By: Kathy Routliffe | kroutliffe@pioneerlocal | @pioneer_kathy
February 03, 2014 1:42 p.m.
The committee working to create a privately funded Wilmette housing support program got the public input it had asked for on Jan. 30.
Without exception, what it heard from speakers was simple: tell Wilmette trustees that helping senior and disabled citizens stay in Wilmette must not be left to private charity.
More than two dozen people attended the Jan. 30 committee session. Many of them belonged to Wilmette Cares, a citizens group formed last summer to lobby for affordable housing in Wilmette. Since village trustees agreed to phase out Wilmette’s $48,000 housing assistance program, Wilmette Cares has worked to convince board members to reverse the decision.
Many of the dozen people who spoke – including Prairie Avenue resident Gerald Buster, who said he will have to leave Wilmette if his rent assistance ends – told committee members that housing assistance is as much a municipal responsibility as any other municipal service, no matter how few people benefit from it.
“These people for the most part have paid taxes for many years. They probably paid taxes for programs that they did not use, like us all. We pay taxes to the schools even if we don’t have children,” 13th Street resident Carmen Garcia said. “My strong opinion is that the board needs to reconsider its action. Our budget reflects our values.”
Garcia said the committee should ask Wilmette trustees to broaden the committee’s charge so that it isn’t limited to putting together a private charity.
Several speakers said Wilmette should actually increase its support of affordable housing, by requiring future multi-unit developments, such as the one planned for 611 Green Bay Road, to include affordable units for moderate income residents.
Skokie Court resident Rich Goodwin suggested that, “If this question was to go to a referendum, I believe the citizens of Wilmette would say they don’t like [ending municipal funding for HAP] either.”
Private charity is worthwhile, Washington Avenue resident Dan Kaplan said, but shouldn’t be what powers an assistance program. He said he would be glad to pay what he estimated would be $4 more on his property taxes to support the HAP program.
“That the village is leaving the responsibility to the whim of donation is appalling,” Park Avenue resident Sherry Medwin said, referring to the village announcement on its website explaining how people can donate to the private housing support effort. “Somebody’s housing is going to depend on the whim of my deciding to push that PayPal button.”
Gail Schechter, executive director of Winnetka-based Open Communities, which lobbies for fair and affordable open housing on the North Shore, made her plea directly to Committee Chairwoman Nancy Canafax.
She told Canafax, a former Wilmette village president, “You have taken courageous steps in the past. I ask you to go back to the board and say, ‘We’re happy to encourage people to make donations, but really, it should be funded by the village.’”
Canafax told the audience that her committee is currently required to investigate the feasibility of a private charity, and how best to operate one.
“That is what this group will have to work on tonight,” she said, but she assured them that her group will take what it heard Jan. 30 back to the Village Board.
“I think this is something that the board will have to address … It will hear what you have to say, I promise.”