The People Behind the Properties

You may already be aware of our work with prospective tenants—but the Housing Center also works closely with property owners across Oak Park in our mission to promote and sustain a diverse and inclusive community.

“We really appreciate our relationship with the Housing Center,” says Jacqueline Arica of R K Management. “Their mission to promote diversity is a good business model for the community we work to create in our buildings.”

The Housing Center works with approximately 200 property owners each year. Each one is different and they range from large companies with hundreds of units to small mom-and-pops with just an apartment or two to rent. We also help owners of condos, townhomes, and single-family homes with rentals.

Norka Escobedo, whose properties include two buildings on Washington Boulevard, appreciates working with the Housing Center. “I support their mission of promoting diversity and appreciate their commitment to refer qualified applicants to me. It helps with our hands-on model of getting to know our tenants.”

Many owners say they value the marketing help that the Housing Center provides.

“The Housing Center helps put me on an even playing field with larger owners with bigger advertising budgets,” says Don Rutledge, owner of a building on Austin Boulevard. “Together, we demonstrate how attractive the northeast part of Oak Park can be.”

LaVerne Collins has also worked with the Housing Center for years. “We put a lot of work into our apartments and the Housing Center really helps us market them as great places to live.”

“We’re very lucky in Oak Park to have a large number of locally-based landlords who care deeply about the community and equal opportunity,” says Housing Center Executive Director Rob Breymaier. “Our success is due in part to the good people who own and maintain apartments in Oak Park.

“The work we do with landlords is something we don’t mention often enough,” he adds. “We’re grateful for such enthusiastic partners. I think we work so well together because we all believe that Oak Park is the best place to live.”

Gentrification and Fair Housing

Wicker Park, Chicago; Park Slope, Brooklyn; and Pilsen, Chicago all have something in common — gentrification. Gentrification is commonly understood as a point when a public or private investor or developer rehabilitates real estate, increasing the original low cost of rent and ownership. Affordable housing becomes scarce, traditionally resulting in displacement as the original residents struggle to afford the increasing rent and face potential eviction. Landlords begin renting to more affluent residents and the entire community begins to change. Amenities such as groceries rise in price, and the lifestyle becomes less and less affordable for original residents.

Gentrification took place in Wicker Park in the early 1980s when young white professionals moved in and bumped out low-income Latinos. Park Slope has recently gentrified as white professionals moved into a traditionally black neighborhood. More recently, Pilsen‘s white non-Latino population has grown to 28% as of 2010, up from 3% in 1990.

Traditionally, places that gentrify develop a majority white racial makeup. Some wonder if this pattern can be combated, and if a gentrifying neighborhood can result in sustainable racial integration. After all, it is the complete opposite of historic racial patterns when white folks always moved away from minorities.  For this reason, gentrification presents a unique opportunity to fair housing advocates. White folks’ willingness to live next to minorities in these neighborhoods represents the opportunity to develop a diverse and integrated community, if local leaders facilitate equitable development and fair housing practices.

One part of upholding racial integration in a gentrifying neighborhood is to ensure that residents moving in experience fair housing practices rather than discrimination. The other part is developing the community in a manner that is beneficial to traditional residents, which means maintaining affordability and allowing them to benefit from various reinvestments. Even though the racial integration mandate of the Fair Housing Act does not require mixed-income housing, occasionally extraordinarily high housing prices can result in de facto segregation. Consequently, economic reform in the housing sector becomes necessary in order to achieve racial integration.

Alderman Danny Solis, who presides over Pilsen, has taken some steps toward equitable development by offering a property tax freeze to anyone investing 25% of their house value in home improvements, as well as securing a significant percentage of affordable housing from developers.

Places experiencing trends similar to Pilsen can take steps toward integration and should prioritize it, because research shows that regardless of income, a segregated community still experiences poor health care, decreased access to resources, and poorer education, just to name a few. Neighborhoods can effectively diversify via the myriad tools of an Equitable Development strategy. Alderman Solis’ actions are just a few of the numerous possibilities outlined in Race, Poverty, and the Environment, a journal for social and environmental justice. Among others, these are their four most recommended Equitable Development tools:

  1. Stabilize Existing Renters: To stabilize existing renters, it can be beneficial to put a plan in place involving rental assistance, increasing voucher amounts, eviction controls, rent control, and rent increase schedules. Community Land Trusts also effectively stabilize existing renters by providing long-term affordability for not only renters and low-income homeowners, but also for community-invested businesses and local non-profits.
  2. Control the Land for Development: Community groups should evaluate zoning, make sure ordinances are inclusive, and implement a Below Market Rate ordinance. A BMR ordinance ensures that a percentage of housing developments will be sold or rented for a price below the market rate.
  3. Income and Asset Creation: Ownership opportunities specifically for local residents allow them to benefit from the community investments. Limited-Equity Housing Cooperatives are a popular form of affordable asset creation, especially in New York City. Often referred to as “Co-ops,” this type of agreement gives ownership of a building to its residents. They each own a share, and together they democratically manage the building, rent, etc.
  4. Develop Financing Strategies: Discovering specific ways to fund the previous plans, perhaps through non-profit organizations, bank reinvestment, or Housing Trust Fund, is at the crux of Equitable Development. One Housing Trust Fund in San Francisco targets revenue from a commercial development toward local households below the median income.

See their entire toolkit here.

Rachel Godsil, professor at Seton Hall University Law School and mayor-appointed Chair of the Rent Guidelines Board in New York City, echoes the first tool, emphasizing the importance of stabilizing current renters. Her approach involves vouchers as well, but employs a different strategy. Godsil suggests offering rental vouchers or low-cost guaranteed loans to local residents that could be used in or outside of the community. This strategy guarantees the residents autonomy in regards to staying in or leaving the changing neighborhood. This freedom of choice, Godsil argues, inclines residents to stay and convince their neighbors to do the same, which can ultimately stem the tide of gentrification.

Unfortunately, when revitalization happens, decisions are often made in favor of revenue rather than community need. Affirmative integration and affordable housing need to be a priority as places gentrify, so that revenue and need are not pinned against each other. There is much to be said for a plan that appropriately integrates all races across all incomes, because even though people are segregated by income, they are still more segregated by race.

Residents, community groups, housing advocates, and local leaders cannot afford to be anything less than proactive with creative equitable development tools at the onset and during community change if they hope to achieve integration.

by Jessica Hartshorn

9th Annual Wright Ride – August 17, 2014!

Wright Ride logoEnjoy the charm, beauty and architectural character of the near western suburbs at the 9th Annual Wright Ride on Sunday, August 17, 2014.

The Oak Park Cycle Club, The Oak Park Regional Housing Center, and Visit Oak Park invite you to sponsor the Wright Ride 2014. One of the best ways to discover the delights of Chicago’s near western suburbs is on two wheels. A family-friendly event, the Wright Ride is not a race, but a leisurely jaunt through some of Chicagoland’s most beautiful tree-lined and architecturally rich communities. Cyclists of all abilities are welcome: whether you’re a novice, casual cyclist, or experienced long-distance rider, there’s something here for everyone. A plus is that cycling is an eco-friendly way to tour the wealth of historically significant homes and structures through the area.

With a choice of 10, 30, 50 and 68-mile routes, riders will be able to take in the scenery and charm of as many as 10 communities, including Oak Park, River Forest, Riverside, and Western Springs, with more than 25 intriguing landmarks – including a dozen designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. All routes begin and end on the newly renovated Marion Street in Downtown Oak Park – giving participants the opportunity to take advantage of the wide-range of dining experiences and specialty shops that set Oak Park apart.

Race day registration begins at 6 am and the first wave of riders leaves at 7 am. Or register in advance with the link below!

Ticket Info:
Adults – $25 ($30 day of ride)
Children under age 12 – $5
Get your tickets online here!

OPRHC logo Visit OP OP Cycle Club

Historical and Current Integration Strategies; Strengths and Weaknesses

by Jessica Hartshorn
A Summary of A Review of Historically Integrated Communities by Casey Griffith

Did you know that the history of integrated communities is only about 60 years old?  Communities that have the longest history of integration started in the 1950s through 1970s as mass migrations of African Americans moved to the Midwest and Northeast.  60 years ago these regions were becoming “diverse by circumstance” but today specific communities use strategic efforts to be “diverse by direction”. Oak Park is one community that proactively integrates along with Shaker Heights, OH, Beverly, Chicago, and Maplewood and South Orange, NJ. 

Proactive integration is a response to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which requires communities to promote racial integration in the housing sector.  Before the FHA, segregated minorities suffered from unequal access to resources like education and employment. Communities like Oak Park realize that because segregation leaves a group of people under resourced, it leads to concentrated poverty that disproportionately affects minorities.  For this reason, Oak Park, Shaker Heights, Beverly, and Maplewood and South Orange employ various strategies in order to uphold the FHA because maintaining integration is vital to equal opportunity. 

Many strategies were popular and used by each town.  For example, all of these communities organized associations or committees to address the changing racial tides in the 50s and 60s when African Americans began moving in in the 50s and 60s.  They sought to ease the fear of white residents who wanted to move to the suburbs and educate them about inclusion in order to change their attitudes.  Oak Park, Shaker Heights, and Maplewood and South Orange self-promoted the benefits of living in their neighborhood.  Both Oak Park and Beverly partnered with local realtors while Ohio and New Jersey hired their very own Housing Coordinator and Integration Consultant.  Finally, Oak Park and Shaker Heights, took proactive measures to integrate their local schools. 

While overlap in strategies is evident, differences in success and primary methodology do exist.  Shaker Height’s Housing Office disbanded in 2012 and their integration methods have taken on a different form.  More recently they are investing their efforts in intensive urban planning and revitalizing vacant properties for the purpose of economic development and housing.  Unfortunately a failure to directly address race has prevented the diverse community from successfully sustaining integration. 

Unlike the changing methods of Shaker Heights, Oak Park’s methods have remained consistent. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has served as a referral service for affirmative housing since opening in the 70s and has contributed to effective integration in the community. The town also attributes a great deal of success to a healthy partnership with the housing sector and educating realtors.  Maintaining an openness toward the discussion of race and racial attitudes has also greatly contributed to Oak Park’s successful integration. 

Similar to Oak Park, Maplewood and South Orange, New Jersey have maintained their devotion to racial integration.  Acquiring over 2,000 signatures, these East Coast residents started strong with a pledge to advocate for fair housing.  They maintained tenacity through the 1990s by assembling a Racial Balance Task Force whose mission statement was,

“To promote strong and sustained robust demand by all racial groups for housing in every area of our community; take proactive steps to ensure involvement of persons of color in the civic life of our community, and promote dialogue and understanding on race-related issues”. 

Presently, a vibrant campaign focuses on social integration by discussing race regularly at community forums, book clubs, and dinner groups. Even though social integration is important, often times it follows naturally after residential integration.  A direct approach to racial residency prefigures further depth to the integration already occurring in Maplewood and South Orange. 

Initially, Beverly, Chicago also enjoyed open conversations about race, but this has gradually dwindled.  The community promotes integration by encouraging community pride and participation.  Unfortunately Beverly experiences setbacks because it is part of Chicago and thus not self governing or self taxing. Additionally, there is only one body working toward integration rather than a collaboration of residents, leaders, and groups.  Despite these setbacks, Beverly can boast about homes being passed down through generations maintaining not only family legacies, but also a legacy of integrated relationships.

Approaches to integration are multifaceted, and have strengths and weaknesses, but the most successful plans demonstrate a few key elements.  First and foremost, no one ought to assume that integration will happen naturally, since societal forces tend to promote segregation.  Rather, a collaborative effort from all sides of the community is essential while participants play proactive roles in strategically implementing and sustaining racial balance.  Then, an open dialogue about race and the benefits of integration help subside fear and reservations. Finally, without dedication to vibrant communities that attract residents with good schools, parks, businesses, and events, integration would be impossible.  

Diversity and Prosperity – Integration is the Key

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the good fortune to speak to various audiences around the country about Oak Park and the Housing Center’s work to promote and sustain integration. In addition to being able to share our model with others, I’ve learned a lot about how much latent demand is out there for a Housing Center model in many other communities.

In these recent presentations, I’ve been including a graph that shows something that consistently grabs the audience. It is a graph for the census years of 1980-2010. On the graph I display two sets of data. The first is the percentage of Oak Park’s population that is white. The second is the value of real estate in Oak Park. The lines move in opposite directions. As the white percentage decreases, the value of real estate increases. You’ll notice that the line showing white population is levelling while the line displaying real estate values is increasing fairly sharply. Also, during the period from 2000-2010 (the two years I could get the data) Oak Park’s values increased at more than 150% of the regional average.

value graph

It’s a powerful graph because it demonstrates a reality that challenges the conventional wisdom about diversity and housing values. The typical belief is that property values decline as more people of color move to a community. But, in Oak Park, this is clearly not the case. Inevitably, I am asked how this is accomplished. How does Oak Park create an advantage out of diversity?

The answer is in intentionality. While other communities either ignore or fight against integration (and this happens in multiple directions), Oak Park has established diversity as a core value. Moreover, our programs and policies don’t stop there. They intentionally promote integration within Oak Park to ensure that people of different backgrounds live among one another rather than within specific parts of the community. After all, diversity without integration is segregation. Segregation, not diversity, is what truly harms communities. Segregation is a system of inequality that, through disadvantage and disinvestment, eventually pulls down more than the initially affected neighborhoods.

Integration allows a community to turn diversity into an asset. People living together can learn from each other, improve empathy, build integrated social networks, and find common purpose. Everyone wants a good education for their children, a nice home, and a community with enjoyable choices. Systems that encourage integration ensure greater equity across the community so that race and place are unifying rather than divisive (as they are elsewhere).

So long as we continue our intentional integration strategies, we should see Oak Park continue to prosper from its diversity.

Cross-posted at

Follow Rob’s discussion of race, integration, and more on twitter @rbreymaier