Pretty much every Forest Parker has been a renter at some point in their life. They swear they were wonderful, responsible tenants but, curiously, most of them despise other renters. This sentiment is certainly more widespread than Forest Park, but we have a new Comprehensive Plan (CP) to craft and this issue is (still) on our short list. This sentiment can take on a life of its own, Renter Derangement Syndrome (RDS), so be careful out there.

Recently, a combined Village Commish/Plan Commish workshop offered their ideas to Images, Inc., our comprehensive plan consultants. In general, their input was more sophisticated than that of the Citizens’ Steering Committee but not on this issue: both groups gut-wished for widespread renter removal.

So along with “Find a way out of Proviso,” we’re back to the same two intractable, and related, issues we’ve faced since the 1970’s.

Our comprehensive plan journey started with a presentation by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) that organized and analyzed our current demographic and housing data. This report should be required reading for every comprehensive plan stakeholder as Post-It Notions not tethered to reality just won’t stick. A real workshop on CMAP basics would have been useful before we started assembling our wish list/bitch list.

Here’s the bedrock we have work with:

Our housing stock is 25 percent single-family homes (SFH) and 75 percent is multi-family (includes condos). Approximately 50 percent of our housing units are rented, including 15 percent of single family homes.

Our population is 60 percent young singles/roommate households, 20 percent settled families, 15 percent seniors, four percent SFH/multi-unit urbanites. These numbers haven’t changed significantly since the 2000 census.

Here’s a problem: 25 percent of our housing is single-family homes and 20 percent of our population is settled families, yet our 2001 comprehensive plan’s main housing objective was to “Maintain the predominant single-family residential character of the Village” and current Plan Commission Chair, Paul Barbaren, wants to make this a core plank in our new comprehensive plan.

Folks, we can’t develop a workable plan if our working premise is a figment of imaginations and yearnings … again.

It’s a fair bet that Forest Park has been predominantly multi-housing for the better part of a century as conversions from single-fams to two- or three-flats started in the early 1900’s and likely peaked during the Depression and after World War II, and for the next 40 years the village let developers have their way with crappy projects. Yes, we’ve been digging this hole for a very long time.

The corker is, for most of Forest Park’s history, our village government has both ignored and failed to enforce any semblance of building safety or zoning cohesion. The recent housing boom offered our greatest opportunity in decades to recover from past negligence but the village squandered a serious fortune on the small stuff and harassing political enemies, while allowing the ‘good people’ to throw second stories on their rental properties and keep their basement apartments.

Now, after that indefensible failure; now, apparently having learned nothing; now, when we don’t have two nickels to rub together; now, they want us to embrace the same ineffective ‘plan’ with a Home Rule trick bag.

Our ‘housing problem’ is challenging and deep but first we must define it with more than anecdotes and wishful thinking.

Mark Hosty stated that calls to the Forest Park Fire Department from single families are a fraction of the calls to rentals. Fine, show us the last 10 years of tracking evidence on all calls.

Plan members tossed around “the 53 percent rental mess” and “the homeowner/rental ratio is a disaster” zingers. Fine, explain your conclusions.

Many hold renters responsible for the vast majority of home maintenance and public safety problems. Fine, show us the numbers that are more than 53 percent.

Show us evidence that explains the problem and only then can we hope to create appropriate and effective solutions.

And, ladies and gentlemen, show 53 percent of our residents some respect – they didn’t dig this hole.

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