Housing Our Own, the private fundraising group created by Wilmette to fund the village’s housing support program, is within a few months of being a fully accredited 501C(3) charitable group, Assistant Village Manager Michael Braiman said Aug. 22.
As that work continues, the village continues to administer the existing program, commonly known as HAP, using money from private donations and the remains of an established escrow account to provide tax subsidies and, temporarily, rental support for existing program participants.
Braiman said Friday that Wilmette attorney George Pearce, a former member of the village’s fire and police board, has completed the paperwork to incorporate Housing Our Own, the name chosen for the new marketing and fundraising organization. It’s now been submitted to the state, he said.
“We’re waiting to hear back from the IRS and everything should be done in a few months,” Braiman added.
Work on Housing Our Own completes a process begun last September, after village trustees agreed with staff recommendations to phase out the $48,000 assistance program that had run since the 1980s, ending rental and mortgage support components of the program (although renters in the program are covered until their current leases end) and eventually ending any direct village budget support.
The decision came over the objections of program recipients and other village residents, who argued that maintaining a village-funded program should remain part of the board’s social contract with its citizens.
Trustees responded that their remit was to maintain core material village services such as snow removal and sewer maintenance, and that money for those efforts was tight, and took precedence, especially when private means could be tapped for social needs.
Village President Bob Beilinski formed a committee and told it to decide how best to privatize housing support; the committee responded with recommendations that led to a plan by which the narrowed housing program could be funded through the new Housing Our Own, and administered by the village, with help from New Trier Township.
Until the permanent board of Housing Our Own can be chosen, the board consists of Braiman, village Finance Director Melinda Molloy, Community Development Director John Adler, whose department administers the existing program, and John Prejzner, assistant to the village manager.
After an initial rush of donations, about $8,400 of which came by early April, voluntary giving has tapered off at roughly $10,000, Braiman said. That now sits in the housing escrow account the village has used for the last few years to finance the housing program. It supplements any money remaining in the account from its original funding source, the developers of the former National Louis University property on Sheridan Road.
Meanwhile, Wilmette Cares, the citizen activist group founded to back affordable housing efforts in Wilmette, has embarked on a two-pronged effort to keep the issue, and the concept of making housing support once again a municipal responsibility of some sort, front and center with residents.
Wilmette Care president Lorelei McClure said Aug. 23 that the effort includes preparing resident surveys and designing focus groups to investigate Wilmette residents’ housing needs and knowledge. It also involves creating an educational video about affordable housing. Both efforts are funded with a $21,000 grant from the Sally Mead Hands Foundation.
“We are in the process of looking at the questions we need to ask,” McClure said. Work is also progressing on the video, she said: “I’m very excited about that, because education is the best tool you can have to end lack of knowledge about our village’s housing needs.”