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Meet Our 50th Anniversary Award Recipients

On Wednesday, September 21, we celebrated fifty years of Open Communities at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

It was a gorgeous night, and we enjoyed being able to reconnect with long-time supporters and meet new ones, too.

Richard Koenig, Ph.D., Executive Director at Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, spoke of the history of his organization and Open Communities and the impact both groups have had on the fight for fair housing.

Audience listens at the Open Communities 50th Anniversary celebration

We also presented three awards to very deserving people and organizations.

The Emerging Municipality Award

The Village of Northbrook received the Emerging Municipality Award, which honors a municipality that is consciously working to ensure fair housing in their community and/or actively working towards more inclusive and affordable housing.

Former Village Board President Sandy Frum and current Village Board President Kathryn Ciesla accepted the award on behalf of the Village of Northbrook. In 2019, after many years of pushing for affordable housing options, Frum, with the help of key Village of Northbrook staff and a newly elected Village Board, was able to push for affordable housing in Northbrook. In December 2020, the Board unanimously approved an affordable housing ordinance. Because of this ordinance, most new multi-unit developments in Northbrook must have 15% of units set aside for affordable housing. Northbrook joins Evanston as the only northern Cook County communities with affordable housing ordinances.

The Spirit of Open Communities Award

WBEZ received the Spirit of Open Communities Award, which recognizes a person or organization demonstrating that fair housing is a human right through a commitment to social justice and making significant contributions toward more diverse, inclusive, and equitable communities in the northern suburbs.

Open Communities' Dominic Voz speaks to the audience

WBEZ's Race, Class, and Community reporters work to uncover injustices, report on them, and try to educate the community so that we can try to right the wrongs of the world. Their team has reported on evictions, affordable housing, restrictive covenants, renters forming unions to fight rent increases, HUD investigations on violating residents' civil rights, fair lending, mortgage discrimination, racist language in property records, how to change your home's racial covenant, appraisal discrimination of disability, race, section 8 housing voucher discrimination on Craigslist, and more. If there is an injustice, this team will report it.

WBEZ Senior Editor, Alden Loury, accepted the award on behalf of the WBEZ Race, Class, and Community reporters. He spoke of the importance of telling these stories so that we can create a better Chicagoland.

The Jean Cleland Award

Former Open Communities Executive Director Gail Schechter received the Jean Cleland Award, which honors an individual or organization on the frontline of social justice who is setting the example of how to properly represent social justice through a fair housing lens.

Gail Schecter accepts the Jean Cleland Award at Open Communities' 50th Anniversary celebration

Gail Schechter led Open Communities from 1993-2016. She has been a leader in tenant and community organizing, fair and affordable housing advocacy, housing discrimination investigations, public school funding reform, and promoting equitable and responsive government since 1984. Gail now serves as the Executive Director of Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (HOME), a Chicago organization that operates intergenerational affordable housing and service programs supporting aging in the community.

Upon accepting the award, Gail spoke of Jean Cleland and her impact on Gail and Open Communities. She also talked about the importance of fair and equitable housing and the work we must all do to achieve it. In a touching moment, former Board Chair, Katie Seigenthaler, shared stories of Gail and Jean and presented Gail with a coat that belonged to Jean.

At the end of the evening, our Board Co-Chairs, Frank Clements and Carol Golder, presented the Board Challenge. For every dollar donated to Open Communities by October 15, the Board will match the donation dollar for dollar. We will use the fund to staff a Community Liaison position. A fundamental tenet of our strategic plan is to engage the community. Hiring a passionate Community Educator will bring the community together to make a change. To donate, please click here.



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