The Housing Center was founded in 1972 as a grassroots effort by Oak Park, IL community activists. At the time, Oak Park was 99% white and surrounded by communities that were mono-racial or undergoing rapid and destabilizing racial changes. Unlike the majority of communities in the region and nation, Oak Parkers chose to embrace diversity and began to build a community in which everyone was welcome and valued. That effort, centered on the Housing Center, continues to this day and has created the most successful community integration program in the nation.
The Housing Center model is based on being intentional and proactive. From the very beginning, the strategy was to work with people during their search for housing to expand the options available to them and promote affirmative moves, meaning relocation to a building where their race is under-represented. Typically, less than 20% of moves improve integration. Housing Center interventions increased this rate to between 65% and 80%. It transformed the search process from a segregable force to integrative.
The influence of the Housing Center has had a tremendous impact on the community. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the Village of Oak Park and other government bodies increased their collaboration with and support for the Housing Center. It resulted in an array of programs that became known as the Oak Park Strategy. It included financial support for the Housing Center, incentives to landlords who worked with the Housing Center, and community relations programming.
Perhaps most importantly, the community underwent a cultural transformation. The Oak Park of today is well known for its diversity and inclusion. It attracts people who are searching for a community that reflects values of fairness and acceptance. This culture and reputation have given Oak Park a competitive advantage. The community is a vibrant center for the arts. It has an array of boutiques, restaurants, and shops. And, it has a strong housing market where property values provide economic stability in the community. All of this is due to Oak Park being an attractive destination for people of all racial backgrounds searching for a place to make a home, raise a family, and pursue their dreams.