Rob BreymaierSkip to content Skip to main navigation
The Suburban Promise of Brown
Rob Breymaier has been working on fair housing policy for nearly 20 years. As the Executive Director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, he leads the nation’s most successful effort to promote integration and the affirmative furthering of fair housing in the private housing market. Through the efforts of the Housing Center, Oak Park has established and sustained a racially integrated community that has produced multiple benefits for residents.
In his role as the President of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Rob oversaw the production of the Fair Housing and Equity Assessment for the Chicago region. This document has been cited repeatedly as a model document on identifying strategies to promote regional equity.
Rob collaborates on many national and regional efforts to promote integration, fair housing, and community development. He speaks regularly about the value of integration and equal opportunity for conferences and forums. He has been published in the Cleveland State University Law Review, provides periodic articles and opinion pieces for local newspapers, and has been interviewed for a variety of media outlets including Marketplace, The Economist, The National Review, NPR, and the Chicago Tribune.
Rob has a Master’s degree in Geography and Planning from the University of Toledo.
The Oak Park Strategy: Creating and Sustaining an Integrated Community over Five Decades
Breymaier will discuss the evolution of the Chicago suburb of Oak Park from predominantly white to racially diverse and the role that the Oak Park Regional Housing Center played in sustaining this diversity while staving off white flight. In 1972, Oak Park, IL was a 99% white community. Surrounding the community were Chicago neighborhoods that experienced blockbusting and white flight and neighboring suburbs that created hostile barriers to people of color. The residents of Oak Park chose to embrace diversity through integration in an attempt to open the housing market to people of color while simultaneously avoiding white flight. At the time, experts in academia and government dismissed the effort and predicted a quick and decisive failure.
The effort to create an integrated community was intense and required intentional actions on the part of many actors. Central to the effort was the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, a non-profit established to help renters find apartments in the community. By the 1990 Census, Oak Park had a population that was reflective of the diversity in the metro area.
Today, Oak Park continues to sustain a diversity that reflects the broadening diversity of the metropolitan region. White flight did not occur. Neighborhoods and schools did not segregate. The effort has been beneficial to the community -- making it a desirable place to live for people of all races and ethnicities; building a sense of community that is rare in suburban environments; and realizing economic benefits (i.e. the housing crisis was subdued in Oak Park) in addition to social ones. As Oak Park has become diverse, the value of housing has increased and the quality of life has continued to remain high. Oak Park ranks as a high-opportunity community in regional assessments.
However, the sustainability of Oak Park’s diversity and integration continue to require intentional efforts. The need for the Housing Center remains. Communities surrounding Oak Park are largely hyper-segregated and mono-racial creating racially motivated perceptions about which parts of Oak Park are better and where people initially think they should live.
The Housing Center works with landlords (supply) and tenants (demand) so that both can see the benefits of embracing diversity. The integration that results ensures integrated schools systems, social networks, and civic engagement. This process further reinforces diversity as a core value of the community and encourages greater effort and investment for intentional integration strategies.
While Oak Park has some unique characteristics, this model is replicable in other suburbs and city neighborhoods. This is especially true for the many inner-ring suburbs that are experiencing demographic change. By embracing integration strategies, these communities can take advantage of the benefits of broad demand while minimizing the difficulties that accompany segregated neighborhoods.