Local elected officials as well as state and federal pols were all gathered on a rainy morning, Dec. 3, in Oak Park, on Marion and Westgate streets. They were there to announce that a collaborative comprised of five area municipalities had received $7 million in combined federal and state dollars to invest in affordable housing.

The West Cook County Housing Collaborative – comprised of the villages of Forest Park, Oak Park, Bellwood, Berwyn and Maywood – were presented grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ($2.9 million) and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity ($4.2 million).

The money, according to the village, will be invested in projects such as purchasing and rehabbing foreclosed properties, and for developing a long-term plan for affordable housing in all the abovementioned areas.

At the press conference, David Pope, Oak Park village president, said that the collaborative wants to reinvest in areas that have imbedded infrastructure.

A primary focus, though, is on combating foreclosure – something that both Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who were in attendance, spoke to.

“My hometown of East St. Louis is a good example of what happens,” said Durbin, in reference to the economically depressed downstate town, which is rife with foreclosures and vacancies. “It’s a haven for bad activity … and a 50-year story we don’t want to repeat.”

Quinn echoed this when he said that, in Illinois, foreclosures can bring down neighboring properties by some 10 percent.

“We’re working … to get those homes … to folks who have a stake in the community,” Quinn said.

There will also be an emphasis on investing the money in locations that are close to rapid transit areas.

Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, whose comments concluded the ceremony, said that “public transportation is a key component” that will be taken into consideration when money is invested in projects in Forest Park.

Currently, the village has not identified any properties in Forest Park that it plans to invest in.

Calderone, who, alongside Pope, was a leader in forming the collaborative about two years ago, concluded his address by stating that the village values its involvement in the group and its mission.

“We’re lucky to be part of this collaborative,” Calderone said.]