Oak Park approves affordable apartment building

Project on S. Oak Park Ave. will include 37 units

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Board of Trustees unanimously approved a proposal for a 37-unit affordable apartment building at the corner of South Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren Street at its Oct. 15 meeting.

Tensions ran high at Oak Park Village Hall Monday night, with the impassioned testimony from more than a dozen opponents and supporters of the project by Boston-based Community Builders, Inc.

The nonprofit real estate developer's project will be built on a vacant parcel of land that once housed a gas station and, later, a makeshift parking lot, which has been fenced off for the last couple of years in the Southtown Business District.

The meeting opened with a speech from Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.

"One of the things that makes Oak Park a special place to live is it is accepting of all people, regardless of their socioeconomic or racial background," he said. "We want people to belong in our village."

The project was recommended for approval by the Oak Park Plan Commission and supported by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation.

Testimony at the meeting was almost evenly split between supporters and opponents.

Thelmare Varnado, who lives near the building site, said she opposed the project because of its density and because it would put too many low-income residents in one place.

"It will hurt property values," she said. "No one will want to buy property beside or near it. Resale values will go down, and mine at retirement time."

Milton Clark, who also lives near the project, criticized the village for its creation of an affordable housing fund that allows developers of high-rise projects downtown to contribute money, rather than include affordable units in their downtown developments.

The village is poised to contribute $500,000 to the Community Builders project from the fund.

"You've given developers too easy of a way out," he said. "They should have included affordable housing in those buildings. Now [the village] is making another bad decision."

Resident Amy Dean said the village is facing an "affordable housing crisis" and more families are paying over 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.

Dean acknowledged the argument for financial contributions to an affordable housing fund in lieu of including units in luxury apartment buildings but added "that time has passed."

David Mann, chairman of the Plan Commission, said that the commission was not concerned with density, largely because of the size of the units, which will mainly be comprised of one-bedroom and efficiency apartments. He noted that the building is projected to house fewer than 50 people.

Trustees unanimously supported the project and called on residents nearby to welcome the new development and its tenants.

Trustee Deno Andrews said his work with ex-offenders – Andrews is the former owner of Felony Franks restaurant, which hired people who have spent time in prison – put him touch with the deplorable conditions under which many low-income people live.

He said one of the best ways to prevent recidivism is to provide safe, affordable housing for people that give them easy access to work.

Trustee Jim Taglia said that Community Builders has a national reputation for building quality developments and has over 11,000 units across the country under management or owned outright. He reminded the board that "Oak Park taxpayers are not subsidizing this. Period."

Trustee Dan Moroney said he, too, supports the project but took issue with the vitriol of comments in online forums from supporters of the project.

"[Opponents] have been slandered in a lot of ways," he said. "That doesn't feel good when someone takes your opinion or feelings and labels you a NIMBY [not in my backyard] or intolerant."


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Reader Comments

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Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 22nd, 2018 8:14 AM

Jeffrey....No it wouldn't. It would probably make most happy if affordable housing was built without burdening the current tax payers and thus making it unaffordable for them. Like most government programs, the outcomes rarely are the same as the intent.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: October 21st, 2018 7:44 PM

Would it make the complainers happier if the Village promised that only nice poor white people would live there?

Vicki Scaman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2018 4:56 PM

Information on this project is at: Village of Oak Park, Board meeting agendas, minutes, and video, Oct. 15th, meeting details. Email me at: clerkscaman@oak-park.us if you have trouble.

Vicki Scaman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2018 4:27 PM

Information on the project and the Plan Commission "Finding of Fact" can be found here.https://oak-park.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3697686&GUID=7354831F-2D75-4372-9CAE-B269BE911431&Options=&Search=

Barbara Joan  

Posted: October 18th, 2018 1:36 PM

$ how much will rent be? number of bedrooms/ parking included? utilities included? More than 5 units for special needs residents is needed.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 10:22 PM

Five of the building's units will be adaptable for people with special needs. This type of affordable housing has been lacking in our community for too long. That fact that Oak Park residents will receive priority is a plus!

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 6:02 PM

I agree with Neal and Tom. It is time for our taxing bodies to make OP affordable for those who actually live here now.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 2:17 PM

This is a good project, filling a big empty lot with business and residential uses wholly appropriate and in scale with the street and the community around it. I live around the corner from here and am glad to see something of this quality coming into the neighborhood. We need to have and to nurture a mix of housing types and affordability to keep the community healthy and diverse. The neighborhood isn't plagued with too many cars and it is easy to find parking. This development is transit oriented with the blue line a block away and with the housing types and residents expected will not change things for the worse. The affordable housing projects we have built in Oak Park in recent years, most notably the building at Madison and Grove, have been great additions and were improvements over what was there before. And yes, Oak Park is a very desireable place to live which raises the cost of housing, and we who live here like to have good parks, schools, libraries, shopping areas, etc. for our use which raise our property taxes. We need to be vigilant to make sure that we spend those taxes wisely. And this project in my estimation does that. I am looking forward to seeing it built and occupied.

Haney Ned  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 12:31 PM

Half of my after tax income goes directly to my real estate taxes. How does this make my home affordable? Where is my tax relief from all of the new buildings? Where is my tax relief from all of the business' share of taxes?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 10:16 AM

More projects in the name of affordability that actually do the exact opposite. The Trustees either don''t get it or insidiously support an agenda aimed at going out of their way to drive up costs for current citizens at every single opportunity. Zero Trust in that group.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 9:56 AM

The Village government is making Oak Park affordable for everyone, except the people that already live here.

Chi Lisa from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 5:37 PM

The village must force builders to include affordable housing in the opulent buildings they already have here, not put all the affordable housing under one roof. That's segregation.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 5:19 PM

Of course the taxes are subsidized if affordable housing or apartment (if children are in school). Oak Park made a decision long ago that it would be diverse and this is part of that investment. The more interesting question is to what degree are homeowners willing (or able) to continue. There is also issue of equity in people feel there are paying more than share ....

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 5:19 PM

Though I support this building let's not get distracted from the fact that the #1 thing that the VOP can do to keep housing affordable in OP is to keep our taxes reasonable. To the extent that this spends citizen's tax dollars and forgoes future tax revenue, this project might actually increase taxes long term. What's the net effect? It seems not terribly clear. I hope it these units bring more affordable housing than their net tax impact makes other housing less affordable.

Neal Buer  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 4:54 PM

Trustee Taglia, here is why, in the long run, taxpayers are subsidizing this development. Look at District House. This 28 unit development will provide $15,000 to $23,000 per unit in taxes yearly. That is roughly $450,000 to $650,000 in annual taxes. A development similar to District House could have been built on this site. The development approved will pay $50,000 a year which is a pittance of what could have been. So, in reality, the taxpayers are subsidizing this development to the tune of millions over 20 years.

Bob Larson  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 4:44 PM

My impression is that a private company is building on the property and it will pay real estate taxes. The VOP is not building the development. Correct?

Neal Buer  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 4:34 PM

Other than the fact that this building looks like an obese medical office, taxpayers should have allowed a building that will pay taxes. We, the taxpayers, will lose millions in potential taxes over 20 years.

Ryan McCarthy  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 4:32 PM

Yet another building the residents don't want but the village will build. Affordable or not WE DONT WANT IT!!

Brad Tabor from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 3:34 PM

After my last tax bill I may have to live there.

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