Everyone knows someone who has left Oak Park to escape the high property taxes. Even though there are numerous nearby communities with property tax burdens that are higher than ours, the cost of our high quality of housing stock, schools, and peaceful environment are felt by all of us when we pay our mortgages, rents, and taxes.
At the same time, many of us choose to live in Oak Park because of its racial, ethnic, and economic diversity.
This diversity didn’t happen on its own. In fact, left to societal and market forces, our village might have been exclusively white and upper income. We have to work at assuring a welcome community for non-White residents and residents from a range of income levels. Despite our shameful history as a home to a chapter of the KKK and to a thriving Black community that was driven out by racism and violence, dedicated residents in the late1960’s and 70’s turned things around. Our current community is 61% non-Hispanic White, 18% Black, 9% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 7% multiple races, compared to the statistics for the Chicago region (per the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) of 50% non-Hispanic White, 17% Black, 23% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 3% multiple races.
Maintaining the affordability of our community is essential to remaining welcoming to residents of all economic means.
While we are known for our large, architecturally significant homes, we also have many housing units that are considered affordable, which means that residents who make less than 80% of the area median income (AMI) are able to live in housing whose mortgage payments or rents comprise less than one-third of their incomes. In 2018, 22.6% of the housing units in Oak Park were affordable to people making 80% of AMI. This percentage has increased over the last decade and is expected to increase to over 26% in 2023. Oak Park’s 2018 ranking of percent affordable units was 80 th
out of 112 Cook County communities. So while 22.6% is a percent to be proud of, and is more than double the 10% required in that State of Illinois, we could do better. Moreover, 43% of renters in Oak Park are cost-burdened by rent. This is why we need to continue to pay attention to village policies and budgeting that support lower income residents.
Here are some of my accomplishments during my first term on the village board, plus what I will support
in my second term:
I supported the creation of the Housing Trust Fund. This fund, supported by fees from developers of multi-unit buildings, will be used to provide rental assistance and to support continued construction of affordable buildings.
I supported continued funding of Oak Park’s Regional Housing Center. Proposed village budgets in 2020 and 2021 decreased funding to this important organization that plays a critical role in our village’s racial diversity.
I supported the use of our Community Development Block Grant funds to provide housing assistance to low-income owners and renters. How municipalities choose to use their federal CDBG funds is a reflection of their values. Our village has consistently funded programs that maintain our stock of affordable units.
I support the construction of affordable units with more than 2 bedrooms, a particular issue for families whose only options are usually 1-2 bedroom units.
I support updating our Inclusionary Housing Zoning Ordinance, to expand the boundaries of the qualified zones, increase the in-lieu fees for developers to pay into the Housing Trust Fund, and to increase the number of affordable units in planned developments.