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Last week on this page we raised doubts that the village government can get all that it might from the coming Comprehensive Plan process owing to the decrepit state of its housing records. While there is no dispute that the record-keeping on the village’s housing stock is locked in time – in the form of hand-written notes on index cards – we undervalued one additional resource the village has in place and we, frankly, overlooked an interim housing inventory assessment the village conducted a year back as a stopgap measure.

As part of a collaboration of near west suburban communities Forest Park took part in a federally funded grant focused on housing issues. The report of that collaboration, issued last spring, made good use of 2010 census information to create a worthy assessment of the village’s housing stock. It reports on the mix of single-family, smaller and large multi-family units, the split between owner-occupied and rental properties, the affordability of the village’s housing and the impact of the financial crisis in the form of foreclosures.

And last year, owing to the village’s acknowledgment that updating its housing records would be a long and challenging process, an inventory of local housing was undertaken. That report also provides necessary detail on the mix of housing that will be essential to the Comprehensive Plan process.

Together these studies will undergird the complex housing issues which the Comprehensive Plan must take on squarely. It was our error that we overlooked them in our editorial last week.

Challenge of multi-family

Perhaps the greatest challenge Forest Park faces, and one that the Comprehensive Plan will need to address, is the preponderance of multi-family housing in the village.

Whether it is the many two-flats and three-flats which dot the community, the modest and the super-sized apartment complexes, the upscale condos and the cheap conversions of modest apartments into condos just before the housing collapse, Forest Park’s single family homes are swamped by multi-family.

In recent years the village, mainly through an innovative program run by the police department, has attempted to engage landlords with a carrot and stick approach. And there is evidence that it may be working.

The Crime-Free Multihousing program is regular training seminars for landlords conducted by Det. Mike O’Connor. This is the preventative approach as O’Connor teaches landlords large and small how to screen potential tenants for past criminal histories, credit problems while at the same time avoiding any discrimination based on race or other distinctions.

Other teaching moments focus on how landlords can improve security at their properties through lighting, locks and landscaping. There is also a welcome focus on community-building within large complexes.

This is a positive program but one the village has had a hard time attracting landlords to participate in. Passage of a nuisance property ordinance in 2009 has provided something of a stick for the village. Police calls to specific properties are now tracked and when the count hits three, a landlord receives a letter specifying a hefty fine for further police calls.

Engaging the multi-family housing issues in Forest Park is an essential undertaking and this program is a good one.