Who We Are

Open Communities' mission is to educate, advocate and organize to promote just and inclusive communities in north suburban Chicago. We are a leading voice for housing, economic and social justice in north suburban Chicago, working to promote inclusive communities that are welcoming to all. We work with current and prospective residents and local groups to promote economically and culturally diverse communities in north suburban Chicago. We provide fair and affordable housing counseling services, community education, advocacy, and organizing for welcoming communities.
Open Communities has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A group of young mothers in Wilmette were worried that their children were growing up in a community that lacked diversity, and they began to discuss how they could organize for change. There were no fair housing laws at that time, and housing discrimination was common. But although local housing ads often stipulated, "No Negroes, Orientals or Jews," the women, joined by local clergy, believed that many community members shared their concerns about housing discrimination. We are very proud of OUR HISTORY.
These initial discussions led to the organization of the North Shore Summer Project, which was an effort to convince Realtors located in the northern suburbs of Chicago that they should show and sell homes on a non-discriminatory basis. It found its inspiration in the Mississippi Summer Project inter-racial voter registration campaign. The project recruited college students to survey as many of the current home sellers as possible, to determine if local residents actually did believe that race and religion were important considerations for home sales. The group also worked to support local housing projects. The project culminated with a rally on the Winnetka Village Green in 1965, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of reportedly of as many as 10,000 supporters. Newspaper accounts quoted Dr. King as saying, "We must now learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools." Jean R. Cleland (Open Communities' founder) was not only there, but pinned her equal housing pin to Dr. King's lapel before he spoke.
The North Shore Interfaith Housing Council was formally founded by member congregations in 1972, under the leadership of an inter-religious group of clergy leaders headed by Rev. Paul Allen of the Winnetka Congregational Church, with the assistance of veteran civil rights advocate John McDermott of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago. You can read Rev. Allen's reflections and that of other founders in this oral history published in our Fall 2002 "Just Housing" newsletter. The organization was launched as a result of a successful conference, "The Inclusive Community: Challenge to Church and Synagogue," attended by hundreds at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. Click here for the report prepared for this October 15, 1972 conference, Population and Housing Patterns in Six North Shore Communities: Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfield, Glencoe Highland Park, by Michael E. Schlitz, President, Institute of Urban Life, Loyola University, Chicago. The invitation, agenda, and follow-up announcement of launching the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council can be found here. As Rev. Allen and the coordinating committee wrote in one of these documents, the main purpose of Interfaith is "to provide an on-going vehicle for the expression of the religious concern for more inclusive communities and the provision of housing for persons of moderate and low incomes." Here is the original Statement of Faith of the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council, with statements from Msgr. Eugene Lyons, Rev. Paul S. Allen, and Rabbi Harold Kudan from the early 1970s. The North Shore Interfaith Housing Council created two additional agencies to meet growing housing needs: the North Suburban Housing Center in 1977 and the Interfaith Housing Development Corporation in 1983. Upon the retirement of long-time executive director and a founder, Rayna Miller, in 1986, the Council and the Center merged to become the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs. The organization has has continued to grow and expand over the years in response to the evolving challenges facing our communities.   In 2007, Interfaith worked with Shorefront Legacy Center, an Evanston-based archive of African-American history in the area, to document this multifacted decades-long quest for diversity, fair and affordable housing in the region through a series of display panels and a slide show presentation. In 2012, recognizing it takes more than influencing housing policy and enforcing non-discrimination laws to bring about inclusive and diverse northern suburbs, the agency broadened its scope and changed its name to Open Communities. On the occasion of the agency's 30th anniversary in 2002, Interfaith commissioned an update of the 1972 housing patterns study of the North Shore. Click here for Population and Housing Patterns in Six North Shore Communities, by Alicia Lewis, University of Illinois at Chicago, October 2002. As the agency turned 40 in 2012, it published the results of focus group research of Outsider Perspectives of the Northern Suburbs, funded under a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant.  Our findings show that the new fair housing frontier is the fostering of suburbs that are both welcoming of diversity, and have the transportation, education, social services for immigrants, youth, and seniors, and cultural resources to support different populations. Open Communities is proud of its grassroots history as an integral part of Chicago's Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
A project of Open Communities and the Welcome Movement. #WearetheNS highlights community members of Chicago’s northern suburbs. We warmly embrace our region’s plentiful diversity – individuals and families who are native and foreign-born, people of all races and religions, people with disabilities, people at all income levels, ages, sexual orientations, and family types. Open Communities calls on all north suburban Chicago residents to come together to foster welcoming, inclusive and just communities. We invite everyone to join the Welcome Movement! The Welcome Movement is an attitude. It’s the belief that suburban communities benefit economically and socially when they embrace people of all ages, abilities, races, religions, ethnicities and income levels. The Welcome Movement is collective action. It’s the common ground on which individuals, organizations, congregations, businesses, and government entities stand as they support current and potential residents in living where they choose. The Welcome Movement is an outlet. It offers opportunities for residents with diverse backgrounds and circumstances—including those who might otherwise be marginalized—to work together in everyday civic life to build neighborly suburban communities.
Why change Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs to Open Communities? The name says it all. The new name succinctly reflects the vision we've had since opening our doors in 1972, and we believe the broader mission will allow us to serve the people in our 16-community service area more fully. Up to now, we’ve promoted inclusive and diverse communities in Chicago’s northern suburbs by focusing on fair and affordable housing, and our commitment to housing justice remains steadfast. But the way to a diverse community is not only through open housing. In broadening our mission to also encompass related economic and social issues, we aim to set an example for the nation of grassroots suburban advocacy that promotes welcoming communities. We anticipate addressing access to quality public school education and transportation, immigrant integration, and related quality of life issues. We invite all north suburban residents to join us in this work by joining the Welcome Movement. Here's what is not changing:
  • Our commitment to fair and affordable housing remains strong.
  • We are still guided by the tenet of loving our neighbor.
Our service and advocacy programs are backed by the energy and vision of our Board of Directors and officers >


Our Community | Serving Yours

Our housing experts and support staff are responsible for the day-to-day operation of our programs. Staff members provide direct housing services to individuals. They also conduct community education, grassroots organizing, and monitor and take action on housing, economic and social justice issues facing north suburban communities. Some members of the staff can speak French, Polish, Russian, and Spanish as well as English.

Our Team >