In the last two weeks, much of the attention of the Oak Park village board has been squarely focused on the housing situation in the community, including opportunities to increase affordable living and to identify current housing needs to shape future policies. 

One of the biggest steps the village board has agreed to undertake is a comprehensive housing study that is intended to evaluate the direction of Oak Park’s housing policy since the “Homes for a Changing Region Plan.” That initiative, which Oak Park was one of four communities to participate in, developed a housing plan for the village, among other municipalities, in 2012 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Now 11 years later, the village will be conducting its own study, exclusive to Oak Park, to modernize the plan. To do this, the village board approved a contract Feb. 6 in an amount not to exceed of $75,000 with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to conduct the study, which will identify the top housing issues facing Oak Park by taking into account resident input and such qualitative factors as demographics, age, housing stock, diversity of housing types, recent market activity, vacancy and housing affordability. The results of the study, which is expected to start this June and end the following March, will shape housing policy. A final report will be presented to the village board.

The second leg of recent housing discussions took place at the Feb. 13 village board meeting, where staff presented a list of proposals from community organizations looking to fund affordable housing programs with the money accumulated in the Oak Park affordable housing trust fund, some $3.2 million. The village issued a call for such proposals last August, and five organizations applied, including Housing Forward with a request for $658,082 over three years to subsidize crisis housing and rental supports for unsheltered families and transition-aged youth. Two sites, 12 Washington Blvd. and 232 N. Euclid Ave., have already been earmarked. 

The Oak Park Homelessness Coalition requested $251,341 dispersed over two years to fund a flexible rental program for households below 50% of the area median income. The program would serve roughly 60 households per year. 

One of the village’s oldest housing organizations, the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, put in a request for $200,000 to fund a full-time office manager and a full-time grants manager. OPRHC also requested a loan of $150,000 for cash flow assistance. 

The final two organizations to put in requests are the Oak Park Residence Corporation, which hopes to receive $450,000 to purchase eight to 10 condo units and convert them into affordable multi-family rental housing, and West Cook YMCA. The latter requested $125,000 to renovate its housing units and elevator, as well as to provide housing rental assistance. 

The cumulative total of the five requests is $1.8 million. The requests have not been granted, as the village board was merely discussing them and made no vote. 

Perhaps the biggest discussion during the Feb. 13 meeting, related to housing, were possibilities for increasing revenue in the affordable housing trust, beyond the inclusionary zoning ordinance. The village’s IZO requires developments in transit-oriented areas to make 10% of units affordable to renters making 60% of the area median income or the developers can contribute $100,000 per unit into the affordable housing fund. 

Because no new housing developments are on the horizon at this time, there is currently no revenue coming into the affordable housing fund. Options to bring in revenue include raising the hotel and motel tax from 4% to 5%, with 1% of the proceeds going into the affordable housing fund and the remaining revenue going toward the Oak Park tourism bureau Visit Oak Park as usual. That 1% could bring in $1 million to the affordable housing fund over 10 years.

Another option that resulted in wariness from the village board is a potential demolition tax, which would attach a $5,000 fee to demolition permits issued. This would bring in roughly $200,000 to the affordable housing fund in 10 years, but the board was hesitant to go this route, not wanting to punish residents who may have to demolish homes due to fires or other disasters. 

The idea to add a dollar to the real estate transfer tax, making it $9 for every $1,000, was likewise unsatisfactory to the board. This is the only option that would require a ballot referendum and is expected to bring in $5.3 million over 10 years. The final option to raise revenue is to increase the licensing fees for multi-family buildings with four or more units to $30 and multi-family buildings with three or less units to $15 with $10 and $5 respectively going into the fund, bringing in an approximate total of $335,740 and $9,820 in a decade.

The village board directed staff to gather more information regarding the options and return to the board at a later date. 

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