2001-08-07 Holland Sentinel Blacks Housing practices unfair

Blacks: Housing practices unfair
Holland Sentinel

A group of African-Americans community leaders is ready to deal with discrimination in Holland. “There comes a time when, as African-American people, we have to say something,” The Rev. Wayne Coleman of the Church of the Burning Bush said Monday. “If we don’t speak, we can’t become a voice. So many issues are swept under the rug. The time has come to deal with issues.”

About 20 people spent more than hour in a cramped conference room at the church’s Outreach Center Monday afternoon, expressing outrage, sharing personal stories and learning about steps that can be taken to combat discrimination in all areas of like, but specifically in housing issues.

They also pledged to work with other area organizations to bring the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids to town to investigate specific complaints. The meeting came less than a month after the city of Holland released a fair housing report that showed African-Americans were discriminated against when trying to find housing in Holland.

“This is nothing new to us,” Coleman said as he opened the meeting. “We continually lose people from the community who can’t get home ownership. You can’t be empowered, if you can’t get home ownership.” Holland has “suppressed racism,” Coleman said, explaining why many people don’t want to talk about it and just hope it goes away. “It will not go away without dealing with it,” he said.

Included in the group was an attorney who gave advice on legal steps that can be taken, a bank officer, a retired real estate agent and several African-Americans who shared stories of discrimination. “When I first got here, I had a problem getting rental housing,” Kim Harris said. “I was surprised we had to face this. It’s obvious to me there’s a discrimination problem here and it goes beyond housing. “This is an overall problem. This is broader than just housing. All we want is people to know that African-Americans are here to stay. We want fair treatment… (and) to get rendered the services due us.”“It is a problem…(a) problem that has been swept under the rug,” Ada Duncan said.

Gail Harrison, director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said the Community Action Team of the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism has been working on getting the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids to open a branch in the area. The group would like to see the center have office hours two days a week in Holland and one day a week in Grand Haven. Around $57,000 a year would need to be raised for the center to come, Harrison said. “What it would give us is the number to call” when there is discrimination, Harrison said, adding the center would then investigate the case. “To have a fair housing center presence in the community would remind people not to discriminate.”

Several people at the meeting said one key to success is more education about the issue. “We have to get the word out and educate our people,” Coleman said. “I like the positive approach,” said Jim DeVries, a loan officer with National City Bank. “I think sometimes the biggest obstacle is not knowing. I do think Holland is a little behind the times.” The group assembled Monday pledged to work with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance to get the fair housing center to Holland.

“We need to work together with them and talk to the people in the city (government),” Coleman said. “We will continue to meet and to educate people.”