By Selena Fragassi
Many North Shore suburbs are struggling with fair housing and affordable housing initiatives. The subject of fair housing turned the February 17 bi-weekly meeting of Glenview’s Village Trustees into one of the more contentious in recent memory.
“I don’t remember ever spending this amount of time talking to people about a decision we’ve had to make,” said Trustee Deborah Karton. “This has been very difficult.”
The topic at hand was the first consideration of a proposed amendment to the town’s fair housing ordinance. Since August 2013, when Glenview used its home rule authority to override Cook County’s May 2013 measure to protect the rights of those with Section 8 vouchers, the town has been criticized for discrimination. Glenview is one of the last in the county to not adopt the policy. The town’s leadership, on the other hand, has argued that they wanted more time to study the ordinance and get input from Glenview residents and landlords, hosting a workshop by the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) as recently as September 2014. In the interim, they have kept the status quo by allowing landlords the decision to accept vouchers or not.
In that time, the village moved to conduct a survey of 21 landlords, planner Jeff Brady said during the meeting. “Only half of them responded. … Five do not currently use the voucher program, three previously did and two are currently using it.” Additionally, “Four of ten said they would accept them, two said they didn’t have comments, three did not comment either way and one said they were not in favor.”
Of the few concerns mentioned, some were related to nuisance issues, “philosophical concerns,” and issues with the screening and administrative processes.
Under the new provision, landlords are still able to maintain the standards of the screening process conducted through criminal and credit histories and background checks, and they are still able to set market rent prices. However they are not allowed to differentiate between voucher holders and non-holders for screening criteria and coming up with the rent determination. In other words, if a tenant is otherwise qualified the landlord cannot base the decision to rent a unit based on the tenant’s participation in the Section 8 program. Some of the landlords’ complaints in the past have related to delays in receiving checks from the county department’s share of the rent and intrusiveness of site visits to their properties, which a HACC representative present at the meeting assured had since been resolved.
So, what is really at the heart of this issue? Plenty, according to the nearly 20 residents, property managers and social activists who stood up to speak at the meeting. Concerns ranged from administrative snafus to overpopulated schools and the perceived notion that town officials were bowing to alleged threats set forth by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“I did meet with Ms. Preckwinkle and she expressed her passion for moving this forward for consistency throughout the county and did not understand why anyone would oppose it,” said Village Board of Trustees President Jim Patterson putting the rumors to rest. “And yes we would be able to qualify for things if we did pass [this measure] and would not qualify if we did not pass it. There were no threats, it’s fact-based. There’s an opportunity here if we worked together.”
Still comments from speakers took two very different sides. Those who opposed the amendment (largely property owners) said they still want more information from the county and took issue with the following points, some of which were negated by statistical data rebutted by the HACC representatives:
- Issues with vouchers and denials of rent increases
- HACC’s authority to delve into files of owners and inspect properties at whim
- Overcrowding of schools and the incurred costs of educating ESL students
- The landlord’s right to have a choice in whom to rent to
- If Glenview was being coerced by the county
- Landlords being forced into an inflexible contract they cannot amend
- Glenview’s already large number of voucher holders as opposed to other neighboring towns
- Concerns that Section 8 housing would be relegated to certain parts of Glenview more than others
- Questions of the integrity of character of those with vouchers and how many individuals live in the unit
- Increased population levels
- The program does not encourage people to move beyond their circumstances and will encourage gang activity and high drop out rates
Those who are for passing the amendment (including a large number of members of the Glenview League of Women Voters) were adamant about the following points:
- The measure supports human rights; not passing it promotes discrimination
- It continues Glenview’s tradition of a wholly diverse community
- It gives protection to renters
- Voucher holders are less than 1% of Glenview’s population
- Only half of the landlords responded, which questions how big of an issue this is
- It provides housing for vulnerable people who need it most and can least afford it including minorities, the elderly and veterans
- Housing is fundamental and there should be more choices – there should be to more ways for people to move to area of opportunity
- There are still rules and regulations in place that must be followed so it’s not taking away procedures landlords have at their disposal
- One comparison to Title 7 of Civil Rights Act that no employer can discriminate from hiring based on age, gender or race and it should be the same for living situations
“What we are talking about here is whose rights are more important,” said one speaker, “the landlord or the tenant and their right to fair housing opportunities.”
The Trustees were less divided with a first vote showing six were in support of the amendment and only one who would deny it.
“This has had a visceral effect on me. I’m a child of gym teachers and we lived in rental housing for 13 years of my life, and I get the feeling from the people [speaking] that they wouldn’t have wanted me to live in Glenview,” said an emotional Trustee Scott Britton. “But we wanted to improve ourselves and we had the opportunity to do it and that is what Cook County is trying to put in place here. To be able to live in a better area, to send your kids to better schools, to get away from gangs. Isn’t that the purpose of this ordinance?”
That question will continue to be discussed at a second consideration at a City Hall meeting on March 3.