On Aug. 6, the front page of the Chicago Tribune’s real estate section featured a story by Lizzie Kane about the loss of racial diversity in Oak Park [1]. Both Black and white populations have declined in the last decade. John Duffy’s One View last week [Some perspective the Trib article missed, Viewpoints, Aug. 9] provides more details about this trend in terms of our African American population [2]:

D97’s Black student population fell 35% from 2007 to 2017.

The proportion of Black students at OPRF High School dropped from 28% to 18% from 2010 to the present.

The Black percentage of Oak Park’s population declined from a high of 23.5% slightly more than 10 years ago to 18.2% in 2019.

Ms. Kane’s article discusses multiple causes for our loss of diversity, but she summarizes the chief ones as: lack of affordable housing, sky-high property taxes, and lingering racial tensions. Housing shortages and affordability are national problems, as are racial tensions. Our village government and other taxing bodies can try to address them. But only one factor driving our loss of diversity is under their partial control — property taxes.

From a diversity perspective, it is a big mistake for our trustees to abandon the goal of limiting property tax growth to 3% or less. I do not understand assertions by President Scaman and Trustee Robinson that this goal should be replaced by more transparent policy-setting. What can be more transparent than a quantitative goal of limiting property tax increases? If anything, this limitation can foster more transparency about weighing and prioritizing various competing expenditures.

Property taxes play an important role in pricing the less affluent out of home ownership. Due to the intersection of lower income and race, this means that Black people are disproportionately less able to buy homes or two- and three-flats in Oak Park. 

But middle-income people of all races are affected. We also lose diversity when school teachers, social workers and police can’t afford to buy here. And as Wednesday Journal pointed out in its Aug. 1 editorial, homeowners are increasingly moving out of town after all their children graduate high school to escape escalating property taxes. The likely result is more gentrification.

Abandoning the 3% limit on levy growth sets a terrible example. Perhaps the most important thing all our taxing bodies can do to at least maintain our diversity is to minimize property tax increases. Each taxing body — especially the schools which account for the lion’s share of our property tax bills — should adopt the same 3% goal as the village of Oak Park.

Judith Alexander
Oak Park

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