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Modest rent hikes to be sought for forest housing

Friday, July 08, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

A plan to revamp the Cook County Forest Preserve District's much-maligned employee housing program will be unveiled next week -- with modest rent increases proposed.

Though some wanted substantial increases in the $225- to $450-a-month rents for houses in forest preserves, two County Board members will instead recommend rents of $240 to $480.

They'll also propose rent increases every two years, based on the rate of inflation.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, who led a housing task force with Commissioner Bobbie Steele, said "a lot of time and effort" went into the proposal, including "a lot of research into other public entities that have housing programs."

Steele said that showed Cook County rents are "fair and reasonable" compared with others.

The forest preserve housing program provides employees with the chance to live in district-owned housing at a reduced rate because, in theory, they serve as 24-hour watchmen.

Despite that role, Commissioner Forrest Claypool wants to see rents increase to $450 to $900 a month.

Some of the homes in the program are quite nice or in desirable communities.

"If all they're doing is adding a few dollars of rent in an attempt to put perfume on a skunk, I'm not going to support it," he said.

The task force proposal to be presented at Monday's meeting also calls for more "reporting requirements and accountability" by the employees living there.

Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times found 93 percent of the district's "resident watchmen" weren't providing regular reports.

Steele said "the work these watchmen are responsible for has to add up to mean something," and "if we double the rents on employees making $40,000 a year, there's going to be a mass exodus."

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