Candidates Provide Statements on Village’s Commitment to Diversity and Integrated Living

Housing, Community and Inclusion Voter’s Guide

The Village municipal elections take place this Tuesday on April 2, and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center would like to let Oak Parkers know where the candidates for Village Board of Trustees stand on the issues of diversity and integration. The Housing Center circulated a letter to all eleven candidates for the Village Board of Trustees to obtain their views and commitment to promoting diversity and integrated living in the Village of Oak Park. They were invited to address questions as to their position on the recently passed affordable housing ordinance, views about the Village’s commitment to supporting fair and open housing with its budget, and their thoughts about how best to promote community building, equity and inclusion among the diverse communities within Oak Park.

The work required to maintain Oak Park’s progress has faced challenges in recent years, as the price of housing has outpaced the wages of many of today’s apartment seekers, and the Housing Center has seen a decrease in the number of clients looking for apartments in Oak Park. We need strong advocates for creative and innovative solutions to maintain diversity and promote truly integrated living in Oak Park. The following statements from the candidates provides information on their positions to help people who care about Oak Park make an informed decision at the voting booth on April 2nd.

Bridgett Baron

“Racial diversity and integration are hallmarks of Oak Park, and I am committed to supporting those qualities, if elected to the Village Board of Trustees. In 1993 and 1994, we came from Chicago, three households—my sister and her husband, my mom and my stepdad, and my husband and me. They bought houses on Taylor Street near Division, while we bought a small condo near Randolph and Marion. My stepdad is African-American, so moving to a place that welcomed him, and their relationship, was essential.

A community that holds racial diversity as a core value, is a community that then grows in other kinds of diversity. Diversity of socio-economics, of sexual orientation, of gender identity, of faith, of family structure. To not only embrace diversity, but to foster it, is to understand that there is a richness of life that can only occur through this diversity.

Oak Park’s roughly 9,000 rental units, representing about 40% of the overall housing stock, is a driving factor in maintaining Oak Park’s diversity. To be clear, though, diversity and integration are two different things, and both matter.

One of the challenges that is faced by the Regional Housing Center, and which I would support overcoming, is adapting to the increasingly technological (online) way that people find housing.

I am thankful and excited that your organization is undergoing a strategic plan as it recognizes a need to adapt to these new market realities.”

Graham Brisben

“First and foremost, equity, inclusion, and diversity are core values of Oak Park and essential to its DNA. The two biggest issues in this election are the advancement of those values and improving the affordability of our village. The topic of fair and affordable housing spans both of those issues.

My platform calls for a comprehensive affordability strategy for Oak Park aimed at very low, low, and moderate income levels plus seniors living on limited fixed incomes. I am supportive of an IZO [Inclusive Zoning Ordinance] as just one “tool in the toolbox” of potential tactics. I would like to see all of the advocates and stakeholders involved in housing affordability and fairness, including the Housing Center, “at the table” in formulating and implementing this strategy.

I believe that the Housing Center and its pursuit of intentional integration as originally conceived in the 1970s is one of the landmark initiatives of Oak Park that truly actualizes our core values of inclusion and diversity. Although technology has changed the way people find apartments, I support giving the Housing Center the leeway to revisit its strategic plan and be able to develop a range of new strategies and approaches to pursue the big picture goal of intentional integration.”

Susan Buchanan

“Housing prices and rents are increasing in Oak Park because we are a desirable community for both residents and developers. At the same time, racial equity is an important issue in our village. The village board has a role to play in assuring that Oak Park is a diverse, equitable village where people of color can find affordable housing. As village trustee, I will support the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. The Housing Center remains a key resource in our village and should continue to receive support from village government.

Regarding affordable housing, I supported the inclusionary zoning ordinance. Linking future development to funding for affordable housing will improve not just the economic diversity of our Village but also its racial and ethnic composition, which increases the quality of life for all. The following is from my statement at the village board meeting on March 11 when the inclusionary housing ordinance was passed.

I congratulate the board for moving to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance and for joining the more than 900 other jurisdictions in the US with IZO policies. While some say that Oak Park has sufficient affordable units, this proportion will decrease if new luxury buildings are constructed without the IZO. We will, in effect, be creating an affordability deficit. The IZO is needed as we move ahead with additional residential development, to keep Oak Park on its trajectory as a racially and economically diverse community. I urge you to adopt this ordinance, but I would like it to include several amendments.”

Thomas Gary

“To the extent that major goals of any such affordable housing ordinance would be to: 1) broaden the diversity of housing stock that is affordable to wide economic classes; and, 2) add flexibility to the Village’s ability to shape that environment, this ordinance appears to not be able to do much of either. The recently passed ordinance came about after nearly 20 years of discussions and tabled plans, only to be rushed at the last moment before an election.

Currently, Oak Park lacks any systematic economic development plan or housing ordinance that is community-driven and helps guide decisions about development, whether it is on Roosevelt Road or North Avenue. This has allowed development to occur through a series of opaque ad hoc deals where neither the community, the Village, nor the developer, knows what to plan for, nor who is being best served. Moreover, capital expenditures are disconnected from performance measures that link outcomes to the budget, or even the Envision Oak Park comprehensive plan.

The Regional Housing Center serves as a key stakeholder in turning a community value of diversity into a lived, practiced policy—whose outcomes can be measured not just in the people who walk through the Center’s doors, but in the lives of the community that have been enriched by this steadfast devotion to the community’s integration. And I am proud to have received the support and endorsement of not just the previous Center Executive Director, Rob Breymaier, but also of the founding Executive Director, Bobbie Raymond-Larson

As an economic development professional who, with the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and now the State Treasurer’s office, has spent nearly two decades working with communities to help them develop their plans or bring state resources to bear on local projects. I bring the experience to re-set the Board’s relationships and drive an agenda for a plan.”

Christian Harris

“Growing up in Oak Park I took this community for granted. The beauty of a safe, progressive community, with good schools, friendly neighbors, diversity of race and income was all lost on me as a child. Oak Park was simply HOME. I now understand that this community did not just happen. A bunch of nice people didn’t just move here and live happily ever after, it took years of work by committed community members getting involved and making sacrifices to create the community that I grew up in and what it is today. More specifically the diversity of this community did not happen by accident. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has been working since 1972 to ensure Oak Park was not only integrated but had diverse neighborhoods. It is very important that we continue to support the Housing Center as a key tool to promote integration in Oak Park. Another tool to maintain economic and racial diversity is an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. The Village Board recently passed an IZO, which will help create and get funds for affordable units in town. I wish that the ordinance had covered the whole Village, had included condo units and had higher fees in lieu-of. On the Village Board I will advocate for strengthening our ordinance and monitoring its effect to ensure its benefiting who it’s supposed to benefit.”

Joshua Klayman

“A key action in creating the affordable housing we need in Oak Park is an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO). The Village Board got the ball rolling, but the new Board will need to continue working on it, in consultation with affordable housing experts and the community. As Trustee, I will work to:

· Design stronger incentives to create mixed income housing and mixed-income neighborhoods. Preserving integration and increasing the number of affordable units are equally important goals.

· Expand the area of application beyond the two narrow corridors around the L lines specified in the current ordinance.

· Create additional incentives for developers to provide affordable housing at lower ranges of the economic spectrum.

· Establish rewards other than allowing larger developments in return for including affordable units, so we don’t further erode controls on height and density for new construction.

The IZO should dovetail with additional approaches such as using developer funds to rehabilitate and repurpose existing buildings, to provide direct rental subsidies, to modernize the Oak Park Housing Center, and to support the Residence Corporation. Beyond housing, equity and inclusion require active outreach and real listening, involving citizens of all types in planning and decision making. No space to elaborate here…see”

Arti Walker-Peddakotla

“Like many people, I moved to Oak Park in large part due to the reputation built by the Housing Center, and the Fair Housing Ordinance. It is easy to forget how revolutionary that Ordinance was at the time, and it is that revolutionary spirit that I hope can be reignited at Village Hall. The recent passage of an IZO is long overdue. While I celebrate the work of so many community members that it took to get this policy in place, I am disappointed that the ordinance does not go far enough. I remain hopeful that a progressive board in Village Hall will be able to strengthen this ordinance and place a higher value on the experience of low-income residents and the ways in which they enrich our community. I wholeheartedly believe that the Oak Park that supported the Fair Housing Ordinance is the same Oak Park we live in today – and that we can reclaim our bold, progressive ideals and become a true leader in racially equitable governing.”

James Taglia

“Please let this note serve as a summary of my positions regarding the OPRHS, the recently passed inclusionary housing ordinance and fair housing initiatives.

  • I support the Housing Center and voted for funding in our 2019 budget.
  • I advanced and voted for the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and remain supportive.
  • I support fair housing and have voted in favor of a number of affordable developments, including the Community Builders development on Oak Park Avenue and Sojourner House on Austin Boulevard.”

Tim Thomas

“The Village of Oak Park is not affordable to working people in 2019. This conclusion is based on the experiences of people who live in Oak Park & those who want to live in Oak park. The underlying problem of Oak Park lacking affordable housing is driven by wealth inequality, tax policy and a lack of economic opportunity for young people. In my opinion the IZO passed by the village board is inadequate, it incentivizes developers to opt out of including affordable units in new developments.

Housing is a social justice issue. Affordable housing and its policies needs to work for everyone in the community. Ideally in a properly functioning economy, the economy matches people with housing in well over 90% of cases & government helps fix stuff at the margins. It’s less & less the case that we have a properly functioning economy. So government has to play a more active role in housing. As a community, we should provide housing options and related relief to all who need it, giving every community member the opportunity to live a better life.

The current VOP commission structure has a “Housing Commission” with four plus different missions. One of these is to maintain the existing affordable housing. I favor splitting off an “Affordable Housing Commission” that would create a long range plan to increase affordable housing in Oak Park. This commission would then monitor progress on implementing the plan. As a specific policy, I support rent control legislation. Until rent control is a legislative reality, I envision housing that is spread throughout the village using existing rental property. I want to avoid creating ghettoes or segregated pockets of affordable housing. And I believe the fastest way to get affordable housing online is to use existing housing stock. I want a policy that assesses developers the market value of a unit, if they choose to pay fees in-lieu of providing affordable units. As the cost of affordable housing increases, the cost of opting out of creating affordable housing should go up. The Village of Oak Park should probably project out what the cost will be when the affordable units are built. Then those funds could be used to subsidize affordable rental housing in existing properties.”

James Thompson

“I regard the inclusionary zoning ordinance recently passed by the Village Board as an important means of adding to the stock of affordable housing units within the village. I have been supportive of other recent efforts to expand the stock of affordable units such as the Community Builders project in South Oak Park.

During last year’s budget discussion there was a debate about the funds that the Village allocates to the Housing Center. I was struck by a comment by Trustee Taglia to the effect that some of the Village’s partnerships are of a different nature than others. Given the Village’s history, its close association with the cause of fair housing and RHC’s role in promoting that objective, the relationship between the Village and RHC should be one of a strategic partnership where both entities share the same goal and are mutually supportive in achieving that goal. What this means to me is that the Village’s posture should be, “what can we do to insure your success?” and hence that of the community in promoting fair housing objectives. That is the framework within which I would regard this relationship going forward.”

Cory Wesley (Statement from Cory Wesley for Trustee website)

“This race isn’t about who cares more about equity, or buildings, or affordable housing. It’s about who can see the difference between affordable housing and housing affordability.

I see a lot of candidates running solely on progressive values, solely on equity. And they’re right – equity is a very important topic. As a black man with a black wife and black kids, and having grown up on the West Side of Chicago, I know this more than most.

But what they don’t get, that I do, is that property taxes are an equity issue. Let me restate. Property taxes are the most important equity issue in this village.
If the burden for ownership continues to grow, if property taxes continue to rise uncontrollably, we will lose the middle-class. And equity, diversity, and inclusion, go with them. We will lose Oak Park.

With diversity gone, equity follows. No one here will demand it and those who seek it will search for it elsewhere because no one here will offer it.

I’ll advocate for the use of the affordable housing set aside to include housing affordability not just affordable housing because shouldn’t affordable housing include homeowners too?”