Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in Oak Park
The Housing Center is critical to the open, integrated, and inclusive character of Oak Park. Our work provides the foundation for Oak Park’s intentional efforts to have a population that reflects the diversity of our region and a community that is equitable for all.
The Housing Center Integrates Oak Park’s Neighborhoods
In the Oak Park rental market, at least one-third of all renters move each year. This means that the geography and demographics of the housing market can change quickly and dramatically. Studies in the American Journal of Sociology and other research publications have found that the involvement of the Housing Center ensures that we overcome implicit biases , stereotypes , and racial blind spots that would result in segregation when no proactive effort is in place. Integration of our neighborhoods is the origin of our community’s values and prosperity.
The Housing Center Integrates Oak Park’s Schools
Our housing integration allows us to enjoy the luxury of neighborhood schools in Oak Park. Many of us enjoy having our schools double as a community resource and a place to connect with neighbors. Because our schools are neighborhood-based, the level of integration in our schools is dependent on the integration of our housing market. Research has shown that children who are educated in a diverse environment are more likely to succeed as adults. Moreover, the integration of our schools ensures that we spend our resources and provide for our children in a more equitable manner.
The Housing Center Integrates Oak Park’s Social Networks
Because our neighborhoods and schools are integrated, our social networks are better integrated too. Communities gather on their blocks, at their schools, and in nearby parks and businesses. Unlike in most communities, Oak Park’s integration means that these neighborhood gatherings are more likely to be integrated as well. Our integrated housing market means that we have the ability to interact in diverse settings and develop a more inclusive worldview by simply living out our daily lives.
The Housing Center Protects Oak Park’s Social Values
Oak Parkers are proud to live in a community that has a real sense of place and core values. Chief among these values is our belief in diversity. It is through the Housing Center’s integration strategy that we live out this value. By interacting with one another, we can also learn from one another and build empathy. That interaction makes our community more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable over time.
The Housing Center Ensures Oak Park’s Prosperity
Our integration also plays a key role in our economy. The Housing Center’s integration strategy for Oak Park ensures that people of every racial group seek out Oak Park as a place to live. That builds strong demand for housing here, which contributes to strong property values. That value allows us to gain wealth through homeownership and provides stability for renters. It also provides the demand needed for economic development as well — a strong business community in Oak Park is reliant on local patronage for success. The demand generated by the Housing Center’s marketing keeps our economy moving.
The Housing Center is the Key to a Welcoming, Vibrant, and Prosperous Oak Park
Of course, while we have achieved a great deal, we still have much left to accomplish if we are to reach our community’s aspirations. None of our goals can be attained without sustaining our racial integration. As the community’s only institution with a mission to achieve integration, the Housing Center is at the heart of these efforts. Sustaining integration requires constant intentionality. Support for the Housing Center ensures that intentionality will continue in Oak Park.
Based on community input and analysis, the Housing Center promotes reinvestment in the communities of color by serving traditional residents, improving the housing stock, and increasing neighborhood desirability. Our programming provides an increase in safe, decent, and affordable rental and homeownership opportunities.
These efforts are also a strategy to empower community residents. The increase in the safety and stability that results from our direct services provides a foundation for residents to advocate for change and progress in their communities.
As a result, this effort will support an expansion of naturally occurring affordable housing by increasing neighborhood desirability without creating excessive increases in property values through reinvestment. The financial assistance for both borrowers and developers will ensure that housing in this program will play a positive market role in the community.
Serving Small Property Owners
We provide small grants for home repairs and technical assistance to improve the condition of rental units in 2- and 3-flat buildings. Owners with vacant apartments who own 8 or fewer units in total can qualify for this program. To date, over 80% of the participants in the program have been long-term traditional residents.
The owners we assist in this program are often unable to access other incentives and programs. These grants help owners make repairs and upgrades to their units that bring them back into the market. The result increases housing options, improves the quality of local housing stock, and improves the financial stability of traditional residents.
Owners also receive technical assistance from the Housing Center to ensure their success. We provide them with a list of reputable local contractors and help them in the bidding process. This ensures quality work and recycles the money within the community. We also provide them with a property management seminar that includes education on all aspects of property management and tenant relations. This educational effort helps participants learn how to budget for the future, improve interaction with tenants, and maintain the quality of their buildings. Owners also benefit from listing their units with the Housing Center, providing them with prospective tenants that fit their rental criteria.
Housing as a Platform for Community Revitalization
In addition to the direct benefits of reinvestment in housing, our program provides a platform for other positive changes in the community. We are coordinating our efforts with others in the community to support a comprehensive community reinvestment strategy. This is largely directed by participants in our program and community-based organizations working in tandem with us.
Many community residents have emphasized and worked with us to leverage housing efforts for other community needs. The investment in the housing stock is understood as a signal in the neighborhood of the economic and social value of the community. Investment in this program encourages investment from other actors.
Participants in this program have also taken on leadership roles to work on solutions in their neighborhoods. Our participants have led clean up days, interaction with youth, and beautification projects. We have also provided them with technical assistance to increase civic engagement. Participants take on leadership roles in local clubs and organizations.
Our housing efforts are also meant to support the complementary development of locally owned small businesses. We are prioritizing efforts in blocks near strategic areas to accompany efforts in the community to promote new small businesses. This strategy is meant to provide a complete community in which residents can live, work, and shop in their neighborhood.
Taken together, this strategy builds social capital and supports community asset building to strengthen Austin. The combination of investment, engagement, and intentionality will enable residents to benefit from new investment in their community while minimizing the possibility of displacement.