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Protesters picket Oak Park rental firm

People Disability Rights ActiCoalitifor Housing Metropolitan Tenants OrganizatiProgress Center for Independent Living picket against Oak Park Apartments thwill not rent

People of Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing, Metropolitan Tenants Organization and Progress Center for Independent Living picket against Oak Park Apartments that will not rent to Housing Voucher holders on Thursday, December 13, 2012. Picketers display their signs for drivers to see. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 15, 2013 11:33AM

The protesters chanted and marched — some of the disabled in wheelchairs, others rolling oxygen tanks — on a normally quiet block Thursday in west suburban Oak Park.

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Source of income discrimination has got to go!,” they chanted.

They were picketing the offices of property management firm Oak Park Apartments, and its policy of not renting to Section 8 tenants — typically the low-income or disabled.

This landlord, the housing activists charged, was an example of why an amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance was needed. The ordinance, which prohibits discrimination against source of income, exempts Section 8 from such protection.

“They’ve dismantled public housing for thousands and thousands of people, and the enhanced vouchers they’re giving people, suburban areas and counties won’t accept,” said Terence Simms of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.

“This particular landlord says they have too many Section 8. We know what that means.”

An amendment to the ordinance protecting Section 8 was introduced earlier this year before the Cook County Board. Lacking support to pass, it waits to be called to vote.

“President [Toni] Preckwinkle is a sponsor on it. She does support it,” said Kristen Mack, spokeswoman for the county board president.

A City of Chicago ordinance already prohibits discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.

The Illinois Association of Realtors is fighting extending that to the suburbs.

The principles at Oak Park Apartments, brothers Bill and Bob Planek, said they have issue with the program’s management — not voucher holders. In suburban Cook County, the Housing Choice Voucher program is run by Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC).

“The agreements they make us sign are one-sided, and we don’t like them,” Bill Planek said. “The contract is between the landlord, tenant and housing authority. Say you violate your lease. I give you a notice. If you don’t correct the violation, HACC ends the contract. Suddenly it’s just you and the tenant. They can cancel a 12-month lease within 30 days. From a business standpoint, why would you want to go in for that?”

HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio, however, called the complaint “ridiculous.”

“In terms of violators, we want those folks off the program as much as landlords. The onus is on the landlord to begin the eviction process because HACC cannot,” he said.

“There’s a lot of this type of talk, ‘HACC is cumbersome.’ The real issue is certain landlords don’t want to rent to certain people because of their socioeconomic status.”

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