A resolution passed by Forest Park’s village board at its June 13 meeting furthered the town’s involvement with several surrounding municipalities in an initiative to address housing issues throughout West Suburban Cook County. 

The West Cook County Housing Collaborative comprises Forest Park, Bellwood, Berwyn, Maywood, Oak Park, Broadview, and several regional planning and governmental organizations. It was formed in 2009 as “an outcome of the real estate meltdown, to work with properties that are being foreclosed” on in the region, said Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, noting that Oak Park Village President David Pope came up with the idea, and then posed it to the heads of several of the villages currently involved.

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) – which is part of the collaborative and of which Calderone is a member – recently secured a cumulative $80,500 in grants from the Chicago Community Trust and the Grand Victoria Foundation to use as part of the initiative. Both Chicago Community Trust and Grand Victoria Foundation are Chicago-area nonprofits that provide grant money for economic development. Since its inception, the collaborative has directed millions of federal, state and county dollars toward development. 

The resolution passed two weeks ago gives Forest Park the green light to participate in talks about how to use the $80,500 to “support ongoing inter-jurisdictional housing work,” according to an agreement among the various heads of the villages.

“[Participating towns have] routinely been passing resolutions, used to determine the interests of the member communities,” Calderone said. “We’ve felt from the beginning that each community should take formal action.”

“The plan will address affordable and mixed-income housing, with a particular focus on increasing transit and employment-oriented housing, developing employer-assisted housing programs, and addressing the challenges faced by the regional increase in housing foreclosures,” the intergovernmental agreement reads.

Representatives from the involved entities meet every couple of months to discuss initiatives, Calderone said, noting that both he and Village Administrator Tim Gillian have attended meetings.

“The six communities came together as [part of] a regional effort with the desire to stabilize neighborhoods that otherwise might have [experienced] an adverse impact” because of the housing market, Calderone said. “As part of collaboration, these six communities met, continue to meet, and we look at this” as a regional issue, rather than from the individual perspectives of the six towns.

Calderone said that, currently, there is no focus on developing, redeveloping or building any affordable or middle-income housing in Forest Park. Based on “statistics” he has seen, Forest Park had the fewest number of foreclosures compared to the other municipalities involved (which vary in size). As a result, he said, the collaborative has made decisions in the past to pursue projects in other towns.

At last week’s village board meeting, though, Drew Williams-Clark, senior regional planner for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, announced that the agency plans to do a comprehensive analysis of housing in Forest Park, with the possible aim of future development. The findings will then be presented to the village and to the collaborative.

“We look forward to embarking on this initiative,” Calderone said at the meeting.

In March, Calderone, the leaders of the other towns, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appeared at a groundbreaking ceremony for an affordable housing project in Maywood that the collaborative was involved in. The project was funded by $3.2 million in federal funds directed through Cook County and then the West Cook County Collaborative.   

According to literature about the collaborative that was included in the June 13 council agenda, the “success [of the collaborative] will … be judged … on the number of properties acquired, transformed [through rehab or demolition and redevelopment], and returned to the market.”