History gets rewritten and is often based on individual recollection of the events [Housing Center's place in our integration story, Viewpoints, Nov. 7]. Having been part of both the Oak Park and River Forest Citizens Committee for Human Rights and the Oak Park Housing Center, I would like to clarify the role, mission, and programs of both of these groups.
I joined the Citizens Committee in the mid-'60s and became the chairperson of the Housing Committee which was working to open housing opportunities for blacks interested in moving to Oak Park. We lobbied hard for passage of the Fair Housing Ordinance in 1968, which was enforced to assure that all people would have access to all housing.
At the same time, I returned to graduate school to research the issue of long-term diversity in American communities and, more specifically, Oak Park. After our success in the passage of the ordinance, the activism of the Citizens Committee was on the wane. From my master's thesis the concept of a housing action center emerged and the Citizens Committee donated its treasury funds to the newly forming Housing Center.
By this time, both Pierre de Vise and Anthony Downs were predicting rapid resegregation, and by 1980 they predicted that Oak Park would be 25 percent black, and in the Chicago pattern of racial change would then rapidly resegregate. Already there were signs of panic-peddling and loss of conventional financing in real estate.
When the Housing Center was founded in 1971 and opened its doors in 1972, there were many challenges: one of the most important was the apartment buildings — getting them physically improved while, at the same time, preventing rapid resegregation. At the same time, single family home blocks were seeing disinvestment, and realtors were convinced that whites were not interested in living in east Oak Park.
The daily challenges were huge. I and the other volunteers worked on many levels to assure that the housing stock would be improved and that people of all races would continue to move throughout the village.
It was not "reverse steering." It was letting everyone know their housing options, but the final choice was then and continues to be made by the housing seeker. When steering of any type occurs, people are not informed of all their options and not given a policy card that explains the mission of the free service helping them.
I would not attach any period of time to how long it would have taken from the '70s on for resegregation to take place on blocks and neighborhoods. But it continues to be true that diversity in housing does not take care of itself. It requires an agency that is in constant contact with building owners/managers, realtors, and those seeking housing to assure ongoing diversity over a long period of time.
That agency continues to be the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, and although I am retired as executive director, I continue to put my faith in the only agency in our village that protects our diversity.
Answer Book 2019
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