Morton Grove Motel Tenants Proclaim: "I'm Not Blight"!

 (1999 - 2001)   Suburban Motel tenants and Gail Schechter meet at Seven Brothers Restaurant. One resident lived in her car before finding housing in the motel. Another was a Holocaust survivor.

(1999 - 2001) Suburban Motel tenants and Gail Schechter meet at Seven Brothers Restaurant. One resident lived in her car before finding housing in the motel. Another was a Holocaust survivor.

Before the term “jobs/housing mismatch” and Barbara Ehrenreich's best-seller Nickel and Dimed brought the plight of minimum-wage workers into the limelight, Gail brought her organizing expertise to the residents of the Admiral Oasis, Fireside, and Suburban Motels in Morton Grove. Residents were alarmed to receive vacate notices during the cold days of December and appealed to Open Communities, then called the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, to save their housing from the wrecking ball. These motels were home for over 200 households, many of whom worked at the motels themselves, Avon, Pace, and shopping centers nearby. Some were veterans, and some were married with children. In the late 1990s, Morton Grove declared these motels “blight” and turned the Waukegan Road corridor between Golf and Dempster into a TIF (tax increment financing) economic development district.

Open Communities, led by Gail Schechter, Board member Jean Cleland, and staff from Housing Action Illinois, helped organize the tenants who were eventually able to get time, funds and even – in the case of the Suburban – direct relocation help from the Village. The plight of the motel residents contributed to the passage of TIF reform in Springfield, mandating relocation whenever ten or more low-income families are to be displaced. The Suburban was the state’s first test case.

 A resident of the Admiral Oasis Motel in Morton Grove created this "I'M  NOT  BLIGHT" button for all to wear at the community meeting brokered by Gail and Open Communities, with a nod to the requirement that an area be "blighted" before the State of Illinois would permit a tax increment financing district designation.

A resident of the Admiral Oasis Motel in Morton Grove created this "I'M NOT BLIGHT" button for all to wear at the community meeting brokered by Gail and Open Communities, with a nod to the requirement that an area be "blighted" before the State of Illinois would permit a tax increment financing district designation.

North Suburban Housing Partners

 (1999 - 2006)  Expecting a crowd of 75 and instead attracting 175, residents from throughout the northern suburbs converged on St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette at this North Suburban Housing Partners forum to talk about the dire problem of “minimum wage jobs but no minimum wage housing.”

(1999 - 2006) Expecting a crowd of 75 and instead attracting 175, residents from throughout the northern suburbs converged on St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette at this North Suburban Housing Partners forum to talk about the dire problem of “minimum wage jobs but no minimum wage housing.”

Working in a team of three with the executive directors of two other housing organizations in the northern suburbs, CEDA Neighbors at Work and the Evanston Neighborhood Conference, I helped organize “North Suburban Housing Partners,” a circle which grew to include Catholic Charities, Connections for the Homeless, the Evanston Human Relations Commission, the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, Housing Options, the Wilmette Community Relations Commission, and support from the staffs of regional elected officials. These groups spearheaded a North Suburban Housing Issues Forum in Glenview in 1999, drawing over 225 people and effectively “putting a face on housing” in the area for the first time.

The coalition won major victories including:

  • Gaining representation of a north suburban resident on the board of the Cook County Housing Authority for the first time and building momentum that contributed to full fair housing rights for Section 8/Housing Choice Voucher holders.
  • Spearheading the formation of an ad hoc Evanston Inclusionary Housing Task Force directly following North Suburban Housing Partners’ standing-room-only public forum in April 2002 on affordable housing solutions. The Evanston Housing Commission’s Task Force, which purposely included three members of North Suburban Housing Partners helped to craft draft inclusionary housing ordinances to help capture new development for people with low and moderate incomes.
  • Building a predatory lending prevention program through education and outreach, effectively helping many homeowners in the predominantly Black Evanston’s 5th Ward from being displaced. 

 

Religious Leaders Acting Together for Equality (RELATE)

 (1999 - 2002)   Lorelei McClure (then of the Baha'is of Evanston and the National Center), Pastors Stephanie Perdew and Dave Owens (First Congregational Church, U.C.C., Wilmette), and Rev. Heather VanDeventer (St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, Wilmette) at an anti-hate rally at Niles West High School in 2000. RELATE was responsible for the hundreds of "No Room in My Heart forPrejudice" stickers worn by all that day, protesting the KKK.

(1999 - 2002) Lorelei McClure (then of the Baha'is of Evanston and the National Center), Pastors Stephanie Perdew and Dave Owens (First Congregational Church, U.C.C., Wilmette), and Rev. Heather VanDeventer (St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, Wilmette) at an anti-hate rally at Niles West High School in 2000. RELATE was responsible for the hundreds of "No Room in My Heart forPrejudice" stickers worn by all that day, protesting the KKK.

When a white supremacist from the North Shore went on a racist shooting rampage in early July 1999, including killing African American Ricky Byrdsong as he strolled with his children in Skokie, Gail Schechter and the Board President of Open Communities – then the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs – quickly pulled together over 40 religious leaders from 28 congregations.  They expressed outrage, engaged in honest soul-searching, and then acted.  
 
Constituting themselves as RELATE, they released a strong public statement against "fear of the Other," met with political leaders to stop racial profiling by police, promoted affordable housing, and compiled anti-hate educational programs for high schools.  With the events of 9/11, RELATE stood together against anti-Muslim bigotry. 

   RELATE also denounced racial profiling by police against African Americans and Latinos on the North Shore and worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH to host a national hearing on the topic at St. Paul AME Church in Glencoe, presided over by Rep. John Conyers. (2000)

RELATE also denounced racial profiling by police against African Americans and Latinos on the North Shore and worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH to host a national hearing on the topic at St. Paul AME Church in Glencoe, presided over by Rep. John Conyers. (2000)

 

 

Mixed Use for Mallinckrodt (MUM)

 (2001 - 2005)   Beth Beucher, representing the group Mixed Use for Mallinckrodt, speaks during a meeting with city and Loyola University officials on Tuesday. Wilmette Life, December 6, 2001

(2001 - 2005) Beth Beucher, representing the group Mixed Use for Mallinckrodt, speaks during a meeting with city and Loyola University officials on Tuesday. Wilmette Life, December 6, 2001

When Loyola University announced in October 2001 that it would sell the historic Mallinckrodt campus -- a school building sitting on 17 acres of wooded grounds in Wilmette -- former Village Trustee Mimi Ryan called Gail Schechter urging Open Communities to make sure the building included affordable housing: "Rayna would have wanted this," referring to Rayna Miller, a founder of Open Communities and its director from 1974 until 1986. Indeed, Gail called Rev. Heather VanDeventer of RELATE who hosted a well-attended strategy meeting at her church, St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, and that's how Mixed Use for Mallinckrodt was born. MUM assisted the major grassroots campaign Citizens Action League for Mallinckrodt (CALM) to save the property from conversion to a collection of 40 McMansions. After numerous meetings at the Village Hall, letters to the editor, and petition drives, today, the building comprises 88 senior condos, 11 of which are affordable.

   On behalf of MUM, Jean Cleland, Gail Schechter, and Mimi Ryan accept a Golden Trowel Award in Springfield from Housing Action Illinois.

On behalf of MUM, Jean Cleland, Gail Schechter, and Mimi Ryan accept a Golden Trowel Award in Springfield from Housing Action Illinois.

500 Sheridan Road, Highwood

 (2003)   Celita Vasquez, tenant leader, and her neighbors, in 2003 fight eviction. Celita was the union leader at Carousel Linens next door.

(2003) Celita Vasquez, tenant leader, and her neighbors, in 2003 fight eviction. Celita was the union leader at Carousel Linens next door.

Gail fielded an unusual call on behalf of Open Communities: the labor union UNITE! needed the help of housing advocates. The tenants of 500 Sheridan Road, most of whom worked at Carousel Linens next door including shop steward Celita Vasquez, were in danger of dispacement by the City, threatening to condemn the property. Gail helped the tenants organize, gain the support of religious leaders, and bring all sides to the table to make repairs and raise awareness of the plight of Latino tenants who suffer substandard housing in order to live close to work.

 

Inspired to Act: Winnetka 8th Graders Organize Dr. King Open Housing Monument

 (2007)   Gail Schechter conducts a fair housing and grassroots organizing “teach-in” at Ms. Gigiolio's Washburne 8th grade class as they embark on the Dr. King memorial campaign.

(2007) Gail Schechter conducts a fair housing and grassroots organizing “teach-in” at Ms. Gigiolio's Washburne 8th grade class as they embark on the Dr. King memorial campaign.

A group of 8th graders from Washburne in Winnetka, along with their social studies teacher Ceci Gigiolio, came to Open Communities’ joint King Day panel with the Winnetka Historical Society at the Winnetka Woman’s Club. They’d had no idea that Dr. King had spoken before 10,000 people on the Winnetka Village Green in 1965, just a few feet away. Then and there, they decided this important historical event deserved a marker. One student, reflecting back four years later, said of the six-month campaign, “It taught me to not give up on something because it's hard - many people thought we couldn't do it.”  Read more about this inspired campaign in Gail's Patch article, “I Am More Aware of Peoples’ Rights": Still Inspired Four Years Later

   In July 2007, Washburne JHS graduates and their teacher Cecilia Gigiolio dedicating the Dr. King monument for open housing on the Winnetka Village Green that they succeeded in establishing, gaining Village permission with the help of Open Communities and numerous loval groups.

In July 2007, Washburne JHS graduates and their teacher Cecilia Gigiolio dedicating the Dr. King monument for open housing on the Winnetka Village Green that they succeeded in establishing, gaining Village permission with the help of Open Communities and numerous loval groups.

Skokie Resident Taxicab Drivers Organize and Successfully Negotiate with Village

 (2007 - 2008)   Skokie         taxicab         drivers celebrate outside the Village Hall after the Trustees unanimously voted to put on hold the implementation of a parking ban and work with drivers.

(2007 - 2008) Skokie taxicab drivers celebrate outside the Village Hall after the Trustees unanimously voted to put on hold the implementation of a parking ban and work with drivers.

When the Village of Skokie instituted a street parking ban on taxicabs in late 2007, drivers, predominantly immigrants and Muslims, were concerned that their housing was at risk as well, because if they could not park in the community (and for many, the cab doubled as the family car and they had no covered garage), they could not live in the community.  
 
A community organizer assisting them from the American Friends Service Committee and the Council of Islamic Organizations turned to Gail Schechter, a Skokie neighbor as well as director of Open Communities, for help. Bringing to bear fair housing rights eduation and open talks with the Village, Gail worked with the 50 drivers who organized along with these other groups to work cooperatively with Skokie to make sure that any parking ordinance would not have a disparate impact based on race, national origin, or religion.

 

United We Learn

 (2008 - Present)   United We Learn leaders: From left to right, Sherry Medwin, Audrey Moy, Barb Hiller, Gail Schechter, Lali Watt, Kathy Miller, Anthony Anderson

(2008 - Present) United We Learn leaders: From left to right, Sherry Medwin, Audrey Moy, Barb Hiller, Gail Schechter, Lali Watt, Kathy Miller, Anthony Anderson

When State Sen. Rev. James Meeks prepared to lead a protest of Chicago children at New Trier High School against inequitable public school funding, Gail Schechter of Open Communities, then the Interfaith Housin Center, helped initiate what for many was an unexpected - and therefore powerful - of support. Parents called her, looking to join forces to engage school officials in a plan to welcome the Chicagoans. One woman asked Gail, If not Interfaith, who? A week before the 2008 rally, Gail catalyzed the conduit by which two dozen people gathered in a Winnetka home and organized what they called “United We Learn” (UWL), getting the ear of school officials.  

North suburban voices had weighed in for other people’s children as well as their own.  UWL became a campaign of over 200 people of diverse backgrounds, holding several forums on school funding and education justice and producing the documentary, The Education They Deserve.  The film captures student and teacher voices from the city and suburbs, portraying a stark “two worlds” reality and challenging people to do something to change it.  

   Children from the city and suburbs in "     The Education They Deserve     "       

Children from the city and suburbs in "The Education They Deserve"