It's nice to be venerable. Better to be vital.
The Oak Park Regional Housing Center certainly checks the box for historical impact on the village's racial diversity over 45 years. Nothing diminishes that audacious start as it fostered ongoing white demand for rental housing in a moment when fear of racial resegregation was profound.
Over time, the housing center adapted in multiple ways to attempt to address race and housing across a wider geography, including Forest Park, Berwyn and the West Side. Those results were mixed. Then as the technology of searching for an apartment went nearly fully digital, the housing center faced steep challenges in communicating its message and services.
Now, a year after the resignation of Rob Breymaier as the center's longtime activist director, and in the same year as the death of Bobbie Raymond, the center's legendary founder, the nonprofit has gone back to fully reassess its mission and its methods. With a new strategic plan, with acknowledgement that it needs a funding base wider than a reliance on Oak Park's village government, the housing center has a new director in Athena Williams.
Well known as an activist on the West Side, and a resident there, Williams brings on-the-ground housing experience, deeply-made connections, and a new energy to a changing mission and tougher reality. She acknowledged in opening remarks at the center's annual gala on Sept. 26 that the housing center needs to become largely financially independent of government funding. Oak Park's village board, facing its own tight budgets and sporting a more critical view of the housing center, will be pleased.
More essentially, Williams needs to clarify the housing center's 2019 mission and execute it with purpose and passion.
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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