By: Kathy Routliffe | firstname.lastname@example.org | @pioneer_kathy
October 29, 2013
Affordable housing advocates in Wilmette are moving past their disappointment about the village’s effective phase-out of its Housing Assistance Program, and have taken the first steps toward what they hope will become a successful privately funded program.
But members of the new group, Wilmette Cares, said this week they hope the elected officials who backed the move will also make good on implied promises to support the effort — with some of that assistance coming in financial form, even if it is only a small amount.
Wilmette Cares is holding its next meeting at 8 a.m. Nov. 5; group member Lorelei McClure and other organizers are inviting residents to attend the session at Gates Manor, 1135 Wilmette Ave. They specifically extended the invitation to village officials.
“I insist on believing that Wilmette is a compassionate community,” McClure said. “I hope Wilmette will work in partnership with us. In fact, I’d like to see one or more village board members or representatives be on our committee.”
“One way of showing compassion is to help with the fundraising efforts,” added Ann Jonaitis.
The group formed in September to convince Wilmette to maintain its 32-year-old housing assistance program. Instead, members saw village trustees unanimously agree Oct. 8 to shrink the $48,000 program, commonly known as HAP, by shutting two of four program components, limiting access to a third, and ending direct village budget support.
HAP grants to Wilmette senior and disabled citizens are meant to help residents stay in the village, and have provided annual grants toward property tax, rent or mortgage relief for recipients.
The program was created in 1981 and has four components: limited emergency housing grants; rent assistance (a maximum of $2,400 annually); mortgage assistance ($1,800 annually); and property tax assistance ($1,800 annually).
While it was originally funded completely by village revenue, Wilmette in 2010 dropped its direct HAP funding by $20,000, making that amount up by drawing from a housing escrow account funded by the developers of the former National Louis University property on Sheridan Road.
With the account expected to be drained by 2016, and under what they called severe financial strains on the proposed $69.7 million budget, trustees:
• Put a moratorium on new program applications
• Moved recipients of mortgage support to the property tax relief section of the program
• Ended rent assistance as of 2014-15
• Limited recipients to four years of help
• Eliminated all direct village money, starting Jan. 1 of 2015, with the exception of $3,000 used for emergency housing
• Indicated that HAP support beyond that would remain possible only if the Red Seal fund gets more donations from the developers, or from up to $100,000 in liens which some program beneficiaries must pay if they sell their homes
After their decision, board members backed the idea of a public-private partnership for housing assistance, whereby the majority of the dollars might be raised through private charitable efforts.
Village President Bob Bielinski specifically referenced a Glencoe program.
Run since 1982 by the Committee for Senior Housing Aid in Glencoe, the program allows the village of Glencoe to provide about $3,000 toward housing assistance grants, while two charitable groups cooperate to raise about $15,000-$20,000 annually.
At the time, Bielinski said he was confident that such a program could raise more money for housing assistance than was provided through the village.
“For those of you concerned with absent dollars, I believe the residents of Wilmette will step up to help you,” Bielinski said.
After the inaugural meeting of Wilmette Cares was held Oct. 22, member Gail Schechter, who is also executive director of Winnetka-based Open Communities, said, “since the village is attracted to the Glencoe model, we know that the village will want to maintain a financial commitment to HAP.”
For instance, she said, that might take the form of agreeing to financially support the administrative costs, if program organizers can find private groups to handle case management. Open Communities, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable housing on the North Shore, will consider temporarily acting as a donation agent for the new group.
Schechter and McClure said members also plan to create a set of community education materials on affordable housing for Wilmette residents.
“We’re taking the long view and want to build support through education, to show residents how support for affordable housing is the same kind of support for residency as, say, a mortgage interest deduction that homeowners take on their taxes,” Schechter said. “We want to show people that supporting affordable accessible housing is actually good for the village’s economic health in many ways.”
The group also hopes to set up its own website.
Wilmette Cares member Betty Phillips said she hopes the education campaign will help dispel “the myth that affordable and accessible housing will destroy property values or impact peoples’ property taxes.
“It doesn’t,” she said.
For more information on Wilmette Cares, contact McClure at email@example.com or (847) 728-0305.