4:57 p.m. CST, December 16, 2013
A month after the Wilmette Village Board voted to discontinue funding a housing assistance program, the newest member of a committee tasked with finding private funds to take up the slack said taxpayers should foot the bill.
“We’re willing to do anything we can to get community groups to help, but that should not preclude village funding, as we’re dealing with people’s lives and their abodes,” said Lorelei McClure, the chairman of Wilmette Cares and a former official with the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the US.She was appointed by village President Bob Bielinskias one of seven residents seeking private funds for housing assistance.
The $45,000 program, known as HAP, had for three decades provided rental assistance or help with mortgages and property taxes to local families in need. McClure and other fair housing advocates said 21 families, including elderly and disabled residents, were receiving assistance.
“I honor the mandate of this ad hoc committee and know what we’re after, but it is a stopgap measure only,” McClure said. “We want to find a way to work with the village, and we’re not blind to the fact that the village needs money. But I don’t think taxpayers mind paying $2 more a year.”
Still, Bielinski said the village’s $33 million general fund budget for 2014 is already stretched to its limits, forcing officials to postpone everything from repairing potholes to replacing old police cars. He said an uptick in sales tax revenues is expected next year due to several new restaurants and two new drug stores, but that the local economy has yet to fully recover from the recent recession.
“Revenues were down for a number of years, but we didn’t want to further harm our residents, so we kept property tax increases moderate – between 3 percent to 3.5 percent,” Bielinski said. “That left us with no money for capital projects, and now, we need to make the best use of our dollars to serve all our residents.”
Bielinski said a recent pub crawl fundraiser organized by two residents that benefited the village’s youth center, the Warming House, is a good example of how innovative ideas can be used to support local social service programs without increasing property taxes.
“Affordable housing is a very emotional issue, and I can appreciate that,” Bielinski said. “But I strongly feel that by unleashing the community’s generosity, we can provide more funding for housing assistance in a smart, creative, out-of-the-box approach.”
Fore more information on Wilmette Cares, contact McClure at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847.728.0305.