The Plan Commission meeting scheduled for May 3 was postponed because of the regional cable outage most of the village experienced. So I will take this chance to publicly demand of the commission and the village — and I urge my neighbors to do the same — to consider the effects of the proposed Harrison & Thomas development on the affordability of housing in our village. (The fact that we are so dependent on one cable provider is an issue worth discussing, too, but maybe another time.)
For those who do not know, developers are proposing to build an apartment building across from our park district’s tennis courts, at Harrison and Thomas. The developers are the current owners of the lot, and have let it fall into disrepair in recent years. Perhaps thinking that Forest Park would then jump at the opportunity to convert the lot, the developers first proposed a large apartment complex full of studios and one-bedrooms. They have since reduced the number of apartments slightly and turned the plans into one-bedroom (27 units) and two-bedroom (21 units) apartments. But what the plan still lacks is a glaring omission: there are zero guarantees about the affordability of these apartments.
To continue the tradition of Forest Park being a welcoming and affordable place to live, the Plan Commission must be intentional in requiring that new developments satisfy two criteria: (1) providing mixed-income housing, and (2) providing larger units. One possible solution is to dedicate half of the units to affordable housing and to sacrifice some one-bedroom units for 3-bedroom units. This is not to ensure that we get “better neighbors,” as property manager Vicki May recently wrote in the Review; rather, it is to make sure that families can continue to live — and afford to live — in Forest Park.
Meeting the 50% quota should not be difficult for the developers and should not dramatically affect their profits. Recently, for example, a 100% affordable development was approved in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, one of the most rapidly gentrifying areas in the city. The development is expected to open later this year or early next year. The developers of the Harrison Street apartments can split the units dedicated to affordable housing between public housing and income-restricted housing. For example, a quarter of the units can be run by the Housing Authority of Cook County, while another quarter can be restricted to people making up to 50% of the median income of Forest Park.
The Plan Commission has a very important mission ahead of it, considering the rapidly rising prices in Forest Park. That mission is to make sure to do what is right for the community and what is right for our neighbors, not what is right for real estate professionals and property developers.
Our town has been a multiracial, working-class town and we should fight to keep it as such. We have seen what happens, time and again, when people who have lived in a neighborhood for a long time suddenly face rapidly rising prices and flashy new developments. I have nothing against flash, but we need substance too.
Tamer Abouzeid is a Forest Park resident.