By: Kathy Routliffe | kroutliffe@pioneerlocal | @pioneer_kathy
October 10, 2013
Wilmette officials may have decided to reduce the scope of the village’s housing assistance program, including direct village funding, but program supporters say they have not given up the fight.
Members of “Wilmette Cares,” a group formed to support the program commonly known as HAP, plan to meet Oct. 22 to examine their options in light of the Oct. 8 decision, but they said they were disappointed that they had to do so.
Gail Schechter, executive director of the suburban North Shore housing advocacy group Open Communities, said she had hoped to convince board members that maintaining its $48,000 HAP budget wouldn’t represent a financial drain, but an investment in keeping Wilmette a diverse and consistently welcoming community.
“Both the HAP and zoning laws that ensure the predominantly single-family character of the Village are not just expenses, but an expression of the values borne by every taxpayer,” Schechter said in prepared remarks.
Schechter also pointed out that, since fair housing laws protect rights for people disability, Wilmette could be opening itself to legal action, “if it is found to have violated those laws by disparate impact.”
After the vote, supporter Lorelei McClure said, “I was hoping for a delay. I don’t have a child with disabilities and I’m not in the program, but I support it.”
“We’re going to regroup, to decide how we enter this next phase of finding private funding,” McClure said. She referred to village trustee comments that a privately funded housing assistance program might be a better way to help senior and disabled citizens with housing costs.
McClure noted that the one person who spoke in favor of ending the program guidelines, Wilmette anti-tax activist Herbert Sorock, “didn’t seem to have a clear concept of why he was opposed to it, except a vague idea that fairness is always across the board treating everyone exactly the same.”
Sorock had argued that Wilmette’s proposed 2014 budget reflects continued tough economic times for the village, and said “I think it would be unfair, since that adjective has been coming up … that one particular part of the budget gets supported at the expense of others.”
The housing assistance program serves people with special needs, McClure pointed out after the meeting, “and fair isn’t always a 50-50 proposition because people with special needs have those needs.”
During the meeting, Sheridan Road resident Spencer Cowan made the same argument. Responding to board comments that the program should only provide recipients with short term help, Cowan said, “the eligibility requirements (to get HAP help) are clearly permanent conditions; people with disabilities and seniors … The idea of providing temporary assistance seems clearly inconsistent with that.”