By Tim Moran
Gail Schechter, executive director of Open Communities, a Winnetka-based non-profit which advocates for fairness in housing and social justice, will step down in January after 22 years at the helm of the organization.
She is leaving “to pursue new opportunities to advocate for social justice,” according to a news release.
In 1993, Schechter became executive director of both Open Communities and Housing Opportunity Development Corp. and four years later became the first full-time executive director in the 43-year history of Open Communities. She will remain on the job until January to ensure a smooth transition to a new executive director. She will also remain involved in the organization’s “mission to educate, advocate and organize to promote just and inclusive communities in Chicago’s northern suburbs.”
“Gail has been a visionary, an unflinching supporter to thousands in the northern suburbs who have endured unfair socioeconomic disadvantages, and a mentor to countless others who have sought to organize on their behalf,” said Dr. Liliana Fargo, Board President of Open Communities. “Her ability to reimagine community organizing in the northern suburbs by mobilizing individuals and groups based on altruism instead of self-interest is unprecedented.”
Highlights of Schechter’s tenure with Open Communities include:
· Building Open Communities’ fair housing enforcement capacity, including co-conducting the Chicago region’s HUD-sponsored decennial Housing Discrimination Study 2000 and opening doors to people of color and with disabilities.
· Organizing, educating, and building coalitions with residents and religious leaders in the affluent communities of Northbrook, Park Ridge, Wilmette and Winnetka around affordable housing.
· Organizing tenants living in motels in Morton Grove as they faced displacement, and in the process contributing to changing state Tax Increment Financing law. (1998-2001)
· Working with the Taxicab Organizing Project to save the parking – and therefore housing – rights of mostly Pakistani Muslim and African cab drivers in Skokie. (2007-08)
· Working with Winnetka students to create a monument on the Village Green to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the North Shore Summer Project. (2007)
· Organizing United We Learn, a grassroots coalition of north suburban residents and teachers who recognize that quality education should not depend upon one’s zip code. (2008)