Celebrating a silver anniversary usually means getting presents, but OakParkApartments.com is giving them.
For the next six months, OakParkApartments.com, the largest private renter of apartments in Oak Park, will donate $2,025 a month to a local charity. Internet voters will decide which charities get the gifts.
“We wanted to do something special for our 25th anniversary. We liked the idea of giving back to the community. We have our favorite charities, but we thought we’d do a contest and let the community decide what charities we’ll support,” said Bob Planek, co-owner with his brother Bill Planek of OakParkApartments.com and its holding company, Greenplan Management.
They came up with a list of 22 charities.
“It was easy for us because we’ve lived here since 1972 and we know these people; we have connections with all of them,” said Planek.
Voting began April 1. To participate, go to the company website, click “vote now” and select the charity of your choice (if it’s not there, write it in). Winners will be announced the first of each month.
One vote per e-mail address per month is permitted. After a charity wins, it’s off the list.
In a way, everyone wins, said Planek.
All the charities’ mission statements are posted on the website, so even the losers get some free exposure.
The company benefits from increased traffic to its site.
“Our tenants use the Internet to search for an apartment. That’s where they’re coming from,” said Wendy Planek, Bob’s wife. She’s in charge of social media for the family firm.
Many things have changed since the Planek brothers bought their first building 25 years ago.
“We started working for property owners in high school, cutting grass, painting porches, painting apartments. As we got to know the landlords we got more into the management side,” said Bob. “There were a lot more owners in 1986; maybe they each owned 10 or 15 buildings. Those more traditional owners sold off to developers. And because of condo conversions there are fewer apartments now.”
The Planeks own 32 properties with more than 1,000 apartments, mostly in Oak Park although some are on the Chicago side of Austin Boulevard and two are in Forest Park. The company specializes in vintage buildings.
If their rental business is any indication, the local economy is looking up.
"Since November the rental market has been extremely hot. We are at our lowest vacancy rate in three years—we’ve moved from 6 or 7 percent to 2 or 2 ½ percent. That’s the difference between making and losing money,” said Bob Planek.
He attributes the change to two factors: potential first-time buyers don’t have the option to purchase they once did, mostly because financing isn’t available, and the job market has picked up (reflected in the strong applications they’re getting).
Oak Park’s rental market also benefits from the village’s proximity to and universities, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola’s medical school, continuing sources of student and faculty tenants, said Planek.
Wendy Planek hopes the contest will market not just the business but also Oak Park as a place to live.
“We want to make people aware of what’s going on in our community. It is so vibrant,” she said. “And the contest spreads the word that Oak Park is a great place for volunteerism, with so many great organizations doing wonderful things.”
The charities competing for a $2,025 donation are: ; Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education; Community Chest of Oak Park and River Forest; Farther Foundation; Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust; Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory; ; ; L'Arche Chicago; ; Oak Leyden Developmental Services; Oak Park Area Arts Council; ; Oak Park - River Forest Day Nursery; ; ; Pleasant Home Foundation; Rotary Club of Oak Park - River Forest; ; The Children’s Clinic; Unity Temple Restoration Foundation; .