Since 1979, the Village of Wilmette has funded and administered the Housing Assistance Pro-gram (HAP), allowing seniors and residents with permanent disabilities to continue living in our community close to friends and family. In October 2013, the Village Trustees voted unanimously to defund the program. As a result, twenty-one families face the prospect of being uprooted. TheBoard’s rationale is that the Village cannot afford these kinds of programs. Yet, the cost of HAP is slightly over 0.1% of the nearly $33 million Village budget. Is it possible that one of the wealthiest communities in the country cannot afford the $45,000 to keep these families in their homes?
Village budgets reflect our values. What does ending support for a small program that serves low-income residents—while paving the way for new luxury developments—say about Wilmette? HAP recipients have paid taxes and contributed to Wilmette as community members for many years. They shop here, belong to our congregations, and volunteer their time to Wilmette. Seniors and persons with disabilities are not a “special interest” group. They are all of us. Any of us could confront disability at any time. All of us will grow old. Just as we care as a village about maintaining parks, a library, excellent schools, and emergency services we may never use, so, too, do we support our struggling neighbors.
In response to public feedback, Board President Bob Belienski appointed an Ad Hoc Committee to explore private funding options. The Committee recommended the formation of a nonprofit foundation that would solicit charitable contributions to fund HAP. Yet, treating these families as charity cases, rather than as deserving and valued community members, only marginalizes them and leaves them subject to unpredictable donation amounts from year to year. In addition, Village personnel who currently administer the program state that HAP requires little time or effort from them. Yet, the proposed new model would require hiring fundraising and administrative staff for the charity, as well as coordination with New Trier Township. Why would we replace a simple, financially stable, and efficient process with a complicated one that inheres financial volatility and, thus, insecurity for its participants?
Urge the Village Board to reinstate its funding for HAP. Show that Wilmette cares!