The taxpayer-funded Oak Park Regional Housing Center is encouraging people to move away from suburbs its leaders believe are too white.
A taxpayer-backed Oak Park non-profit that aims to convince black and hispanic renters to move to the town is trying a new tactic: panning rival suburbs as undesirable for having too many white residents.
"Are you looking to get away from your homogenous white bread community for something with a cosmopolitan feel?" tweeted the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) on Thursday. "Check out Oak Park."
"White bread" means "belonging to the class of bland, clean-cut, middle-of-the-road suburbanite breeders," according to Urban Dictionary.com.
The OPRHC states its purpose as "to achieve meaningful and lasting diversity throughout Oak Park and the surrounding communities." It describes its services as "counseling individuals on housing opportunities in Oak Park" and "marketing and promoting meaningful and lasting diversity."
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Village of Oak Park (pop. 51,878) was 68 percent white, 22 percent black and eight percent hispanic. A 2018 U.S Census report showed the village added 287 people over the past eight years, growing slightly whiter (69 percent) and more hispanic (8 percent) and less black (20 percent).
In the 2000 U.S. Census, Oak Park was 69 percent white, 22 percent black and five percent hispanic.
The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against whites in housing, including "circulating written material that indicates directly or indirectly intent to commit unlawful discrimination."
$8 million in taxpayer funding
OPRHC has received $7.8 million in taxpayer funding over the past ten years, according to a West Cook News analysis of its filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
According to its most recent filing, in 2017, it received $820,000 from state and county taxpayers, 60 percent of its total budget of $1.341 million. Most of that-- $596,000-- came from Village of Oak Park property taxpayers. The remainder of OPHRC's revenue came from private donations.
Then-executive director Rob Breymeier earned $80,200 as the group's top manager, according to the filings. Michele Rodriguez-Taylor earned $53,269.
After 12 years heading the group, Breymeier left OPRHC in May 2018 to be Chief Operating Officer of housing at Heartland Housing, another non-profit that advocates for more housing regulations. It received $5.9 million in taxpayer funding in 2018, according to its annual tax filing.
According to a 2006 profile in the Wednesday Journal, Breymeier grew up in a "nearly all-white" suburb of Toledo, Ohio. In his first presidential election, he says he voted for Chicagoan Jesse Jackson in the 1988 Democrat primary.
"The kind of people we want to live in Oak Park"
Oak Park was one percent black when Bobbie Raymond started what she called the Oak Park Housing Center in 1972.
Raymond, an Oak Park native, was an television actress and advertising copywriter turned sociology graduate student. She started the center in her home, placing newspaper advertisements and distributing brochures in Chicago's Lincoln Park, Old Town and Hyde Park neighborhoods, seeking to recruit young families looking to buy a home on Oak Park.
The marketing targeted "the kind of people we want to live in Oak Park, the kind of people who want to be involved in the community" she told the Chicago Tribune.
Raymond's advertising was crafted to appeal to the "the young, somewhat liberal couple or individual who probably believes that an integrated community is the right place to live in," she said. One of the center's advertisements ran in Ms. Magazine, founded in 1972 by feminist Gloria Steinem.
In contrast to "white bread," Raymond's work universally sought to accentuate the positive, citing Oak Park's location, "fine schools.. 80 acres of parks.. rich architectural heritage.. and nationally-recognized police."
"Oak Park- the new people place," the advertisements said.
By 1980, eleven percent of Oak Park residents were black, according to the U.S. Census.
The center's efforts were funded exclusively with private donations in its nascent days. Its budget was $26,500 in its inaugural year, or $162,500 in 2019 dollars; revenue came exclusively from private and corporate donations-- CNA Financial and Wieboldt's were major supporters.
But by the late 1970's, the OPRHC was receiving a majority of its annual budget from taxpayers.
In 1986, the center received $188,467 in federal community development grants, or $449,727 in today's dollars.
Oak Park Regional Housing Center funding, 2008-2017
How much have taxpayers given to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center over the past decade?
|Year||Total Revenue||From all taxpayers||Taxpayer %|
Source: Internal Revenue Service 990 filings
*2015 numbers are estimates based on available data; the OPRHC has not made its 2015 IRS 990 available to the public.