Oak Park Housing Center's next act

Opinion: Editorials

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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.

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Reader Comments

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Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2019 5:32 AM

I meant to say resigned in May not reigned. Sorry about that

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2019 3:00 AM

Once again the your facts are wrong. Rob Breymaier reigned in May 2018. So it's 18 months ago. When he resigned Michele Rodriguez-Taylor, his well credentialed and trained deputy took over.So far so good. Then in January of 2019 she was forced out by Tracey Wik and Fabiola Candlish the President and Vice President of the OPRHC board, neither of whom live in Oak Park btw. Athena Williams was NOT RECOMMENDED by Rob to step into his position. They commenced a "national" search to a new executive director which failed utterly. So they appointed Attorney Jay Readey, an attorney from Flossmoor, IL.who came in a few hours a week. Under his tenure the OPRHC failed to file the reports that the Village of Oak Park requires in exchange for the roughly $400,000 paid to the OPRHC from the Village's general fund. So when, under Jay's leadership, they didn't submit the required by contract with Oak Park, the Village, didn't bother to remind them that they were in arrears, they did something smarter. They cut the OPRHC.s funding for 2020 because they failed to adhere to the terms of their agreement.That got them fired up but good. Now they are begging forgiveness. It reminds me of the Charley Brown cartoon where Lucy keeps moving the football Charley Brown is trying to kick and then promising she won't move it the next time. Next time never comes for poor Charley. Case closed. Now they can evolve by developing new sources of funding. A challenge for Athena Williams but one she is well equipped to undertake since in her new strategic plan what she espoused is for the OPRHC to be less dependent on the Village's finding so she can expand the services beyond Oak Park's borders.I'm 100% convinced a woman of her proven experience, in the trenches, and deep ties within the Greater Westside communities, along with the experienced, and proven, staff at the OPRHC she can do it. Change my mind. How tough can it be to raise a couple $100,000. I say thee yay Athena. You go................

Alice Wellington  

Posted: October 11th, 2019 6:45 PM

The only mission of the Housing Center should be to close its doors for good. Enough already. This isn't the 70's any more, and we have laws to address housing discrimination. If East of Ridgeland landlords wish to find white renters, they must do it without the taxpayers' assistance.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2019 4:24 PM

How many games of solitaire can the staff sit around and play while doing nothing and being funded on the backs of the Oak Park taxpayers? Unnecessary, unused and non essential. If we could have back what we dumped into this place the last ten years there would be no pension funding issue in town.

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