Tinley Park’s Affordable Housing Fight Is Over. Will The Village Now Diversify?

Tinley Park
The lot where an affordable complex was supposed to be built remains empty. Miles Bryan / WBEZ
Tinley Park
The lot where an affordable complex was supposed to be built remains empty. Miles Bryan / WBEZ

Tinley Park’s Affordable Housing Fight Is Over. Will The Village Now Diversify?

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Delores Franks lives in far southwest suburban Joliet, but she likes to shop in Tinley Park, a village about 20 miles away. 

But Franks, who is black, said she doesn’t like to linger there for too long. 

“You can see it in certain stores. You can feel it in certain restaurants,” she said. “It’s like you’re not wanted here, even though you are spending your money.”

For decades, southwest suburban Tinley Park, located about 30 miles from Chicago, has remained overwhelmingly white, even as many nearby suburbs grew increasingly diverse. This week marked what is likely the final chapter in a two-and-a-half year saga that at times put that racial disparity under a spotlight. 

Tinley Park appointed a “Fair Housing Officer” Tuesday. It also adopted a fair housing policy, and will soon put village employees through fair housing training. 

The changes were required as part of a recent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which sued the village in 2016 for blocking an affordable housing complex that would have likely attracted mostly black residents, according to the DOJ. The federal complaint alleged that village officials capitulated to “racially motivated community opposition” to the housing plan.

Village Manager David Niemeyer said Tinley Park plans to keep its fair housing officer on longer than the three years required by the settlement, and the village is committed to welcoming people regardless of race. 

“The village and its residents are friendly to all people and welcome with open arms African-Americans and anyone who wants to be a positive part of our community,” Niemeyer said in a written statement to WBEZ.

But some fair-housing advocates and black people who visit the village are skeptical that much will change. 

“Tinley Park got off very easy,” said John Petruszak, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group South Suburban Housing Center. “I think we are going to be monitoring what’s going on there for quite some time to try and make it a place where African-Americans perceive they can move to.”

The Ohio-based nonprofit Buckeye Community Hope Foundation first proposed building 47 units of affordable housing in Tinley Park in 2015. In February 2016, hundreds of people attended a village board meeting to protest the housing plan, citing fears of falling property values, bigger classroom sizes in schools, and skepticism about the developer. 

Although the plan was considered to be in “precise conformance” with village code, it was sent back to the Tinley Park Planning Department for further review, “stalling the project indefinitely,” the DOJ said.

In November 2016, the DOJ sued Tinley Park, arguing that much of the resistance to the affordable housing development was motivated by racism. 

It cited comments left on Facebook groups formed around the issue as evidence, including: “I’ll bet my life savings that this place is overrun by garbage within a year or two,” and “the future of Tinley is looking more and more like Harvey.” That village, also in the south suburbs, is about 70 percent black, according to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Petruszak, who has worked on fair housing issues in the south suburbs for more than 30 years, said Tinley Park and other southwest suburbs have remained overwhelmingly white even as many black Chicagoans began moving south of the city in the 1980s and 1990s. 

“You saw white families then moving west and east,” Petruszak said. “East into Indiana, and west into communities like Tinley Park that are west of I-57.”

According to census records, Tinley Park’s black population has grown from 1.6 percent in 1990 to 3.8 percent in 2016. By contrast, nearby Homewood has gone from 6.4 percent black to 37 percent in that same time, while Country Club Hills has gone from 58 percent black to 87 percent. 

The percentage of Tinley Park’s residents who are black is significantly lower than the percentage of those who work there: About 14 percent of people working in Tinley Park are black, according to federal jobs data. 

Delores Franks said that she plans to continue shopping in Tinley Park, but she could never see herself moving there. 

“I don’t think I would be comfortable,” she said. “I don’t want to be anywhere where I feel unwanted.”

Miles Bryan is a reporter for WBEZ. You can follow him at @miles__bryan.