coinciding with the end of the newly passed 2022 funding agreement.
Many underlying issues have contributed to housing center’s inability to turn in its yearly fiscal audits before the requisite deadline. Changes in board leadership, staff turnover and the impacts of COVID-19 have made it difficult for the housing center to catch up. Williams told the village board housing center staff are bearing the responsibilities of two to four different jobs.
The amendment to the 2022 funding agreement came at the suggestion of Village President Vicki Scaman, who packaged the idea as a chance for the center to correct its course rather than a castigatory measure. She also called for a study session to identify what strategies are needed to maintain integration in the future.
“I definitely don’t see it as punitive,” said Scaman. “I see it more as an opportunity to really push the reset and change direction.”
This view was not shared by Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla who was the sole village board member to vote against the partial funding agreement. She also did not believe that the board, the housing center or village staff would have enough time to prepare for a study session likely to take place in early July.
Walker-Peddakotla had intended to vote in favor of passing the original 2022 agreement worth $300,000.
“It’s really important for non-profits to know they’re going to be funded up until the end of the year,” she said. “To say, ‘You’re only going to be funded until the end of June,’ which is less than a month away – that’s really harsh in my opinion.”