Make housing project a sign of hope, not fear

One View

Opinion: Columns

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Janet and Rich Gayes

"Encourage your hopes, not your fears."

For years now, this bumper sticker has been on my family's refrigerator. Hope doesn't always come easy when your triplet babies are born prematurely, fragile with health problems and disabling conditions. Fear can pop up whenever you turn around: When they are babies — "Can I do this?" Then as they grow older — "What will the future hold?"

The realities for those with disabling conditions are sobering: Unemployment averages about 40 percent in Illinois; 70 percent if one is blind. Persons with disabilities represent two-thirds of those living in long-term poverty. Abject poverty and institutionalization are certainly not relics of previous times.

Due to their circumstances, two of our 25-year-old children live at home with us. Hearing about the proposed housing plan for the old Comcast building, we wondered — could our adult children someday live there? Because of stamina and health issues, they may not have the capability to sustain full-time employment. However, with support, they can and do live full lives.

Of course, those with disabilities are not the only ones with low wages — we have teacher assistants, lunchroom monitors, nurses' aides, caregivers, grocery baggers (some of whom are OPRF special education graduates) and underemployed returning veterans. While these people may slip below the radar in this village of Hemingway and Wright, they are indeed an integral part of the tapestry of our community.

As I read the discussion about the proposed housing plan for the old Comcast building, I see fear speaking — fear that "they" will pull down "our" community. The neighborhoods and children will be hurt, and housing values will fall. Individually addressing these concerns can be helpful. First, Interfaith Housing Development Corp., the Oak Park Housing Authority and Catholic Charities are reputable organizations with solid histories. The Oak Park Housing Authority website has a very detailed frequently asked questions section, addressing many potential concerns. The Interfaith Housing Development Corp. website provides examples of successful existing supported buildings.

Second, the proposed housing is permanent housing, not transitional or halfway housing. Third, tenants are screened with credit and criminal background checks, and tenants who are disruptive will be evicted. Fourth, as in all neighborhoods, our resident beat officers are always willing to work with the community to keep neighborhoods safe. Fifth, if we want to reduce illicit drug use, closing our high school campus, not allowing alcohol at teen parties and exploring ways to reduce demand by using our youth services are likely to have the greatest impact.

We Oak Parkers have a legacy of courage and creativity in building the diverse, vibrant community we call home. People with disabilities and challenging life situations are a part of, and yes, enhance this diversity. Frankly, the line between "us" and "them" is a blurred one — an illness, an injury, a job loss, the death of a loved one or plain-old aging could put anyone into a difficult situation. Let's not let uninformed fear govern our decisions. Instead, let's choose hope and work together for Oak Park.

Janet and Rich Gayes are Oak Park residents.

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Reader Comments

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Concerned (not afraid) Citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 8:21 PM

@ Chris Damon - Seriously, I live just a few blocks away and would much prefer the Mosque. I'd wager that other neighbors would feel the same way.

Chris Damon from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 10:02 AM

I've given much thought to the controversy over converting the Comcast building into affordable housing units. I've listened to and read the points of view of all concerned. I think I've finally come up with a solution that will satisfy both those concerned about the impact of this proposal on the character of their neighborhood AND those concerned about social justice issues who want to ensure that Oak Park is doing the right thing: convert the Comcast building into a Mosque.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 1:17 PM

I just realized I misspelled the Gayes' surname. Sorry. (I hate when that's done to me.) And, again, nicely written.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 11:32 AM

Mr. & Mrs. Gaye, your "One View" is extremely well-written, informed by love and even-tempered in its advocacy of this project. Yet I remain skeptical. Clearly, some of the opponents are driven by fear, ignorance and/or prejudice. But most are simply asking common sense questions: is there really a need? is it the best site? who stands to benefit most? I smell a couple of well-connected sharpies who've decided to call something a "nail" so they can use their publicly funded hammer on it.

Mia Lu  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 8:41 AM

I'm glad that shoving low-income residents into 450 square feet apartments makes the Gayes feel good about themselves. Let's not let our desire for an order-based society govern our decisions. The voucher program allows people to live anonymously in standard size units. Can't people have their pride? Why must the working poor be identified and labeled for the benefit of people like Janet and Rich?

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 9:48 PM

If you're new to this and interested in going to one source that will link you to lots of information, go to Facebook and search "Concerned Madison" to find the Facebook Concerned Citizens-Madison Avenue Housing Project (Oak Park)page.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 2:10 PM

@Mary Ellen - I think Interfaith, who has ZERO experience outside of troubled inner city neighborhoods, values OP to expand their footprint. I also believe this is a personal win for Interfaith CEO Perry Vietti, who lives near the Comcast building. Pushing a development opposed by 2:1 in the neighborhood is a heck of a way to make friends with your neighbors, huh? I wish they'd stick to developing in places where they have a proven track record of success.

Mary Ellen Eads from 202 N. Harvey  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 11:36 AM

(contd) I think it is becoming increasingly clear that this project has little or nothing to do with Oak Park on any dimension. The developers were looking for really cheap housing in an area that might not raise too much fuss about a potentially controversial social housing project. The concerns of neighbors could be easily dispatched with the aid of Village commissioners and a few meetings providing minimal information. It could work.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 11:30 AM

In addition to the stated concerns about igh-density housing restricted to those with low incomes, it is important to note that there is no guarantee that current Oak Parkers or their adult children or low-income workers in OP have priority access to more than a very few of these units. In fact, I believe that the developers have stated that the opposite is true and that HUD does not permit these types of intake restrictions. More clarity, much more, is needed on this point.

j.oak park  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 10:57 AM

the retail portion is a bone for the madison street coalition/corridor plan... at least that is my take on it. just like the corner of the new Walgreen's. Have you ever tried to park in the lat at Walgreen's? it is always full. Parking in the area is tight as it stands now. Wonder how long it takes to fill that empty corner of Walgreen's... or the one to the east across Oak Park ave, or all of the other open store fronts on madison?

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 10:30 AM

The project also has retail on the ground floor with no designated parking.Who would want a business there?The planned units are 500sf and overpriced.There would be up to 102 people in a relatively small building, with inadequate parking.I'm tired of all this righteous rhetoric and public posturing, albeit well meaning.I was glad that this would be affordable housing until I read the plan.I sent a letter expressing my concerns to the Planning Commission and Board. I suggest others do that, too.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 10:11 AM

Concerned (not afraid) Citizen from Oak Park could not have summed my position on this project up any better. We're not afraid. We're not saying "no" to ANY development. We're just saying "no" to a veiled plan that only benefits Interfaith, OPRC and the large corporations that draw tax shelter from investing in the development. I actually think we're better off with the rotting shell of the Comcast building on the corner of Oak Park and Madison than the proposed development.


Posted: February 13th, 2011 6:44 PM

i agree with Alan D. Lord from Oak Park, I think the corner of Forest and Lake is a better location for this proposed project.

Alan D. Lord from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2011 6:41 PM

I see I giant peice of misery being proposed here. Misery for the occupants as their every move will be observed and reported. Misery for the neighbors who are observing and reporting. Misery for the person/people who actually thought this was a good idea; wait they don't care they have moved on and pocketed the kickback cash. What is next? Hmm.... the corner of Forest and Lake?

The 60s Are Over, Hippies from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2011 3:38 PM

I've only lived in Oak Park for about 16 years, so maybe someone can tell me when it became law that we must be a "diverse" community. So diverse, I guess, that we must consider proven-ineffective, Cabrini Green-style housing projects like this to show how "diverse" we are. Frankly, I think living peacefully next to the Austin neighborhood and sharing our stores, restaurants, amenities and even schools is enough. What are we trying to prove?

Concerned (not afraid) Citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2011 3:08 PM

In my mind, there continue to be several questions about this project that remain unanswered: Is there an actual need for this type of housing in OP? Will this actually improve the diversity of Oak Park? Who will be served? Are there any risks? As noted, once it's up, it's up. So, as a person who lives in the neighborhood where this building could be I think it's better to ask all of the tough questions now. It seems there are many still unanswered. We all deserve clarity.

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: February 11th, 2011 1:02 PM

Dismissing any opposition as "fear" is offensive. I oppose it because I lived a block from a residence for disadvantaged singles in Chicago before moving here. I did not fear those people. I found their behavior tiresome and realized the neighborhood could never achieve its potential because that facility -- no matter neighbors' complaints -- could take no responsibility for the quality of life issues its residents left to neighbors. Don't stereotype us. Try listening to your neighbors.


Posted: February 10th, 2011 10:08 PM

Cover story in the week's edition of the The Reader newspaper reports on segregated housing in Chicago and the suburbs.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:25 PM

Being a brother of triplets, I have great empathy for the challenges that they are as children and the illnesses that can face them in adulthood. Two of my brothers have serious mental problems that struck them in their 20's when their careers were flourishing. Neither has been able to work since. With the help of the VA, both are veterans, and the family they have live together and care for each other. To avoid possible disappointment, you should check eligibility. HUD guidelines are rigid.

Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 4:31 PM

I'd agree with your closing point on aging. There is a proven need for affordable housing for the elderly, for families and for the disabled. This project is targeted to serve none of those groups. There's no proven need for what Interfaith wants to develop, single occupancy, 450 sq ft apartments @$700. Their stated target population is the working poor in Oak Park. In testimony IHDC has confirmed that they can't even commit to that population until after the village approves the project.


Posted: February 9th, 2011 3:32 PM

This is not about fear it is about common sense - there are plenty of available, affordable studio and one bedroom apts. in Oak Park-why spend $$ rehabbing the Comcast building when you could work w/present building owners to place people in housing stock that is available. The real need is for affordable family housing- 3 BR . The $$ saved on this building could be spent rehabbing 2 flats/homes for families to rent and integrate into all of Oak Park's neighborhoods. No fear just sense.

Brad Farrar  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 9:01 AM

Based on testimony that Interfaith and their partners have provided: A very small number of these units are planned as accessible for the disabled. They are not allowed to give preference to OP residents in tenant selection. The building is transitional -- a primary goal of the case worker assigned to each tenant is to provide employment counseling to move them up and out of the building.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 8:43 AM

What Adele said. Small, low rent apartments already exist in the area. It is not guaranteed that those who move in will be Oak Park residents. Smaller buildings would better serve those in need of assistance. Economic segregation usually turns out bad. To have hope does not mean to throw caution to the wind. Pathos can neither change nor create facts.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 8:26 AM

More incorrect info from OP Resident. It would be great to have someone so passionate in the debate, but first you should read something about this project.

OP Resident  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:24 AM

Affirmative Action Homes with HOPE are supported by our first Affirmative Action President Obama through HUD and DCFS. Let's show some PRIDE Oak Park! I believe OPGLA is 100 percent for this project for fatherless babies. Call your trustees and show some support.

Adele from OP  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:12 AM

"ONE VIEW" indeed - that captures the WJ position accurately. How about "TWO VIEWS"? Aside from a few fringe posts (that are getting weirder each day) the opposition has NOT been about fear. Hope vs. fear is reductionistic and manipulative. Stick to the facts which have been posted multiple times: no guarantee to OP low wage earners, housing supply already exists, economic segregation. Once it's up, it's up...then hope or fear won't matter.


Posted: February 9th, 2011 6:09 AM


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