Christian Harris

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1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
I am a 28 year old African American Oak Park business owner, who grew up in a home in Oak Park and rents here as an adult. The life experiences I've had living here give me a perspective that the Village Board needs. The Village Board needs more renters, more people of color and younger voices to bring those perspectives to the table. In addition, I serve on the board of the OPRF Chamber of Commerce, The North Avenue District board, and the associates board of Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.). Importantly, I know what it means to represent Oak Parkers and govern a taxing body as I was elected to the Oak Park Library Board in 2017. These experiences, particularly my role as Finance Officer of the Library Board, have given me a lot of practice building consensus, dealing with objections, fighting through contentious conversations and much more. I believe my life experience, my community board experience and my experience as an elected official make me a strong candidate for Village Trustee.

2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them
as a trustee?
Diversity of the Board, Parking and Affordability.

Diversity of the Board- The current Village Board does not embody the diversity of Oak Park. We need more renters on the Board to bring their perspectives to the table. We need more people of color to bring those voices to the table. We need younger voices as well. These are all perspectives I can and will bring to the Board if elected.

Parking- Last year I was walking with a renter near Austin and Harrison and she pointed to the Village-owned parking lot and said, "This is the reason I don't live in Oak Park anymore". She went on to explain that $250 four times a year is what she paid to park in that lot and the spot was not guaranteed on a quarterly basis. For her, this cost was more than one month's rent additional a year, so she moved. This cost is not sustainable if we want to keep an economically and racially diverse community. The Village Board must be intentional about reducing this cost. In addition, as a service business owner, I also know firsthand the challenges businesses face navigating the complex and expensive parking regulations throughout the Village. I believe in reducing costs, simplifying restrictions and balancing the needs of renters, homeowners, businesses and visitor.

Affordability- Oak Parks property taxes, rents and average home values have increased at a rate that is not sustainable if we want to keep an economically and racially diverse community. Controlling our tax burden and creating additional affordable housing are the two biggest issues the the Village Board can tackle to promote affordability in town. There are many ways the Board can create affordable housing including supporting organizations like the Oak Park Residence Corporation and Oak Park Housing Authority. In addition, the Board is currently working on an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance which would help create more units and obtain funds for affordable housing in future development projects. I am in support of a strong IZO for Oak Park. In order to slow the rate of tax increases, we must work more cohesively as six taxing bodies and increase our sales tax revenue. As I've learned since being elected to the Library Board, all the taxing bodies tend to work in silos. This is through no fault of our own: we are tasked with the viability of our respective organizations. However, Village Hall needs to use its unique leadership position in the Village to bring about more cohesion. I would love to explore the Idea of a unified referenda schedule and a capital improvements schedule. This will allow residents and taxing bodies to plan finances accordingly and see if there are cost sharing opportunities available. In addition, we must attempt to increase our sales tax revenue. Oak Park at one time had a more thriving retail sector, with car dealerships and more. This sales tax revenue helped offset what local real estate tax payers had to pay to have good schools, nice parks, beautiful libraries etc. If we can increase our sales tax revenue, we can alleviate some of the burden that now falls on property owners. In order to increase our sales tax revenue, a robust shop local campaign is required. Residents supporting Oak Park businesses as their first choice is crucial. Easing of fees and parking regulations around commercial corridors is also important to supporting businesses and generating more tax revenue.

 

3) What is your position on affordable housing in the village? Is more or less needed? Why? How would
you address this as a trustee?
Affordable housing is a key piece to sustaining an economically and racially diverse community. The Board is currently working on an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance which would help create units and obtain funds for affordable housing in future development projects. I am in support of a strong IZO for Oak Park. Oak Park does not do a bad job in terms of affordable housing as defined by the federal government which is 60-80% of median income. However, we have work to do for people making $20/hr or less. In order to make Oak Park more affordable for all we need to control our tax burden as well as provide a range of affordable housing at all income levels.

4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
At the Village Board level, there are a few focus areas that can increase equity and diversity of the Board. I believe in analyzing all issues through an equity lens, advocating and creating affordable housing and ensuring diverse voices are represented on all of our boards. To me, equity and diversity is a value system, a mindset and a culture, not just a policy. Respecting, including and representing all Oak Parkers in all decisions is the most important thing the Village must do.

5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
The Village should constantly be evaluating how to ease the tax burden. Right now, there are two things we can do to slow the rate of tax increases. We must work more cohesively as six taxing bodies and increase our sales tax revenue. As I've learned since being elected to the Library Board, all the taxing bodies tend to work in silos. This is through no fault of our own; we are tasked with the viability of our respective organizations. However, Village Hall needs to use its unique leadership position in the Village to bring about more cohesion. I would love to explore the Idea of a unified referenda schedule and a capital improvements schedule. This will allow residents and taxing bodies to plan finances accordingly and see if there are cost sharing opportunities available. In addition and as mentioned before, we must attempt to increase our sales tax revenue. Oak Park's thriving retail sector need not be just a thing of the past. The sales tax revenue generated through retail business helped offset what local real estate tax payers had to pay to have good schools, nice parks, beautiful libraries. If we can increase our sales tax revenue we can alleviate some of the burden that now falls on property owners and renters. A robust shop local campaign is needed as is the easing of fees/parking regulations. If we made it easy and top of mind for every resident to support Oak Park businesses, we would better off financially.

6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park's various taxing entities?
Village Hall must take a leadership role in bringing greater cooperation between our six taxing entities. Through organizations like IGOV and Council of Governments, we must do a better job working towards common goals of reducing our tax burden and increasing communication and collaboration. I believe implementing a referenda schedule would allow residents and taxing bodies to plan their finances better. Also, this would prevent multiple referendums from happening in a short time frame. In addition, I would like all six taxing bodies to buy into a unified capital improvement schedule. This would allow each taxing body to communicate the upcoming capital improvement projects each organization is undertaking and see if cost sharing opportunities are available. These collaborative schedules would also help residents provide feedback to elected officials and ask us to make holistic choices as a community across all entities instead of the one-off, one-at-a-time system we have now.

7) What are your thoughts on transparency in the village? Is more or less needed or is the village
currently striking a good balance on transparency?
Transparency is crucial for a democratic system of government. Moreover, transparency is essential in a Village Manager form of government where many functions are completed by staff between board meetings. Transparency is also critical to our free markets, as access to information is a key assumption and important ingredient when making financial decisions. As a Trustee I would advocate for a streamlined board packet that is easier for residents to understand. I would demand that local residents have input in the development process from the beginning, before a development has been proposed. I would also keep the role of the Village Clerk intact and advocate for improved access to FOIA-able information. Lastly, I would ensure that I am available to all residents by phone, e-mail and face-to-face meetings to support the flow of information in both directions.

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